Vacant Burns Arena seats during President Biff Williams’ formal inauguration signified the progress needed to improve community-university ties — a goal that Williams has repeatedly underscored in his ambitions for Dixie State University.
Students, faculty, staff, alumni and city officials gathered Thursday, some wearing traditional caps and gowns, to witness the ceremony acknowledging Williams as DSU’s 18th president. Among those who attended were Student Body President Gregory J. Layton, St. George Mayor Jon Pike, Daniel Campbell, chair of the Utah Board of Regents, and Gregory Price, chair of the DSU National Advisory Council.
“The more I have met people on this campus, the more excited and happy I get because there are so many hidden gems in DSU, yet there is so much potential to build upon,” Williams said. “… I’m really excited to look back in 10, 20, 30 years to see the progress we’ve made.”
Layton, as a member of the presidential search committee, praised Williams at the beginning of the ceremony, describing the extensive process of choosing Williams among more than 40 candidates from all across Utah and the nation. He said Williams’ defining moment occurred when a group of students assembled during the final round of interviews to meet the presidential candidates.
“One candidate made [a special] connection, and after students couldn’t stop talking about him — (after) every question we asked was answered in a way that was right for Dixie, right for the students, and right for the community — after months of searching, that final interview made it clear for all of us the next person to take us through the next chapter of our history would be Biff Williams,” Layton said.
During the ceremony, Campbell passed Williams four distinct charges to accomplish during his time at DSU: to educate and equip students to compete and excel in the world, to cultivate Dixie’s areas of excellence as a dual-mission teaching institution, to build DSU as an institution, and to strengthen unity between DSU and the communities it serves.
Upon accepting the charges, Williams addressed his audience and requested assistance in accomplishing his objectives.
“I truly believe that I and my leadership team can make a difference and meet these charges,” Williams said. “However, I know that we, everyone in this room and many more, can not only meet these charges, but also exceed these charges — so much so that people from all across this country will come to St. George and ask, ‘How did you do this?’”
Williams said Monday school officials met with three different agencies in order to hire a consultant to help execute DSU’s new ambitions. While Williams said he and his administration are still in the information gathering and planning stages, community engagement is at the core of his plans for DSU.
“The No. 1 question I have been asked, other than ‘How did you get the name Biff?’ has been, ‘What is your vision?’” Williams said. “My reply has been and will continue to be, ‘I don’t know — you tell me. What is our vision?’ A vision of a president will come and go, but a vision of a community will last forever.”
Williams said he intends DSU and St. George to establish the same relationship as Provo and Brigham Young University and Logan and Utah State University. To continue building upon Dixie’s community bonds, Williams said within the next few weeks 1,000 DSU flags will be distributed throughout St. George so community members can display their Dixie pride.
“We want that … feel where you drive down the Boulevard and you see the Dixie flags — and everybody knows what it means to be Dixie,” Williams said. “[We want everyone to] feel that Dixie spirit, see ‘Dixie’ on the mountain and the ‘D’ lit up at night, and to have a sense of pride and commitment to making the university move forward.”
Before passing Williams his formal charges for his presidency, Campbell addressed Williams directly.
“President Williams, you set the tone and standards for this great institution as a man of strong character optimism, integrity, intellect, ability and experience,” Campbell said. “You have our full confidence and support as you build upon DSU’s past existence for a bright future.”