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Could trustees modify Dixie State rename as petition against it grows?

FILE: Dixie State University in St. George is pictured on Friday, April 9, 2021. Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

ST. GEORGE — Jordan Kirby wasn’t pleased when he heard what could soon be the new name for Dixie State University.

After months of feedback, the Dixie State University Name Recommendation Committee voted on June 14 to recommend the name Utah Polytechnic State University to the university’s board of trustees. It’s slated to be voted on by the trustees sometime in the near future.

Kirby, a junior currently studying business at the university, thought the proposed new name stripped any identity of the region the university is located in. While he’s not originally from St. George, it’s turned into a special place for him and he says it hurts to see a name that doesn’t really reflect any of the region at all.

“I was extremely disappointed in the name that they chose and I feel kind of embarrassed that that would be an option for our school,” he said. “I love Dixie State and I love going here in the area I live, and I want more students to come here but I don’t think a name like that is going to accomplish that.”

That’s when Kirby decided to take action. He launched an online petition a day after the committee’s vote, hoping to catch the attention of the committee or the board of trustees. While he personally hasn’t heard from them a week later, his petition received significant traction almost immediately.

It garnered over 10,000 signatures in less than two days and, as of Monday afternoon, neared 15,000 signatures. It was “way more” than what Kirby expected.

While it’s not clear exactly when the university’s board of trustees will vote, the university acknowledged the feedback they received about the recommend rename in a statement to KSL.com on Monday. In the statement, university officials pointed out that the trustees are the first body to vote on the proposed name and “will have the opportunity to modify the original recommendation if necessary.”

Polytechnic State blowback

The name the committee decided on was expected to be met with at least mixed reviews. That’s because there were plenty of passionate moments and arguments about the need to rename the university and many more during the committee’s review process.

About one-third of people in the 47 focus group studies conducted in the rename process don’t support the idea of renaming Dixie State University. There was also an adjustment to the renaming process due to threats posted on social media and there were also three members of the committee who quit before the final meeting because they claimed the entire process intentionally worked to “demean, disparage and defeat the Dixie name and minimize the adherence to the history.”

Kirby’s petition doesn’t really revolve around the renaming process; rather, he protests the name the committee selected. He said that he personally had no objections to the university’s current name but he also understands why the university is going through the process that it is. When he sat down to type up the petition, he figured there was more common ground against the recommended school rename than any other facet over the past few months.

“Many great options were given in a survey of the name change to community members, students and alumni and should be considered instead for the future name of Dixie State University,” Kirby wrote in the petition. “As students, we feel unheard, disrespected and that the institution wants to make the decision without any input from us. As a community, we ask for something that will represent southern Utah and that we can be proud of.”

He told KSL.com he prefers a name that “accurately” represents the community and region, which he believes did exist in some of the proposed ideas early in the committee’s feedback process. In his view, names like “Red Rock University,” “St. George University” and “Deseret State University” at least offered some sort of rename that kept the community in mind.

But Utah Polytechnic State University? That could be anywhere in Utah.

“One of the biggest reasons that students choose to attend DSU, in my opinion, is for the location,” Kirby said. “If you go through the comments on the petition, you can see students and the community want something that represents the area and is a name we can be proud of and stand behind.”

Indeed, one commenter called Utah Polytechnic State “bland and boring,” and said it “does not distinguish between any other Utah schools.” Another wrote: “This name doesn’t represent the student body, the community, or the history. It seems the board doesn’t care to HEAR what the majority have to say.”

An official with Love Communications, which helped pull data from focus groups, recommended the name Utah Polytechnic State University during last week’s meeting after conducting focus groups with current and possible future students, university leaders and faculty, university donors, local mayors, business leaders and state legislators. Previous focus groups helped the committee narrow the themes the final name recommendation should include, which ended up being the university’s academic mission and its location in Utah.

The committee eventually voted 11-3 in favor of that name. Following that vote, Julie Beck, a member of the school’s board of trustees and chairwoman of the committee, said she was “quite confident” the name selected by the committee would be approved by the university’s trustees and the Utah Board of Higher Education based on what they heard in focus groups.

“The name that we have put forward fulfills all the requirements of the legislation, which is what we were focused on,” she said. “As a committee, we kept coming back over and over again to our primary task, which was to come up with a name that gave us a location identifier in the state that would help us compete on a national scale, that would speak to our academic mission and we think we have accomplished that.”

A renamed rename?

To be clear, the Dixie State renaming process is very much still underway and not final. Even if the university’s board of trustees and the Utah Board of Higher Education support the name Utah Polytechnic State University, the Utah Legislature has the final say.

According to the university’s timeline, the next step is for the Name Recommendation Committee to meet with the university board of trustees about the name they recommended and then the board will vote on it. A date for that meeting has yet to be determined.

In a statement to KSL.com, Dixie State officials wrote: “The institutional name Utah Polytechnic State University is a recommendation that is moving through the approval process. The university appreciates the community’s feedback, and it is being heard and seen by the DSU Board of Trustees, who are the first body to vote on the recommendation.

“As part of the process, the trustees will have the opportunity to modify the original recommendation if necessary,” it continued. “Once a name is approved by the trustees, it will go onto the Utah Board of Higher Education and the Utah State Legislature, where it will be further vetted. Through this multi-tiered comprehensive process, we are confident the right name will be selected for the university.”

Kirby said he hopes that his petition can at least result in a conversation with the board of trustees before it votes. There, he can convey to the trustees the concerns he and others have with the proposed university rename.

Given the success of the petition, he’s optimistic that he can get a meeting and that the trustees may even reconsider the name recommended to them.


Committee votes in favor of this new name for Dixie State University

Panel discusses how Dixie State name change became politicized

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