ON Kilter: Dixie State, is this the Top 10 you want to be in?

December 28, 2013

by Dallas Hyland

OPINION – My friend, Cole Hulse, posted on his Facebook: “Behold, the only time Dixie will ever be in a Top Ten list with Harvard,” referring to a report published by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, simultaneously published with The Huffington Post College Blog, naming The 10 Worst Colleges for Free Speech. Dixie State University achieved an ignoble notable No. 4 spot on the list. And so I ask, is this who you want to be DSU?

At the heart of FIRE’s ranking is the current and ongoing fight university senior Indigo Klabanoff is engaged in to be allowed her First Amendment right of freedom of expression and association. The battle turns on her desire to name her club Phi Beta Pi – objectionable to the university’s administration for its use of Greek letters.

The lengths to which the administration is willing to go, on the record, to thwart Klabanoff’s rights are curiously intentional.

As the FIRE report states, “after … Klabanoff pointed out to administrators that Dixie State didn’t actually have a policy prohibiting groups with Greek letters in their names, the school went so far as to retroactively amend its policies to prohibit them.”

There are still, in fact, a number of clubs sanctioned by Dixie State that have names bearing Greek letters. The Salt Lake Tribune reported that Dean of Students Del Beatty said the council decided only honors clubs could use Greek letters because “this is not something we want to fight right now. It’s not worth the fight. We have bigger things to do right now.”

Rather than correct their error and permit the club, they merely changed policy on the fly

And yet, when administrators recognized that their policies did not support their unlawful position against Klabanoff’s club,rather than correct their error and permit the club, they merely changed policy on the fly to prohibit Greek letters. Curiously, they did not impose that policy on other clubs.

FIRE’s article goes on to say, “throughout the numerous attempts Phi Beta Pi made to gain recognition, Dixie State has displayed a striking immunity to basic constitutional principles.”

Despite clear evidence and case law to support Klabanoff and her club, DSU is, as the Dean of Students Del Beatty has said, digging its heels in.

In the Dixie Sun, the school’s own newspaper, Emily Bills wrote on Nov. 7:

Beatty said the media’s attention has had the reverse affect that Klabanoff hoped for.

‘It’s just more of a nuisance than anything else,’ Beatty said. ‘I personally feel like it makes (administration) want to dig their heels in the ground even more.’

What an interesting idiom Beatty chose to use, an image that derives from a jackass digging in its heels and refusing to be led in a direction he doesn’t want to go – right, wrong or indifferent.

Such stubbornness. And at what cost?

“There is still time before the end of year for Dixie State to show it respects and trusts its students by recognizing Phi Beta Pi,” the FIRE  wrote in its “10 Worst” article. Is this a warning to the school?

Litigation seems inevitable.

In reflecting on current events locally and in Utah, it can’t help but come to mind that the City of St. George is facing a lawsuit involving numerous Fourth and 14th Amendment violations by the city’s code enforcement division and administrative court. Although premised differently, the two cases bear a resemblance.

Both offending entities, the city and the university, are public ones. They are charged with the public’s trust and by that very charge they have a different standard of accountability than, say, a private institution might have.

These entities think that some version of a majority vote within their own rank and file validates their outright perversion of the law and permits them to run roughshod over people’s rights

At the very least, in both cases it appears that somehow these entities think that some version of a majority vote within their own rank and file validates their outright perversion of the law and permits them to run roughshod over people’s rights.

In the case of Dixie State, reports and allegations of sweeping civil rights infringements made carte blanche by certain members of its administration are a blight on the integrity of the school as a whole. I would argue that blight extends to the state system of higher education and to the community in which the school sits.

DSU is off to a poor start in being recognized as a reputable university-level institution.

How many other similar situations have taken place whereby the university has gotten away with normalcy bias? In plain speak, that is, how many times has it persisted without accountability or constraint to constitutional considerations because “this is the way we’ve always done it.”

Suffice it to say, given the recent prevalence of lawsuits and rulings in the local and state arena, people are taking note and offense to being subjected to whimsical volitions of people who are entrusted with authority. And they are standing up, and resisting, and using the law to seek out and exact justice.

For the sake of the reputation and integrity of Dixie State, there must be above all respect and adherence to the laws of this land.

There are few things as important as respecting civil and individual rights. These ideas and freedoms are woven into the fabric of our nation’s constitution and cannot be excised from our own forums. If civil and personal rights are disregarded, when and where will the over-governance stop?

It is said that the first step to fixing a problem is to identify it.

The very nature of a university calls for a conducive and free market of ideas to be exchanged and upheld

Violation of individual rights perpetrated by an institution of higher learning should never happen. The very nature of a university calls for a conducive and free market of ideas to be exchanged and upheld.

I have said this before and it remains a mystery to me that academia locally remains silent and capitulates to DSU’s antics; when the academics will not stand up for a just cause, something is gravely wrong.

This case is not going away DSU and state regents. Best start dealing with it from a mature, legitimate, and legal vantage point lest you render yourself on the world stage of academia as irrelevant.

See you out there.

Dallas Hyland is an opinion columnist. The opinions stated in this article are his and not representative of St. George News.

View this article at St. George News

Schools: Dixie State University Cases: Dixie State University: School Rejects Student Group Because Its Name Includes Greek Letters