USD professors reflect on former South Dakota governor’s impact during his visit

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Former Governor Dennis Daugaard poses with his portrait at Farber Hall. Submitted photo.

USD honored former South Dakota Governor Dennis Daugaard with a portrait of his likeness last Wednesday. Farber Hall contains a portrait of all USD alumni who have served as a governor. Daugaard is the eleventh portrait.

David Earnest, the chair of USD’s Department of Political Science, attended the ceremony. Earnest said one of Dugaard’s impacts in South Dakota was criminal justice reform.

“As the governor explained, he noticed South Dakota was incarcerating more people, but we were not seeing significant reductions in crime and so he undertook extensive criminal justice reform,” Earnest said.

Daugaard, along with USD President Sheila Gestring spoke at the event, which included an audience of roughly 60 people.

Daugaard also increased funding for public education, Earnest said. While Earnest has only been in South Dakota since 2017, he said Daugaard’s commitment to strengthening South Dakota’s workforce stood out to him.

“He was very interested in encouraging South Dakota’s higher education institutions to meet the workforce needs of South Dakota,” Earnest said. “He was very interested in providing a technically skilled workforce.”

Daugaard worked with the South Dakota Board of Regents to help enhance STEM degree programs to make the workforce more high-tech, Earnest said. He also noted a certain humanistic quality in Daugaard’s speech.

“So often politicians have to be guarded in what they say, and my sense was now that he is relieved of the burden of leadership, he could be himself and I thought he was charming and funny and eloquent,” Earnest said. “I left with a deep appreciation for who he is as a person and a public servant.”

For Neil Fulton, the dean of USD’s law school, some of Daugaard’s impacts in South Dakota started even before he was elected as governor.

“His work with the Children’s Home Society is really profound. He was integral to the development of Children’s Home,” Fulton said. “He worked to get Denny Sanford to invest in Children’s Home, which was massive to the advancement of their mission. Dennis Daugaard was really involved in public service before he ever got a vote cast for him.”

In addition to being an effective leader, Fulton said the former governor is funny and kind.

“If you get to notice Dennis Daugaard for more than just a couple minutes, you quickly realize that he’s a person of tremendous good humor and kindness,” Fulton said. 

Fulton said many law students told him they were impressed by how likable Daugaard is.

“Someone who is relatable and has wonderful, good humor is really something I always think about with him,” Fulton said.

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