Gov. Cox signs Dixie State University name change bill

Dixie State University campus, St. George, Utah, date not specified | Photo courtesy of Dixie State University, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — Following the passage of the Dixie State University name change bill in the Utah House and Senate, Gov. Spencer Cox signed the bill on Tuesday.

In this Jan. 21, 2021 file photo, Gov. Spencer Cox gives his first State of the State address before the Utah Legislature, Salt Lake City, Utah | Pool photo, St. George News

Name Change Process for Dixie State University, designated as HB 278, passed in the House on March 4 with a substitute recommended by the Senate Education Committee. The substitute requires the public to be involved in the committee responsible for choosing a new name for the institution, as previously reported by St. George News.

The name recommendation committee will include community members, university students, faculty and staff and institutional partners. According to the bill, the committee must choose a name that reflects the institution’s mission and significance to the surrounding region and recommend it to the Board of Trustees, who will recommend it to the Utah Board of Higher Education. The Board of Higher Education will then vote on whether to recommend the new name to the state legislature no later than Nov. 1.

Under the substitute, the name recommendation committee does not have to drop the word “Dixie” from the name. If the committee chooses to drop “Dixie,” the substitute requires the creation of a Heritage Committee to identify and implement strategies to preserve the heritage, culture and history of the region, including the regional significance of the term “Dixie.” The bill allocates $500,000 for the Heritage Committee to use during the 2022 fiscal year.

Dixie State released a statement in response to the signature that reads as follows:

Dixie State University appreciates Governor Cox’s support of House Bill 278S01, Name Change Process for Dixie State University. The University will immediately begin working with all stakeholders to implement the provisions of the bill. DSU’s Board of Trustees Executive Committee will commence the process by assembling students, university personnel, community members, and industry leaders to form the Name Recommendation Committee as soon as possible. The University looks forward to partnering with residents of southwestern Utah, institutional partners, and university faculty, staff, students, and alumni to explore name options that reflect the institution’s mission and significance to the surrounding region and state while enabling the institution to compete and be recognized nationally.

The new name is expected to be presented to lawmakers during the 2022 legislative session.

The passing of the bill follows months of debate among lawmakers and community members over the topic of the university’s name change. Students, business leaders and members of the public have expressed a multitude of opinions both for and against the name change over the past several months.

In this Jan. 11, 2021 file photo, counter-protesters in favor of Dixie State University’s name change hold signs on campus in St. George, Utah | Photo by Megan Webber, St. George News

Dixie State student Spider Porter told St. George News while counter-protesting a march at Dixie State University on Jan. 11 that the name should be changed because the word “Dixie” doesn’t accurately represent the area’s history and is outdated.

“I have lived in this area my entire life,” Porter said in January. “I am all for the change of the name because as it stands … it’s history that doesn’t connect to Utah as strongly as they might suggest.”

Conversely, Hurricane City Councilwoman Nanette Billings told St. George News in February that it’s important to consider what “Dixie” means from a local perspective.

“The word ‘Dixie,’ when you’re educated, it means one thing,” she said. “It has an underlying theme. You have to look at heritage as well. Here, it was not ever meant to cause a separation.”

The bill is currently awaiting filing in Lt. Gov. Deidre Henderson’s office.

Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2021, all rights reserved.

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