After the initial suggestion of a new name for Dixie State University caused confusion and even more protests, the school’s board of trustees has decided to move forward with what it hopes is a clearer option: Utah Tech University.
Board members voted unanimously Tuesday to drop the earlier recommendation of Utah Polytechnic State University and go with the shortened version, which they say still captures the technology element they want to spotlight. Many residents had complained that they weren’t sure what “polytechnic” meant, and some of the trustees acknowledged scratching their heads, too.
“It’s clear that Utah Polytechnic State University was an epic failure, and we are willing to admit that,” said trustee Tiffany Wilson with a laugh.
She said the internet memes making fun of the idea, first presented earlier this month by a committee tasked with recommending a new name, actually made her smile. Some joked that the school would be UPS University, like the abbreviation for the United Parcel Service, delivering mail and college degrees. Others teased that Utah and “poly” haven’t been in the same sentence since polygamy was popular.
Wilson said the pushback — including a new petition with nearly 18,000 signatures — caused her to reconsider. “We have heard you,” she added. “Clearly, polytechnic doesn’t make for a great university name.”
Now, she said, with the shorter name Utah Tech, the school will be like Texas Tech or Virginia Tech (though the full name there is Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University). And the school released initial renderings of logos for the change.
The school in southern Utah’s St. George started the most recent name change process in December when the board chose to move away from the racist associations with the controversial “Dixie” name. Students said they were having a hard time explaining the name in job interviews and in applications to graduate schools outside of Utah, administrators said. And it was hurting their prospects.
But there has been persistent outcry from community members who see the effort as abandoning what they consider as their heritage. Many of them filled the board room for the meeting Tuesday, wearing red “Keep Dixie” T-shirts.
They have led the opposition against “polytechnic,” but they don’t like the new, shorter name either. They said even though they were listened to Tuesday, they don’t feel heard in the overall process.
The vote for Utah Tech University took place over their boos. And on the video stream online, they flooded the comment section with hundreds of “NO UTAH TECH” messages. Because it was a public meeting and not a hearing, there was no time allotted for residents to make remarks.
So one wrote, echoing Wilson’s statement: “Anything that does not use the word ‘Dixie’ will be an epic failure.” Others repeated their claims that the change was “cancel culture” and that “Dixie” in Utah is not about slavery or the Confederacy but geography, with the location falling below the Mason-Dixon line (where slavery flourished in the South prior to the Civil War).
However, some 19th century pioneers in the southwest part of Utah were growing cotton, and a few of the area’s early settlers were slave owners.
The school has battled the vocal resistance in the community, as well as attempts by the Utah Legislature earlier this year to block a new name before lawmakers later relented.
As a publicly funded university, Dixie State and its administrators don’t have the authority to make the change to Utah Tech without the signoff from lawmakers.
The trustees’ vote on the name will next need approval from the Utah Board of Higher Education, which governs the eight public colleges in the state, before going to the Capitol again for a final say. It’s not clear if legislators will meet in a special session this fall or wait until the regular session starts in January to decide.
Members of the board said Tuesday it was beyond time to move forward under a new name. It’s not about forgetting the school’s legacy, they said, but about doing what’s best for students.
Trustee Chip Childs said: “Sometimes what we’ve done in the past doesn’t work for what we need in the future.”
The school already has dropped its use of the Confederate flag in 1993 and its Rodney the Rebel mascot representing a Confederate soldier in 2007. Childs said it’s time to cut the final tie.
(With the name change, the school intends to keep its trailblazer mascot.)
He said the university should focus on its mission, instead, which since 2016 has been infusing technology into all types of learning — not just careers in math and science. English majors and theater students should be using it to prepare for a new world, too, he said. Some who identified as liberal arts students in the comments, though, said they didn’t agree and might transfer over the name change.
Childs also said “tech” was a popular choice in the surveys sent to students and alumni about a new name, as well as at the several town halls held to discuss options.
Trustee Julie Beck, who also led the name recommendation committee and its chair, called the university “an anchor point for technology.”
The board was required to pick a new name, she said, that spoke to the school’s goals and purpose, as well as its growing place in the state. There are now 12,000 students on campus and more sign up to attend every year.
She and other board members also reiterated that they were not influenced by the university in their decision. And, they said, there was “grand scheme” behind the change.
“I promise you there was no secret plan to change the name,” Wilson added.
That came in response to public documents, obtained and shared by the Defending Southwestern Utah Heritage Coalition that has pushed to keep “Dixie,” that show the university had secured trademarks and website URLs for Utah Polytechnic State University months before the discussions started.
“Unfortunately it’s already been decided, months and years ago,” one local resident wrote in the online comments. Randy Wilkinson, who was a member of the name recommendation committee but resigned, grabbed a microphone during the meeting to applause from the crowd and defended remaining Dixie State University for that reason, suggesting the process has been flawed.
The school’s spokesperson has said that the school and others in the state are constantly paying for things like websites and it didn’t mean any decision was made ahead of time. Other names and links were also purchased.
But even still, there’s also concern over using “tech” for other reasons. In addition to the eight public universities in the state, there are also eight technical colleges — including nearby Dixie Tech, which has not considered a name change with the “Dixie” associations. Some wondered if the name Utah Tech University would cause confusion with those.
“There are some that are wanting to stay away from the tech name,” acknowledged Pat Jones, a member of the Utah Board of Higher Education and the name recommendation committee.
That’s why the committee, she added, had originally wanted to go with “polytechnic.” They felt it would set the school apart.
David Clark, the chair of the board of trustees, said he felt confident Utah Tech University would be fine, operating similarly to tech universities in other states that also work in conjunction with their technical colleges.
The coach of the baseball team added that his athletes were excited to wear “Utah Tech” on their jerseys.
But the university will conduct another study on the name before it’s finalized.
Wilson, who grew up in St. George and whose mother is named Dixie, said she loves the university’s current name and the legacy in the area. And the effort from the trustees to change it is not meant to tear neighbors apart or diminish the history, she said. She wants to still see the name other places.
“Let’s keep Dixie in our community,” she said. “We’re not changing our community’s name. We’ll forever be Dixie.”
She added: “Nothing on the hill is changing,” referring to the “Dixie” painted on the red sandstone of Sugarloaf Rock.
The board also voted Tuesday to allow the main location of the university to be called “Dixie Campus” as a nod to that. The suggestion came from Larry Bergeson, the superintendent of Washington School District, who noted that he’d like to see Dixie High and Dixie Middle still remain as is.