A Note from Cottonwood Corners

In March of 2020, the South Dakota Legislature passed Senate Bill 55 which required the Board of Regents to assemble a Task Force to examine possible program and administrative efficiencies at the six public universities.  Their examination was to specifically include the following:

  • The possible combining of administration at all levels of operation within an institution.
  • The possible combining of operations and functions across multiple institutions.
  • The possible combining of the administration of programs across multiple institutions.
  • A review of the duplication of program offerings.

Their final report from the 20-member task force was released to the Board of Regents and the public in early October of this year.  A link to the full report which was submitted to the Board of Regents is available on their website at https://www.sdbor.edu.

This was not the first time that changes to the colleges and universities in this state have been made.  The November 28, 1912, issue of The Mitchell Capital contained this headline: “ONE BIG UNIVERSITY FOR STATE PLAN OF REGENT HITCHCOCK — Would End Duplications and Competition in State’s Big Schools.”  Mr. Hitchcock, president of the Board of Regents and a lawyer from Mitchell stated that he believed that the time had come when the institutions should more closely perform the functions for which they were intended.

It was the ambition of Hitchcock to “Reorganize three of the state institutions, the Brookings Agricultural College, the State University at Vermillion, and the School of Mines at Rapid City, by combining them into one great university.”  His plans would have taken the Engineering School from Brookings and added it to the School of Mines and would have taken the upper half of the college work from the Normal Schools and send their advanced students to the State University.  He also wanted to strengthen the Agricultural College and the Normal Schools by having them concentrate the work on their particular subjects.

The November 30, 1912, issue of the Custer Weekly Chronicle reprinted the following story from the Capitol Journal:  “The Sioux Falls Journal suggests the removal of the state university from Vermillion to that city.  If any moving is to be done, and we have no argument against it, everything belonging to the state would be better located at Pierre than elsewhere . . . . There may be a jar among the educational institutions some of these days, and when it comes the people will favor Pierre.  This is a subject that can be settled by the initiative and referendum and institutions combines in the legislature may not always be able to control this subject.”

In the same article, the Custer Weekly Chronicle continued:  “When the voters of the state take control of the public institutions out of the hands of the legislative combines there will be a consolidation instead of removals.  The alleged right of any town or village to a local institution maintained by the state will not be recognized.  There will be a consolidation of so-called colleges, universities and normal schools as well as a number of charitable institutions.  The voters will get after it in time, and when they do they will make quick work of it.”

During the 1913 legislative session, the possibility of consolidation or relocation of higher education institutions was frequently discussed; however, no political action was ever taken.  Early in the session there did not seem to be any demand from the people of the state for such a change and most of the folks in Pierre felt that nothing would happen.

In early May of 1913, a petition was started in Mitchell to invoke a referendum on the measure just passed by the 1913 legislature to allow the Aberdeen normal school two additional years of college work. It was thought that the citizens of the state were not in favor of creating another institution of higher learning.  Those initiating the petition felt that “we have more of that class now than the state can properly support, and until such a time as there is need of another university we believe the normal at Aberdeen should continue to do the educational work for which it was founded.”

In 1917, the fifteenth legislative session passed S. B. 130 which provided for a survey of the public educational institutions of South Dakota, including all schools and educational institutions supported by public funds (including public colleges and universities).  This survey was to determine the efficiency of all public institutions in the state.

A commission of three members was selected by Governor Norbeck.  Those appointed were Mr. A. M. Anderson of Sturgis, Mr. C. E. Swanson of Sisseton, and Miss Ruth E. Sabin of Lake Andes.  In addition, five Bureau of Education experts and three additional specialists from different States and educational institutions were named to the commission.  This commission made many higher education recommendations; however, almost all were ignored by the legislature and citizens of this state.

The 1922 South Dakota ballot included an Initiative to move the University from Vermillion to Sioux Falls.  From 1890 to 1960 South Dakotans had voted on one hundred and seventy four Constitutional Amendments, Initiated Laws, and Referred Laws.  The one receiving the lowest favorable response from voters was the relocation of the University to Sioux Falls.  Only 11,863 (7.71%) voted “yes” on this question.

In February of 1915, a bill was introduced in the house to “wipe out the Springfield Normal School.”


Author Clarence Shoemaker, originally published in the Gregory-Times Advocate on November 17, 2021

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