Dixie State's new name is dead; trustees vote for yet another name

The Dixie State University board of trustees meet over the name of the school on Tuesday, June 29, 2021.

The Dixie State University board of trustees meet over the name of the school on Tuesday, June 29, 2021. (Marc Weaver, KSL TV)

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ST. GEORGE — Utah Polytechnic State University is officially dead.

The Dixie State University board of trustees voted unanimously Tuesday to move forward the name "Utah Tech University" to the Utah System of Higher Education instead. The name will be voted on there before it's voted on by the Utah Legislature, possibly later this year if not during the 2022 legislative session.

At the same time, the name "Dixie" may not be completely dead yet. The trustees also voted to recommend that the St. George campus of the university could be renamed the "Dixie" campus if and when the university is renamed as a part of the heritage component of HB278, which outlined the entire Dixie State name change process.

David Clark, the chair of DSU's board of trustees, said after the meeting concluded that the board made its decision based on what trustees believed was best for the future of the university. That's why they moved forward with a theme proposed to them but trimmed the name down to shorten it.

"We are not turning our back on our heritage, but we are turning our focus forward and we are beginning to look at the students and the needs and the jobs that are open and available just within 300 miles of St. George," he said, noting there were thousands of high-paying science, technology, engineering and mathematics job openings available within those 300 miles.

"We need to understand where the opportunities are and provide an education for young folks — or even if they're not so young anymore — to head into those fields and find that success," he added. "For me, it was a pretty simple equation. Am I looking forward or am I looking backward? And I chose forward."

The trustees' decision came after a lengthy and, at times, passionate meeting with the Dixie State University Name Recommendation Committee on Tuesday. The committee previously voted on June 14 in favor of Utah Polytechnic State University with a nickname preference of "Utah Tech" to become the university's nickname; however, the full name was met with pushback almost immediately. One online petition against the selected name garnered close to 18,000 signees between June 15 and the time Tuesday's meeting began.

While the meeting was public, members of the trustees pointed out it wasn't a public hearing and they would not accept comment from anyone except those they called on to speak. Many in attendance wore red shirts, some with "Save Dixie" printed on them. The name, which refers to Utah's southwest region but also has ties to the Confederacy in U.S. history, has been associated with the school since 1913.

Randy Wilkinson, a community member named to the committee before he left in protest prior to the vote on June 14, was one of the people in attendance who pleaded with the trustees to keep the current university name.

"As I was appointed to the committee, I felt very strongly about 'Dixie,' that name and what it meant and what it meant for this area for a long, long time, and for this institution," he said, adding that his feeling became "stronger and stronger" during the time he served on the committee.

The gallery of red-shirt supporters applauded after he concluded his remarks. But the prospect of keeping the university name wasn't considered much during the meeting except for the recommendation toward the end of it to rename the campus "Dixie."

Instead, most of the focus turned to "Utah Tech." Penny Mills, the Dixie State student body president, proposed to the trustees that "polytechnic" be removed from the name before it was sent to state leaders.

Tiffany Wilson, the board of trustees vice chair, agreed. She said that the proposed name seemed like a good idea based on the mission of the university but it just didn't work because it was a mouthful.

"It was very clear that 'Utah Polytechnic State University' was an epic failure and we are willing to admit that," she said, as the gallery applauded in agreement.

Many of those in attendance seeking to keep the university name became less enthused when the trustees began to shift their attention to that shortened "Utah Tech" name instead. The room was quiet when the trustees cast their unanimous vote.

Clark explained after the meeting concluded that the trustees agreed with the reasons behind the Utah Polytechnic State University recommendation, but found "Utah Tech" to be the simpler version of promoting the same university mission. The name, he said, still distinguishes the university as a polytechnic institution but offers a less-confusing name.

When asked if the name gave enough significance to the specific region it's located in, which is something that led to the backlash against the originally proposed rename, Deven Macdonald, another member of the board, said that the trustees wanted to continue showcasing the university's mission as a Utah school. That's what drew them to the name they selected.

"Really, for us, it was the biggest name that represents the focus, the emphasis and the location of the institution so it accomplished all of our objectives out of the gate," he said.

Members of the trustees also dismissed the notion that students weren't involved in the process at all. Wilson asserts that over 3,000 students participated in surveys and that many of its focus groups contained students, with their feedback turned into the data that went into the decision process. The survey was also sent out to every registered student.

Both Clark and Wilson said they believe that most people who opposed the process likely won't support any new university name brought forward.

"It's impossible for us to please everyone as much as we'd like to," Wilson said. "There's always going to be someone who believes they aren't heard simply because the outcome didn't come out the way they were hoping it would."

The name now goes forward to the Utah System of Higher Education to be voted on before it goes to the Utah Legislature for final consideration. HB278 states that the Utah System of Higher Education has until Nov. 1 to have a name to give the Legislature. It could be voted on later this year if it's taken up during a special legislative session; otherwise, it won't be voted on until the next legislative session that begins in January 2022.

"We've handed the football off and they're headed, hopefully, toward the end zone," Clark said.

Given that delay, Wilson estimates the new name won't appear on campus until sometime next year — if it indeed passes the Legislature.

The 'Dixie' campus?

Meanwhile, another component of the renaming bill may come into play soon. HB278 also calls for the formation of a heritage committee should the board of trustees and the Utah System of Higher Education recommend a name without "Dixie" in it. The committee will review ideas for preserving pieces of the university's history.

Renaming the campus itself to "Dixie" is one of the items they may now consider. The board of trustees also voted 9-1 in favor of that recommendation to be considered as a part of the university's heritage.

Clark explained that doesn't mean the St. George campus will be called the "Dixie" campus, it means that they are leaving that option on the table for the heritage committee. He views it as "an olive branch" extended to the people who voiced opposition during the rename process. The Dixie State University Name Recommendation Committee previously rejected a similar recommendation earlier this month.

Those who support or oppose the term "Dixie" are still divided over any use of it, so it's unclear if that proposal will go through.

"We'll see how its reception is," Clark said. "We'll see how it works out. We're still a little bit ahead of ourselves because this is the legacy committee's duty and responsibility. All we've done is, 'Will you please consider?'"

Either way, Wilson, who provided an ardent speech as to why the university name needed to change during the meeting Tuesday, said after the meeting that the entire renaming process isn't the university's attempt to kill off the name from the community, as she attests some have accused.

"There's more to Dixie than just Dixie State University," she said. "Dixie encompasses our entire southwest region and we want to support and ensure the rest of our Dixie community feels supported, and that we're simply looking at a university-only process."

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Carter Williams is an award-winning reporter who covers general news, outdoors, history and sports for KSL.com. He previously worked for the Deseret News. He is a Utah transplant by the way of Rochester, New York.


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