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U. president asks group to weigh changes to the fight song

Published May 5, 2014 10:34 pm

Recommendation • A decision to change the song or not could be made by summer's end.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

A decision on whether to change controversial lyrics to the University of Utah fight song "Utah Man," could come by the end of the summer.

U. President David Pershing announced Monday he's asking a committee overseen by the Office of Student Affairs to weigh a "modest update" to the song.

The committee will consider alternatives to words in the song that some view as sexist and racist, including the line, "Our coeds are the fairest."

Pershing also asked the committee to take input on "possible updated lyrics" from students, faculty, staff, alumni and fans through May 31.

Comments and suggestions can be emailed to fightsong@utah.edu.

He anticipates receiving the committee's recommendations by the end of June. A decision could be made this summer, although no deadline has been set for a final ruling.

"Based on the extensive input (including hundreds of emails) that we have already received on this issue, I am well aware of, and committed to, the importance of both tradition and inclusion in this conversation," Pershing said in a statement.

The announcement came as faculty leaders joined the school's student government in calling for changes to the fight song.

The Academic Senate on Monday applauded after unanimously approving a late addition to its agenda in the form of a resolution supporting changes to the song, specifically the title, the repetition of the words "Utah Man" and the line about coeds.

"We felt this would be a great opportunity for the university to put its proverbial money where its mouth is and take strong and expressive action to support and to affirm its commitment to diversity and to inclusion," said law professor Terry Kogan, co-chairman of the body's diversity committee.

The idea of changing the school's fight song has sparked a passionate debate at the university and in the state since it became public a month ago, with many sports fans, alumni and students voicing their support for the 1904 tune.

"We fully realize there is not unanimity on this issue," Kogan said. "It was our view that on issues that implicate civil rights, there never is unanimity. There will always be a vocal minority, a vocal group of people opposing."

Kogan said he first started thinking about the fight song a year ago when a faculty member, concerned that the song is "sending the wrong message," approached him after hearing it sung at graduation. (An instrumental version was played at commencement this year.)

After learning that others had tried unsuccessfully to change the song at least twice over the past 30 years, the professors started talking to students and realized there was a "parallel movement" in the student body, he said.

The Academic Senate resolution passed Monday supports the one approved by the Associated Students of the University of Utah April 22.

It doesn't suggest specific changes, though some have said "Utah Man" could become "Utah Fan."

Pershing called for "cooperation and courtesy," in the discussion.

"We appreciate that the U.'s students, dedicated alumni and friends all have strong feelings on this issue," he said.

"We are seeking a solution that respects the variety of views across our university community."

lwhitehurst@sltrib.com

Twitter: @lwhitehurst —

Weigh in on 'Utah Man' changes

A committee overseen by the Office of Student Services at the University of Utah is seeking input and weighing changes to the school's fight song. Send comments and suggestions to fightsong@utah.edu.