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Dixie trustee yanks support for affiliation with the University of Utah

Published: Thursday, Oct. 25 2007 12:06 a.m. MDT

ST. GEORGE — A trustee at Dixie State College yanked his support of a proposed affiliation between the college and the University of Utah during a meeting Wednesday with the Utah State Board of Regents.

"I formally withdraw my support for this petition, and I do not support the University of Utah's petition if these issues of governance are not resolved," said Steven Caplin, who has served on the college's Board of Trustees for two years.

Caplin's concerns centered on an Oct. 22 letter sent by University of Utah trustees to Dixie's trustees that authorizes negotiations to begin between the two schools.

The letter, signed by U. board of trustees chairman Randy Dryer, outlines 10 principles that would guide the process of changing Dixie State College to the University of Utah, St. George. A task force with members coming from the U. and Dixie State met in St. George earlier this week to jump-start the process that could take up to two years to complete.

"I have a lot of concern with what I would call a one-dimensional petition that can essentially be characterized as an acquisition of Dixie State College by the University of Utah," Caplin told the regents. "The guiding principle was to preserve the independence of Dixie State College. It was not intended to be a merger or branch of the University of Utah."

If Dixie State College becomes a university campus within the University of Utah system, it would also give up its autonomy and hand over its fiscal, direct policy and administrative control over to the U. president, the U.'s petition states.

Caplin said the original concept of the affiliation, which he supported, has changed since discussions first began on the issue about six months ago.

"I am concerned about the serious deviation between the white paper that was used to gain community support and this letter from the University of Utah," he said. "It was represented to me that there would be a more open dialogue on the governance issue. As it turns out, the University of Utah wants the dissolution of the Dixie State College board of trustees. There is clearly a cost to giving up our independence."

Shandon Gubler, chairman of the Dixie State College trustee board, said he disagreed with Caplin's assessment of the process and urged him to be patient.

"This will take months of very detailed work," Gubler said. "It will be laborious and it will address every minor and major detail. It is important to both Dixie State College and the University of Utah that it is done right."

Another point of contention in the proposal is renaming Dixie State College, said Alumni Association President Mark Gubler, also a trustee.

"This is a very big public relations issue and has the potential to have a big impact on our supporter base," he said. "We have people saying they are going to pull Dixie State College out of their wills and quit supporting it because of this (name change)."

According to the U.'s petition letter, keeping the name "Dixie" in any way other than as a reference to the "Dixie campus" would "prove fatal" to the success of the affiliation proposal. Long-held traditions that showcase the college's heritage, such as whitewashing the "D" on the hill in St. George, would remain, however. The school's nickname, the "Rebels," also would be mothballed under the plan.

"We were told this was a local issue and now it's in this letter," said Jennifer Shakespeare, president of the Associated Students of Dixie State College, who also is a member of the trustee board. "This was supposed to be a work in progress."

Regent Jerry Atkin suggested the Dixie board of trustees discuss the issues of governance and name of the college in more depth at a later time.

"There's no pressure from the regents to push this," Atkin said, "if there's not a pretty good concurrence then this is not going to happen."

Dixie State College President Lee Caldwell said the discussion had been hijacked to some degree by the specifics that still need to be determined by the task force.


E-mail: nperkins@desnews.com

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