ST. GEORGE — The Senate Education Committee passed with a favorable recommendation a controversial bill aimed at creating a name change process for Dixie State University through to the Utah Senate Monday afternoon shortly after demonstrators opposed to the bill gathered at the university in hopes of the committee killing the bill.
In a 6-1 vote, Name Change Process for Dixie State University, designated HB 278, was given the green light to head to the Senate floor but not without first adopting a substitution that more clearly outlines the process of changing the name and allowing for more community input.
Prior to the committee hearing, members of the Defending Southwestern Utah Heritage Coalition along with other Southern Utah residents and supporters of “Dixie” gathered at Dixie State University’s encampment mall to show their opposition to the bill.
Clad mostly in red and waving “Dixie” flags and signs, the large group met at the clock tower on the campus where several speakers, including former university leaders, a current student and staff member and former St. George Mayor Dan McArthur, talked about the pioneer heritage of the Southern Utah area and why the name “Dixie” is so important to keep.
McArthur also led the crowd in a sing-along of the Southern Utah version of “Are You From Dixie?”
Ilene Hacker, a member of the Defending Southwestern Utah Heritage Coalition, who organized the demonstration said she never thought they would have to be fighting this battle and that she sees no reason why the name “Dixie” needs to be removed from the institution’s name.
“We see no need to change the name, they haven’t come up with a valid reason,” Hacker said, adding that the community members who oppose the bill have not been invited to come to the table and have their voices heard.
At the demonstration, Hacker said it was her hope that the Senate Education Committee would kill the bill before it reached the Senate floor.
Monday’s demonstration was met with a group of counter-demonstrators in favor of the name change who gathered on the opposite end of the encampment mall.
Their purpose in being there was to show their support for the Senate Education Committee to pass the bill through and allow it to be heard on the Senate floor, Sally Lacourse, who came out in support of the name change, said.
“We think that the university should represent students and not idolize heritage,” she said.
The Senate Education Committee began their agenda Monday afternoon by adopting a substitute to the bill proposed by Washington County Sen. Don Ipson, which further clarified the process for the name change and allows for more community input as well as creates a $500,000 fiscal note allowing for the creation of a heritage committee should the Dixie State University Board of Trustees and the Utah Board of Higher Education forward a name to the Legislature that does not include the term “Dixie.”
Other specifications in the bill said that the new name must reflect the university’s mission and significance to the surrounding region and state and enables the institution to compete and be recognized nationally.
The substitution was unanimously adopted by the committee after which the committee heard public comments from many in attendance as well as 15 participants via electronic means in favor of the name change and 15 participants opposed to the change.
Following the public comment period, Sen. Michael McKell, the bill’s floor sponsor made a motion that the committee pass the bill with adopted substitute with a favorable recommendation and allow it to be heard on the Senate floor.
The vote passed 6-1 with only Senate Education Committee Chairman Sen. John D. Johnson voting nay.
A full text of the bill and recordings of the committee meeting can be found here.
Dixie State University released a statement following the committee vote:
Dixie State University is grateful to the many individuals who have dedicated countless hours to House Bill 278. Discussions involving the Dixie State name have occurred for many decades; however, the need to truly understand the impacts of the name on our students and stakeholders required deeper discourse. The new substitute bill HB 278S01, sponsored by Senator Don Ipson, allows the name process to continue as directed by the DSU Board of Trustees while providing additional input and participation among stakeholders. We are equally excited to see that appropriations are being included to help preserve our regional history as it relates to University. As we have shared many times, this effort was never an attempt to diminish our rich heritage but to provide the best possible opportunities for our students and alumni, and we are confident we can do both.
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