Looking forward: U to continue examining Dixie partnership

By Rochelle McConkie

A task force examining a closer affiliation between the U and Dixie State College might release recommendations to both schools’ presidents this summer, but leaders said changes might not come for a few years.

“We’re a long way (from) determining what is a good thing for Dixie State College and the University of Utah, and a long way from knowing when the best time to make changes might be,” said Chuck Wight, U associate vice president for academic affairs and co-chair of the task force.

Wight met with Dixie State interim President Stephen Nadauld on Tuesday to discuss how best to proceed with the inquiries, but he said they did not set a timetable or make any decisions on options for an affiliation. Dixie State faculty and administrators, as well as members of the task force, held an open forum at the college last night to get community input on the issue.

Nadauld was appointed by the Utah State Board of Regents in March after President Lee Caldwell resigned his position and was charged by the Regents to continue investigating the affiliation.

Dixie State will now seek a sustained commitment from the Regents and the Utah State Legislature to gain funding to build the school’s infrastructure, which Wight said will take four to five years. Since the school became a state college, the state has not given them any additional funding, he said.

“It’s more expensive to run a four-year school than a two-year school,” Wight said. “They need to grow into these larger shoes.”

Shandon Gubler, chair of the Dixie State board of trustees, said he has an open mind about the affiliation, but he hopes the issue will make it to the Legislature by the time the 2009 session starts in January.

“There’s no timeline we have to meet with this,” Gubler said. “If it happens to be in the legislative session of 2010, no one’s going to die, but as a businessman I hope to move forward.”

Gubler said he would support implementing the affiliation sequentially, phasing in changes over a two- or three-year period and ending with a full-blown affiliation.

Once the presidents receive the task force reports, they will review them and make recommendations to their schools’ board of trustees, who will then make recommendations to the Regents. If the plan requires legislative action, it will then move to Capitol Hill.

U President Michael Young said they would include the Legislature in the process whether or not the affiliation requires changes in the law.

Young said his goal for the coming year is to do what makes the most sense for both schools in light of the analysis from the task force. He did not say he was in favor of the affiliation, but he said he supports the inquiry of the affiliation.

“My goal is to do the right thing,” Young said. “It’s more important to get it right than to get it done quickly.”

The task force has been doing research on possible affiliation options and visiting other universities and colleges that have had mergers or affiliations.

U board of trustees Chair Randy Dryer said the U will continue with the current affiliation it now has with Dixie State, which includes sharing graduate programs.

“We anticipate a continued relationship, but the form or nature of the continued association is something we will have to wait on in the report,” Dryer said.

The Dixie State trustees asked the U, in early September, to join the two schools. In the fall, Dryer said the U would be excited to merge the two schools and help with curricula and programs, but it would have to be done according to certain conditions, which would include changing the name and having the school’s chancellor report to U President Michael Young. Gubler said two trustees have expressed concern over these conditions, but the rest are supportive.

Some community members opposed the possible name change to the University of Utah, St. George, because they felt the Dixie name pays tribute to Southern Utah’s pioneer heritage and attempts by early pioneers to grow cotton. Young said this name evokes racism of the Deep South and would make recruitment difficult on a national level. Dryer said this group represents a “vocal minority” in the community, and although he thinks it is still an issue with some people, it has quieted down.

Even if the name is changed, Gubler said Dixie State intends to retain and enhance its heritage by having locals refer to the school as the “Dixie campus.”

“All of the traditions are intended to be kept,” Gubler said. “None of it will have to go.”

Other individuals have expressed concern that the affiliation might bring about a tuition increase for Dixie State students, who now pay less for tuition than students at the U, Gubler said, but he doesn’t think the increase would be overbearing.

Gubler said an affiliation with the U would be a good thing for Dixie State students.

“It would expand the educational opportunities for our students, by having a degree from a brand-name institution that is renowned, respected and revered throughout the world,” Gubler said.

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