Thursday, October 04, 2007

Dixie State College -- Administration V. Alumnus

Posted below is an email detailing the rancor in the discussions to make DSC part of the University of Utah. Although, I am personally in favor of Dixie becoming a full part of the U of U. I would agree that racism is being drummed up as an issue where it shouldn't and probably doesn't exist.

" Let me see if I can set the record straight on all that has happened over the last several weeks. The DSC Board of Trustees in conjunction with the DSC Administration approached law makers, Board ofRegents members and administration officials of the U of U some time ago to determine if it would be possible to develop a "closer affiliation"with the U of U in order to bring more degrees to Dixie. It was determined after that meeting that there was interest by all parties in this affiliation and that the talks should continue. The DSC Board ofTrustees was charged with the task of drafting a proposal outlining the preliminary details of this "closer affiliation." An announcement was made that DSC would seek such an affiliation and that there would be aperiod of 2-3 weeks of discussion with students, faculty, community, and alumni regarding what this proposal would ultimately look like. Discussion began.

I have to insert here that what I say from this point on will be colored by my personal bias on what has happened since the original announcement. I have been for, and fought for, the retention of the name Dixie and for the retention of the Rebels name/mascot. I have never wavered from that goal and have made 6 trips to St. George overthe last 2 1/2 weeks to preserve those traditions. I lost that fight and I am bitterly disappointed. President Caldwell called me on or about the 6th of September to let meknow that the announcement was going to be made within the next day or two and asked me for my support and feed-back. An hour long discussion ensued. He told me that the proposed name of the college within the language of the proposal would be "University of Utah St. George," and outlined to me the benefits of this "closer association" with the U ofU. As you know, we have been the ugly step-child of the Board of Regents for some time now. In the 5 years we have been Dixie State College, we have managed 8 baccalaureate degrees and two certificates.This affiliation with the U of U will dramatically increase our access to U of U resources and has the potential of essentially raising Dixieto university status within 18 months to two years. It is fully possible that we could expand the baccalaureate degrees offered to our students into the 50s within a very short period of time. I told him that I was in favor of the affiliation with the U of U provided that“Dixie” remain in the official name of the college and that we retain our own identity and autonomy. There was no discussion of the“Rebels” mascot at that time. President Caldwell indicated to me that every effort would be made to retain our identity and autonomy citing that current drafts of the proposal retained separate boards of trustees and separate budgets for the two institutions, but that the recommended name would be “U of U St. George.” I told him that I would not be in favor of anything that did not include “Dixie”prominently and officially in the name and that I felt there would be extreme community, alumni and student resistance to the name “U of U St. George.” He offered no further comment except that there would be a period of discovery and discussion over the next 2-3 weeks.What followed was anything but a period of discovery and discussion. What became immediately clear was that Shandon Gubler (Chairman of the Board of Trustees) and President Caldwell, as well as a few other board members and members of the DSC Administration had clearly made up their mind on the issue and that the 2-3 weeks would be a full court press to sell everyone on becoming U of U St. George and upon dropping the“offensive” name “Dixie” from the college’s official name. Every community, or student meeting that I had the opportunity to attend was pure propaganda to that end. Shandon Gubler attended an Alumni Board Meeting and pulled out the old year books from the 60s with their Confederate symbols and asked if “this was really the message we wanted sent out to the world and we enter a national, or even international, stage?” He seemed to forget that the flag and Rodney Rebel disappeared from the campus long ago and that we no-longer even print a year book. He spoke very persuasively about the fact that Dixie could not progress past its current state without losing its name and that he felt that the U of U would not be willing to accept the affiliation with the name “Dixie” attached. In the end, he told us that we should support getting rid of the name Dixie because it was the right thing to do for the college, and that the U of U had not made that demand that that, in conversations with members of the U of U administration including President Young, he was told they would not make that a condition of the proposal. We were told that all options were on the table. Many of the alumni board were affected and even emotional at the end of the meeting. In a side conversation after the meeting, Shandon told Connor Shakespeare (Southern Utah Alumni Chapter President) that we would remain “Rebels.”

