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Is Utah university’s ‘Dixie’ name going the way of The Chicks?

Dixie State University in St. George is pictured on Sunday, Oct. 11, 2020. In the background is the Jeffrey R. Holland Centennial Commons.
Dixie State University in St. George is pictured on Sunday, Oct.11, 2020. In the background is the Jeffrey R. Holland Centennial Commons.
Ravell Call, Deseret News

Like the country music group The Chicks and Intermountain Healthcare’s St. George Regional Hospital, Dixie State University could be the next entity that drops Dixie from its name.

Only the Utah Legislature has statutory authority to name public colleges and universities, but the latest action by a name recommendation committee, which voted 13-3 earlier this week not to move forward with the Dixie name, suggests dwindling support for the title.

The committee voted to give further consideration to two themes: one tied to the university’s academic mission and another that identifies the university’s location with Utah, given preference over St. George. More focus groups have been scheduled to gather feedback on the remaining themes and possible names.

The name recommendation committee is scheduled to meet again on Monday to consider whether to recommend one of the two themes to the DSU board of trustees, or perhaps a name that combines both themes such as Utah Polytechnic University or Utah Institute of Technology. The trustees’ next meeting has not yet been scheduled.

According to the university’s web page about the name change, the name recommendation committee extensively discussed the pros and cons of retaining the Dixie name.

“Proponents on the committee of keeping Dixie expressed support for it honoring the community and university’s heritage and serving as a location identifier within Utah. Others raised concerns about its location confusion and meaning outside of Utah,” the website states.

DSU trustee Julie B. Beck, who chairs the name recommendation committee, said in a statement that the university “is working very hard to become the nation’s first and only open, inclusive, comprehensive, polytechnic university, which will offer students from southern Utah and beyond unique active learning opportunities to prepare for the in-demand careers of their dreams.”

Beck said “an institutional name that will not only highlight this academic mission but also distinguish the university on a statewide level will better support the aspirations of our students, alumni, faculty and staff.”

Once the trustees receive a recommendation, they will vote whether to forward their recommendations to the Utah Board of Higher Education. That board would then present recommendations to legislative leaders no later than Nov. 1 under HB278, although DSU President Richard “Biff” Williams recently urged higher education leaders to move quickly after the process took an “ugly” turn that included threats.

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 name recommendation committee was formed in March and immediately launched a listening tour. An online survey was conducted in April and nearly 50 focus group discussions have been conducted.

Discussions about the university’s name have been going on for decades but intensified after protests across the country following George Floyd’s murder last summer while in police custody in Minneapolis, which spurred a national conversation about racial injustice.

In January, Intermountain Healthcare changed the name of its southern Utah hospital from Dixie Regional Medical Center to Intermountain St. George Regional Hospital.

The Chicks announced in June 2020 that they had dropped Dixie from the band’s name.