SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah State Legislature gave final approval to a bill that begins a process to change the name Dixie State University.
In a 26-3 vote, the Utah State Senate approved House Bill 278. The House of Representatives held a concurrence vote late Wednesday, where they accepted a substitute and advanced the bill to Governor Spencer Cox, who has indicated he will sign it.
"This compromise will keep us moving forward," Rep. Kelly Miles, R-Ogden, who sponsored the bill, told his House colleagues.
He told the House he "fully expects a new name to be brought." But some House members were reluctant to accept a compromise with the Senate and wanted to reject the changes. House Republican leaders pressured them to take the deal and it passed on a 48-23 vote.
FOX 13 first reported last week a deal was struck to hear the bill in the Senate, after the House voted overwhelmingly for it. The new version of the bill allows for a public process to remove the name "Dixie." There is a slight chance the name could stay, but the bill calls for a name that "enables the institution to compete and be recognized nationally." It also sets up a "Heritage Commission" that works to preserve the regional history of the name.
"It includes community leaders, community membership and provides for input and collaboration with the public including residents from all of southwestern Utah," said Sen. Don Ipson, R-St. George.
The bill passed after some tense debate in the Senate about advancing a new name to help the university as works to recruit students and retain faculty, versus a "cancel culture."
"Where does it stop? Mr. Potato Head is now Potato Head. Dr. Seuss is on his deathbed, OK? Where does it stop?" fumed Sen. John Johnson, R-North Ogden. "I think we have to stop and think about what’s happening with the cancel culture and these pressures that are put on all kinds of things. It seems somewhat bizarre. The University of Utah, why did they keep the Utes? Because they paid off some group."
Sen. Mike McKell, R-Spanish Fork, who initially sponsored the bill in the Senate, said it was about helping the university grow beyond a name those outside Utah didn't understand.
"It’s going to enable the institution to compete nationally as they review that name as they work and move forward," he said.
Opponents of the bill have said the name "Dixie" has connotations with Latter-day Saint pioneers who settled the St. George area in a warmer climate. They also argued that the community has been largely left out of decisions in an area where "Dixie" is everywhere.
Supporters of the bill have argued the name needs to change as the university grows, and point to Dixie State's own past where it embraced things like a "Rebel" mascot, flew the Confederate flag on campus, and had students sporting blackface in yearbooks that were titled "The Confederate."
"We’re not trying to cancel anything. In fact, putting it back to the community to engage in a process and empower them to move forward in a direction that makes most sense for the community is the right thing to do," said Sen. Derek Kitchen, D-Salt Lake City.
Sen. Ipson said there would be a lot of public hearings before a name is submitted to Dixie State University's Board of Trustees and the Utah Board of Higher Education. The Utah State Legislature would vote on the new name in the 2022 legislative session.
"We’ll have a chance to come together and share the 'Dixie' spirit and come to a conclusion," he said.