Near the end of the legislative session last winter, Utah senators from the southern end of the state were adamant. They would support a process for considering a name change for Dixie State University in St. George, but only if that process included a thorough airing of public feelings.
The people of St. George and the surrounding region needed to be heard, they said.
Now, that has happened.
As Julie Beck, chairwoman of the name recommendation committee and a DSU trustee, told the Deseret News/KSL editorial board this week, she personally listened to more than 500 people, and at least 20,000 people had contributed to surveys and focus groups. Her charge, she said, was to listen, and then to listen more. She and other members of the committee did so in a “meticulous” and “thorough” way that could compare favorably with any naming effort, private or public, in the nation, she said.
The result was a recommendation to rename the school Utah Polytechnic State University, or Utah Tech, for short.
The next step belongs to the Utah Board of Higher Education, which will send its recommendation to the Legislature.
We urge state lawmakers, particularly those in the Senate who were so reluctant to move this process along, to get behind this important name change. That will take courage, especially considering the many loud voices in the St. George area and beyond who defend the name of Dixie.
Even though committee members said more than half of those they heard from supported a name other than Dixie, many also disagreed. Regrettably, three members of the committee left the final meeting before a vote was taken, complaining that they felt the process was predetermined, and that little attention was given to the name’s historical value.
Utah’s Dixie is indeed wrapped in an important historical context, dating to early pioneers who found the climate suitable for crops generally grown in the American South. But language is fluid. Names and connotations change over time. To many people outside Utah, “Dixie” has become synonymous with the Antebellum South, slavery and discrimination.
Last year, a survey by the Cicero Group found the name “increasingly problematic for … students and alumni.” Some graduates reported being asked to explain the name in job interviews. Many potential students or faculty said the name would make them think twice about coming.
By contrast, Utah Polytechnic State University, or Utah Tech, are names that would help the school establish a strong reputation, while providing a foundation on which to begin reaching its aspirations. The school has long sought to establish a niche as a polytechnic school, which implies hands-on learning.
Michael Lacourse, the school’s provost and vice president of academic affairs, told the editorial board the three main tenets of a polytechnic school are to provide career readiness, a collaboration with industry and to emphasize experiential learning. The idea that graduates would leave the university ready to embark on meaningful careers is especially important at a time when Utah’s economy has more available jobs than qualified workers.
Adjusting to a new name takes time. But the long-term benefits of this proposed name change are well-worth the short-term pain. Assuming the Board of Higher Education agrees, state lawmakers should act quickly in a show of support for the potential of one of Utah’s fastest growing and more promising regions.