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With a stroke of Gov. Spencer Cox’s pen, Dixie State became Utah Tech University

Dixie State University baseball stadium in St. George is pictured on Friday, April 9, 2021.
Dixie State University baseball stadium in St. George is pictured on Friday, April 9, 2021. Gov. Spencer Cox has signed legislation that officially changes the name of Dixie State University to Utah Tech University.
Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

Utah Gov. Spencer Cox signed into law Friday legislation that renames Dixie State University as Utah Tech University.

The Utah Legislature, meeting in special session this week, passed HB2001, which renames the four-year public university in St. George. The bill passed handily in the House by a vote of 56-15 but was narrowly approved in the Utah Senate by a vote of 17-12.

The votes put an end to divisive debate over the university’s name. Opponents said changing it was akin to cancel culture, but backers said the name has racial connotations that are harming students’ employment and graduate school prospects, as well as faculty recruitment and educators’ opportunities to collaborate with academics at other institutions.

Utah lawmakers had the chance to vote earlier this year to change its name in the Legislature’s 2021 general session.

HB278, sponsored by Rep. Kelly Miles, R-Ogden, sailed out of committee and passed in the House but stalled in the Senate amid concerns that the process had been rushed and the community had not had sufficient opportunity for input.

A compromise version of the bill passed during the general session, which called for an extensive public process, which got underway shortly after the session ended. The introduction of HB2001 brought lawmakers full circle to consider the name once again after the Utah Board of Higher Education recommended that state lawmakers change the university’s name to Utah Tech.

Only the Utah Legislature has statutory authority to name Utah’s public colleges and universities.

Critics said the effort to change the university’s name did not acknowledge the community’s many efforts historically to support the university from its humble beginnings as St. George Stake Academy to what is now a four-year public comprehensive university.

HB278 included a $500,00 appropriation to establish a “heritage center” on campus to help preserve and celebrate the history of the area.

The bill passed by lawmakers in the special session was amended to require the university trustees to designate the main campus as the Dixie Campus for no less than 20 years. After that, the trustees’ can decide whether to continue using the name.