Another important step was taken at the university level on Monday, signaling further exploration to bring the University of Utah together with Dixie State College.
The U.'s Board of Trustees voted to move ahead with a study of Dixie's proposal to affiliate with the U. — not agreeing to it, but agreeing to consider it. The plan ultimately would extend the U.'s affiliation with the St. George community college, while allowing each institution to keep its current mission.
"We feel a responsibility as the premier educational institution in the state to work together to build the whole system, and if this is a way in which that can be done, in the long run we will all benefit as there are more qualified students available in the state and more workers for high-end jobs and so forth," said U. President Michael K. Young.
Dixie's Board of Trustees extended a formal invitation to the U. to explore the affiliation following their meeting Oct. 2. The proposal includes a name change to the "University of Utah, St. George," an idea that doesn't sit well with many alumni.
"I am personally quite disappointed in changing the name," said Scott Lovell, who graduated from Dixie College in 1984 and now serves as a member of the Dixie Foundation Board. "There has been a lot of opposition voiced to a name change."
A petition with signatures of more than 500 donors, residents and Dixie alumni opposing the change was provided to the U.'s Board of Trustees, said John Blake, president of the northern Utah chapter of the Dixie State College of Utah Alumni Association.
"If this proposal is done correctly, it's going to be a great benefit to the college and community," said Blake, who attended Monday's meeting at the U. "But we have to draw a line here. We don't want to lose our identity, our pioneer heritage, all in the interest of political correctness. It was very clear today that the University of Utah has taken no position on the name and see it strictly as a local, community issue."
The proposal is still in the early stages of consideration and certain details must be worked out before the option is ready to be presented to the Board of Regents and state lawmakers.
Young said infrastructure issues, such as information technology, library systems, registration and curriculum offerings, as well as the needs of students and the community and faculty resources, need to be looked into.
"You name it, we're going to study it," said Young.
He expects the study, conducted by a task force made up from officials at both schools, to take at least five months to a year to complete.
"We will take as long as necessary to get it right," he said, adding that the study will reveal what needs to be done and in what order.
"We're certainly excited to work together," Young said. "We have enormous respect for the trustees and the faculty and staff at Dixie, and a real passion to make the best education possible available to as many students as can take advantage of it in the state. So this could be an exciting enterprise."
Dixie's Trustees pitched a fully integrated affiliation in which the school would essentially become an enterprise of the U. But Young said the study could set forth different priorities, even eliciting less involvement from the Salt Lake institution.
With Southern Utah University only 45 miles away from Dixie, Utah Commissioner of Higher Education Rich Kendell cautioned the task force to consider any impact to that school.
"They must play complementary roles as far as not competing for the same students and the same budget," he said.
Regardless of the outcome, Kendell said Dixie must continue to offer more one-year degrees and be consistent with the workforce needs within southern Utah. He said the plan is being carried forth as a collaborative effort of the U., Dixie State College and the Board of Regents, which ultimately will make a decision on the issue.
"It's a provocative idea that is more complicated that anyone could have anticipated," Kendell said.
Ryan Wright, 25, a 2006 Dixie State College graduate and former member of the football team, said he supports the concept of an affiliation with the University of Utah, but doesn't support losing Dixie's name in the process.
"Dixie was awesome. It was a great experience and it would be great to bring more degrees here," Wright said. "They just want Dixie State College to become a university too fast. If anything, leave the name Dixie in it."