Student meetings were laden with language like: “Do you want to continue to be Dixie State College with limited options, or do you want to be U of U St. George with the full support of the U of U?” Never that there might be a second option of reaching the desired level of affiliation and retaining the name “Dixie.”At one point, President Caldwell interrupted a DSC Student Council Meeting to tell them that he expected to receive a letter from officials at the U of U mandating that maintaining the name “Dixie” would kill the deal, and essentially telling them that they could not continue to be Dixie and that they should cease their opposition to the proposal. When Jennifer Shakespeare (DSC Student Body President) called Shandon Gubler to request a copy of the letter she was told that there was no letter, and that there would be no letter. Ralph and Sherry Atkin got involved at some point and circulated a petition that was ultimately signed by over 500 members of the community including most of the college’s biggest local supporters and donors, not to change the name to anything that did not include “Dixie” in the official name of the college. A community meeting was held in the Gardner Ballroom and was well attended by community leaders, donors, and alumni. The meeting was billed as on open discussion. What we got was a carefully orchestrated barrage of ethnic minority students talking about how offensive the term“Dixie” was to them; a carefully written statement from the chair ofthe faculty senate in opposition to “Dixie;” an “older”student who was returning for her degree again opposing the name Dixie on the grounds that it might limit her options for the future, a single mother who needed her degree in order to make more money to support her family, and a student from Snow Canyon High School who said that she would not attend Dixie State College if it bore the name “Dixie.” It was clear to all that attended that each of these individuals had been pressed into action by either the head of the campus Diversity Center (who also spoke in opposition to Dixie;) a member of the administration (one identified herself as having been requested to speakby Donna Dillingham-Evans – Academic VP) or by a member of the Trustees (the high school student who spoke and only identified herself by her first name, turned out to be Shandon Gubler’s daughter.) Many community members spoke to retain the name Dixie. Ralph Atkin asked President Caldwell: “If the Board of Trustees votes to retain the name“Dixie,” will you support their decision?” To which PresidentCaldwell answered: “I don’t have a vote,” followed by a spew of rhetoric worthy of his Juris Doctorate that answered nothing. In fact,several questions were asked and none were answered. I wanted to ask Miss Gubler if it had always been her intention not to attend Dixie State College due to the offensive nature of its name even though her father was the Chairman of the Board of Trustees, but I had already had my turn at the microphone. I did have the chance to let the students of ethnicity know that I was happy that they had decided to come to Dixie and that I felt bad if they had in any way felt unwelcome here. I feel that diversity on our campus is critical, and I told them so. I told them that until this moment I had never witnessed any expression of racism on this campus and that it was my home that this would always be the case at Dixie. I did remind them that they had a choice in coming to Dixie State College and apparently decided to come in spite of the offensive name.

The next day, a final meeting was held for Dixie College students. Itwas poorly attended, mostly by a group of the most ardent supporters of retaining “Dixie.” What was surprising to me (actually not) was than not a single one of the students who had spoken so passionately against “Dixie” were in attendance – not one!

Last Friday an “emergency” meeting was held off campus. It was attended by many influential members of the community and members of the Trustees. In that meeting they were told that the University of Utah had decided to withdraw from the discussion based upon issues of governance and the “Dixie” name. The issue of governance was that“University of Utah St. George’s,” Board of Trustees will become a board of directors that will answer to the U of U’s Board of Trustees. What this means is that we are being acquired by the U of U and that we will no-longer chart our own course without approval from the U ofU’s Board of Trustees. Senator Bill Hickman and Maureen Booth dissented on the vote based on the fact that we are giving up governance of the college. Everyone else at the meeting voted in the affirmative based on a belief that the deal would be dead without making these concessions.

On Monday, the Dixie State College Board of Trustees voted to draft aproposal to be sent to the University of Utah with the following provisions:

--The proposed name of the college will be University of Utah St.George, with the unofficial tag line “Dixie campus.” The Hurricaneand Kanab centers would, likewise, eventually be able to call themselves“Hurricane or Kanab campus” respectively.

--the mascot/name “Rebels” will be removed from DSC (we will needto find a new mascot – we will not become the U of U Utes)

--The DSC Board of Trustees will become a board of directors and will answer to the U of U Board of Trustees.

If in fact the U of U would have refused the deal with the name Dixie than and only should the concession to kill the name Dixie have been made. I'm afraid over-sensitivity and politcial correctness have been the main culprits. It is surprising that push for P.C. was made on DSC's end and not the U of U's end.

--Ralph Atkin was able to get language into the proposal that the students of the college could still refer to themselves as “Dixie”could sing the Dixie Songs and essentially uphold Dixie Traditions andthat the U of U would recognize their right to do so.

