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Dixie State or Utah Tech University? Vote on official recommendation looms

People shop for clothing at Dixie State University in St. George on Friday, April 9, 2021.
People shop for clothing at Dixie State University in St. George on Friday, April 9, 2021. The Utah Board of Higher Education is scheduled to meet Wednesday morning to consider whether to recommend to lawmakers to rename the St. George university Utah Tech University.
Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

Even as the board that oversees Utah’s public colleges and universities is scheduled to vote whether to recommend that the Utah Legislature rename Dixie State University, a group opposing the change is stepping up pressure on lawmakers to let the name stand.

The Utah Board of Higher Education is scheduled to meet Wednesday morning to consider whether to recommend to lawmakers to rename the St. George university Utah Tech University.

In June, Dixie State University’s Board of Trustees’ ad hoc name recommendation committee, after a lengthy public process that included surveys, studies and focus groups, forwarded the name Utah Polytechnic State University to the trustees along with the recommendation that the university’s nickname be Utah Tech.

A month later, the trustees voted to forward the name Utah Tech University to the Board of Higher Education “after receiving significant stakeholder and public feedback,” according to board documents.

Critics circulated memes using the United Parcel Service logo in mock-ups of the Utah Polytechnic State University abbreviation, UPSU.

In a letter to the Utah Board of Higher Education, the trustees noted that the shorter name was strongly supported in the name recommendation committee’s process and “best represents the institution’s active learning and career-focused approach to higher education.”

Under HB278, passed by lawmakers earlier this year, the Board of Higher Education has until Nov. 1 to recommend a name for the university to the Legislative Management Committee, which is comprised of legislative leaders.

Only the Utah Legislature has statutory authority to name or change the name of a Utah public college or university.

The push to stop Dixie’s name change

Defending Southwestern Utah Heritage Coalition, an organization that wants to preserve the university’s Dixie State name, has purchased television commercials and newspaper advertisements urging Utahns to contact their state lawmakers and ask them to oppose the name change.

One features alumnus Abraham Thiombiano, who played football for the institution and lives in the area working in real estate. He’s from Burkina Faso, West Africa.

In the TV commercial Thiombiano says:

“Hi, I’m Abraham. I’m sure you love the land where I’m from, where I choose to raise my family. I am speaking of Utah’s Dixie, where you come to vacation and play. Dixie has always been here for you. Now we ask that you be here for Dixie. We’re fighting the attempts to cancel the historic name Dixie. Dixie is an incredible university, so why a name change? Not a good idea at all. Tell your state legislator to absolutely oppose the removal of the name Dixie at our university.”

Another features Rebekah Whitehead, a student at Dixie Middle School, whose parents both attended Dixie State. Her father’s family has lived in the St. George area for six generations.

“I was born in Utah’s Dixie. All of us kids are planning to go there too. It’s tradition. Please tell your state legislators to respect the heritage of this great part of the state, known as Utah’s Dixie, by voting against the effort to cancel the Dixie name at our university,” Whitehead says.

Could Dixie’s name change be put on the ballot?

In a recent meeting of the Defending Southwestern Utah Heritage Coalition, leaders also broached the idea of statewide referendum in the event that state lawmakers pass a bill to change the university’s name.

Placing a referendum on a statewide ballot requires obtaining at least 137,929 verified signatures of registered voters in Utah. In addition, backers must meet signature collection thresholds in at least 15 of 29 Senate districts:

However, laws that pass by a two-thirds majority in both the Utah House and Utah Senate are not subject to change using the referendum process.

A proposal to change the university’s name was one of the most contentious issues considered by Utah lawmakers during the 2021 general session.

Lawmakers passed a substituted version HB278, which called for an extensive public process amid concerns raised by some alumni and St. George community members that they had not had sufficient input on the proposed name change.

The coalition also conducted a vote among alumni to demonstrate its opposition to the name change.

The voice vote, which had no opposition, supported keeping the Dixie name. The vote was recorded so “members of the Legislature to see for themselves where DSU alumni stand on the name change issue,” according to a coalition press release.