Dixie State president gives mid-semester update on name change, legislative success and housing shortage

ST. GEORGE — Audience members had plenty of questions for Dixie State University President Richard “Biff” Williams following his Monday afternoon speech in the President’s Colleagues series, with progress on the name change being top of mind for many attendees.

President Richard “Biff” Williams of Dixie State University addresses attendees of the President’s Colleagues lecture series, St. George, Utah, April 4, 2022 | Photo by Ammon Teare, St. George News

Turns out the switch to Utah Tech University is well underway and will actually begin sooner than mandated by the Legislature’s vote.

“It becomes official July 1, although this last legislative session they were already calling us Utah Tech University,” Williams said. “We wanted to wait a week or so after commencement, and then you’ll start to see our signage, our websites (and) everything changed. Starting May 16 our students come to campus for next fall, so we want to make sure that they’re not completely confused.”

Since the rebranding effort is highly intensive, the university set people to work on identifying each reference that needs to be updated immediately following the Nov. 9 vote. Everything from faculty and student email addresses to instructional software to physical items like planners and campus signs will need to be redesigned and updated, Williams said.

“In mid-May you’re going to start seeing a giant shift, and then by the time the students come it should be pretty much changed out,” he said. “Now, having said that, even though we changed to Dixie State University (in 2013) I just found a planner that still says ‘Dixie State College of Utah,’ so we won’t be perfect because it takes years.”

While the official State of the University address will be held in the fall as usual, Williams took the opportunity to share some of the highlights noted in his October 2021 address as well as discuss recent achievements and ongoing challenges.

Students walk between classes outside the entrance to the Science, Engineering & Technology building, which was one of the construction projects completed at Dixie State in recent years, St. George, Utah, April 4, 2022 | Photo by Ammon Teare, St. George News

Remember the 120,000 square foot Science, Engineering and Technology Building completed last year? University officials are actually planning another just like it, and Williams said fundraising is underway to secure $58-60 million to build on the large lawn behind the new SET building.

In fact, 2022 is already shaping up to rival its predecessor in terms of building projects at Dixie State. The College of Education will be taking over a completely overhauled Science Building in August, improvements to the Greater Zion Stadium should be done in just a couple months and ground will be broken for the new General Classroom Building in three to four weeks.

The Utah Legislature fully funded the General Classroom Building in its latest session, allocating $56 million for a structure that will rival the Science, Engineering and Technology Building in size.

Lawmakers also passed a bill creating a building fund to be split between all public universities in the state. Dixie State qualifies for about $11 million annually, though that can be deferred year over year to save for more expensive projects.

“The Legislature has been extremely supportive,” Williams said. “If you count this year, in the eight years I’ve been here our budget has gone from just under $45 million to just over $100 million from the state. They really realize the significance of an institution of higher learning in this area, so they’ve been really helpful.”

File photo showing the groundbreaking for Campus View Suites II at Dixie State University, which added 534 beds to campus housing upon completion, St. George, Utah, Jan. 31, 2020 | Photo courtesy of Dixie State University, St. George News

Despite the building spree, university officials still face a growing problem: a lack of affordable housing in and around St. George.

DSU secured approval to issue bonds for $62.5 million for a new student housing facility (Campus View Suites III) with 500 beds, but it’s not expected to open until 2025. By that time, total enrollment is expected to increase by over 1,500 students – more than Williams or his colleagues even hoped for when the last strategic plan was made in 2020.

“Right now our current goal by 2025 is 14,000 students, (but) we’ll probably have to make that a little bit larger because we believe we’re going to be over 13,000 this fall,” Williams said. “If you look at all the private and public housing, we have four beds open for the fall. So if you’re interested in investing in student housing, I would love to talk to you. We are somewhat in trouble with that.”

The housing shortage isn’t just affecting students, either. The inflated real estate market of Southern Utah is starting to complicate university hiring, just as the institution’s growth requires even more faculty and staff.

Dixie State employee pay rates are determined by state funding, but even the $4 million increase in faculty and staff compensation approved by state legislators hasn’t been enough to keep up with the local hike in cost-of-living expenses.

Dixie State University President Richard “Biff” Williams spoke about changes coming to campus, legislative funding and the housing shortage faced by students and faculty in Southern Utah, St. George, Utah, April 4, 2022 | Photo by Ammon Teare, St. George News

“This year they’re coming in and saying, ‘I can’t find a house for what you’re going to pay me,’” Williams said. “This is a new issue that’s just started this year, so now we’re starting to get knocked out of whack a little bit because that salary is not allowing them to find an apartment or definitely not a house.”

DSU is fast approaching 400 tenure-track, full-time professors with an additional 1,100 adjunct faculty members teaching various classes. Williams said the university is working with local municipalities, particularly the city of St. George, to try and find a solution, but he said he believes that the state might have to step in to reduce housing costs for educators.

Monday’s event was part of a 20-year tradition of lectures, known as the President’s Colleagues of DSU, which brings together retired professors, community members and professionals to hear from guest speakers each month.

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2022, all rights reserved.

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