Some final thoughts:

There is a huge amount of detail that I do not have the time to include(heated personal conversations with President Caldwell and Shandon Gubler, conversations with alumni and alumni board members, etc….) In the end, it is my strong opinion that it was the design of the current administration and several of the trustees to eradicated the name“Dixie” from the campus from the get go. I strongly believe that the actions of the University of Utah were, in the end, strongly influenced by members of our own administration and board of trustees seeking support of their point of view. I believe the mandate from theU of U to drop the name “Dixie” from the official name of the college and the Rebels mascot/name were directly solicited by ShandonGubler or President Caldwell or both. My basis for this belief is that we were told that the U of U had stated that they would take no stand on these issues, but as Ralph Atkin and others began to garner support for“Dixie” from key members of the Board of Trustees it began to be apparent that they might lose the vote at the trustees meeting. I believe that Shandon and/or President Caldwell solicited officials from the U of U to take a stronger stand to bolster support from trustees who were either in favor of retaining “Dixie” or were undecided. We still have no official document from the U of U administration stating their opposition to either “Dixie,” or “Rebels.” Everything was done by “conversations” between Shandon Gubler and, as yet, un-named individuals from the U of U administration.

Though there is language in the proposal that gives lip service to retaining the “Dixie” name and traditions, I think it is naive to believe “Dixie” or its traditions will long endure in an atmosphere now charged with such negative emotions. The “D” on the hill will still stands for “Dixie” for as long as it remains, and the songs still sing of “Dixie” for as long as students and alumni will singthem. If “Dixie” is perceived as a term of hatred, how long do we really think it will last in a school that no-longer even controls its own destiny – that has given up its right to self determination to a larger university that has nothing invested in it keeping its name orits traditions alive. I would say that the proponents of this proposal are just fooling themselves, but I think they are more savvy than that. I think the believe they are fooling us.

An even larger issue in my mind is that the actions of the administration and/or certain trustees of DSC have irreversibly raised the issue of racism on a campus where no racism previously existed. Itis my belief that one or both of these parties solicited support from the director of the Ethnic Diversity Center on campus to find students of ethnicity willing to oppose “Dixie” in the public meeting based on in being a term of hatred toward blacks. I further believe they presented those students with one sided evidence to that end and then requested that they represent that point of view at the public meeting. Indeed one of the students who spoke of “Dixie” being a term ofracial hatred and stated that she was considering leaving Dixie College over this issue, spoke only one week earlier to a group of the campus ambassadors (she is herself an ambassador) stating that Dixie was not offensive to her and that she had never experienced any expressions ofracism on campus. I believe that the actions of those individuals in the administration and trustees who leveraged that emotion in their cause are both irresponsible and reprehensible.

From a philosophical point of view, I believe that the perceived connotation of any term or expression (like “Dixie” or “Rebels”)lies primarily in the mind or minds of the person or group who either uses or receives that term. A few weeks ago I was hiking Havasupai Canyon. I was approached by a Native American who, with derision, called me a Mormon. I simply said, “Yes, I am a Mormon; I am proud to be a Mormon.” I am descended from a religious minority who was singled out, with government authority, for extermination in the state of Missouri, driven out of Ohio and Illinois, and persecuted by mobs to the point of being forced to leave the United States and relocate to a desolate wasteland in Mexican territory at the edge of civilization, based simply on the fact that they were “Mormons.” My ancestors were brutalized for who they were and for what they believed. Some died along the trail to Utah. The term “Mormon” is a term of hatred to some. To me it conjures up images of self sacrifice, devout goodness, and a personal belief in God. To me, “Mormon” is a term of endearment. It is not offensive to me because I have chosen to see it in a different light than those who might use it as a term of derision.

Yes, the Southeastern region of the United States is referred to as Dixie. And yes, it was the location of the Confederacy during the Civil War. And yes, it was the region where slavery was practiced until a Civil War was fought to end that terrible era in our history as a nation. Likewise, Germany was the region that gave birth the Third Reich and Nazism and to the genocide of the Holocaust. And if memory serves me, I believe the founders of the this nation were once called“Rebels” by those who sought to oppress them. Why is it that we can now say “Germany” with impunity but the “Dixie” still carries the stench of the Confederacy?

Maybe we should remember that “Dixie” is also the place where a woman named Rosa Parks refused to go to the back of a bus because she was black, and where Rev. Martin Luther King said, “I have a dream….” -- the very birthplace of human rights in America (I'm not sure many people think of Washington DC as Dixie fo the old south, but I digress)

…or a desolate region of Southwestern Utah where a group of pioneers ofthe Mormon Church were sent by their prophet to grow cotton, struggled to survive, and said they had been called to “Dixie.”

I’m a Mormon from Dixie! I must be really depraved! One might even call me – a Rebel.

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