The committee charged with coming up with a 21st century name for the school formerly known as Dixie State University has wisely decided that the institution should be named for what it does, not so much where it is.
That’s partly because, if you aren’t one of the 177,000 or so residents of Washington County, the Dixie moniker doesn’t have anything to do with the brave and resourceful 19th century settlers of southwest Utah. It has everything to do with a treasonous and racist attempt at creating a break-away nation devoted to the preservation of slavery.
You can argue, and muster many supporting facts, that that’s not what Utah’s Dixie meant and means to the people who live there. But, to everyone else who has ever heard of the United States and its problematic history of racial division, that’s just what the word means, and no amount of objections will ever change that.
Research commissioned by the university established that, once you get outside of Utah, the name has many negative connotations to students and faculty the school might be trying to recruit. Worse, it has caused more than a few human resource managers to stop and ask a few awkward questions of DSU graduates who were pursuing employment, well, just about anywhere.
So the school’s board of trustees and administration asked the Utah Legislature for permission to change the name. The Legislature created a committee, made up of students, staff, community members and business leaders, to consider the issue. After hearing from thousands of people and pondering all the alternatives, the committee came up with a new name that will reflect, not the school’s past, but its mission.
They want to call it Utah Polytechnic State University.
That’s kind of a mouthful. But in the academic world, “polytechnic” means, literally, “many arts,” and has come to be associated with schools that stress practical knowledge, hands-on learning and acquiring the kinds of real-world skills that make a school’s graduates instantly employable.
Not that all universities don’t do that to some extent. But the school in St. George has already stressed that as its approach to education and counts itself among the nation’s many polytechnic universities, from Cal Tech (formally California Institute of Technology) to Virginia Tech (Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University), Georgia Tech (Georgia Institute of Technology), MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) and Texas Tech (Texas Tech).
Following the lead of those other universities, Utah Polytechnic State University could be referred to — by faculty, students, recruits and, most importantly, on its football and basketball uniforms — as Utah Tech. (Or maybe Utah Poly.)
Other names tied to the school’s neighborhood — possibilities such as Red Rocks State University or St. George State — were passed over by the committee as they fail to stress the university’s mission and the leg up a more practical name might give its career-seeking alumnae.
The new name still must be approved by the university’s board of trustees, the Utah Board of Higher Education and, ultimately, the Utah Legislature. They should all do so with all deliberate speed. If, for no other reason, to settle the matter and let the school get on with its mission.
Diehard supporters of the Dixie State name are mounting a social media counterattack that wiser heads will have to ignore.
Those who don’t want to lose the old name may well feel that something has been taken from them. But, for all their feelings of affection, people who live in Southwest Utah don’t own that school. The state of Utah does. Taxpayers statewide help to support it. Families from around the state, and the nation, send their children there.
And the simple fact is that, in the modern world, a transcript, a diploma or a letter jacket that says “Dixie” on it is going to be an undeserved handicap for any student or graduate who tries to make his or her way in the larger world.
Utah Tech it is.