From college to State: 60 years later

New name at South Dakota State was harbinger of 60 years of change

By Dave Graves

Special to The Brookings Register

Posted 6/11/24

Editor’s note : This is the first of a three-part series looking at how South Dakota State transformed from a state college to a regional university with July 1, 1964, marking the 60 th …

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From college to State: 60 years later

New name at South Dakota State was harbinger of 60 years of change

Posted

Editor’s note: This is the first of a three-part series looking at how South Dakota State transformed from a state college to a regional university with July 1, 1964, marking the 60th anniversary of the name change.

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Americans were still trying to come to grips with the assassination of the charismatic President John F. Kennedy on Nov. 22, 1963. Race riots were breaking out in the South and in major American cities. Congress passed the Tonkin Gulf Resolution, deepening America’s involvement in the Vietnam War and prompting some to burn their draft cards. 

Oliver Platt, narrator of American Experience’s “1964,” said, “It would be the year when change was inescapable; the moment that fundamentally altered the kind of nation America would become.”

Students walk to class in front of Solberg Hall in 1964.
Students walk to class in front of Solberg Hall in 1964.

1964 also was a year that would fundamentally change the kind of institution of higher learning that South Dakota State would become. Since 1904, the school had been known as South Dakota State College. That changed on July 1, 1964, when House Bill 679 went into effect, renaming the institution South Dakota State University.

The change that has occurred at the College on the Hill in those six decades is as striking as the transitions from black-and-white console television sets to hand-held streaming devices.

Bob Burns, who would go on to teach political science at SDSU for 38 years, was part of the last graduating class of South Dakota State College. Recalling life as a Jackrabbit in the early 1960s, he said, “Our generation was more a generation of the ’50s than the revolutionary generation of the ’60s. The big movements of the time hadn’t sunk into our campus. 

“The civil rights movements hadn’t caught on in our region of South Dakota. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. came to Sioux Falls in 1961. I didn’t even remember it happening.”

What he does remember is switching from quarters to semesters for his senior year. “That is more memorable to the Class of ’64 than the name change.” Students went from taking 51 quarter credits per year (204 for graduation) to 34 semester credits (136 for graduation), said Burns, whose diploma was in political science.

He does recall later receiving a billfold-sized diploma stating South Dakota State University, but the official sheepskin said South Dakota State College.

Legislature tackles name change idea

While the name change didn’t fire student conversations the way classmate Sid Bostic’s shot to win the 1963 NCAA Division II basketball title did, that doesn’t mean renaming the school was a tranquil matter, especially outside of Brookings.

There was an attempt within the Board of Regents in 1963 to move ahead with the name change, but the motion was tabled.

However, the regents did act at its July 1963 meeting to employ Harvey Davis, provost at the University of Iowa, to conduct a study of the curricula and courses at the higher education institutions under its control. Davis presented his report at the November regents meeting.

Among a myriad of recommendations were ones to:

  • Create the University of Western South Dakota, by combining Mines and Black Hills State;
  • Put General Beadle State College (now Dakota State), Southern State Teachers College (long since closed) and the University of South Dakota under USD’s administrative control with three campuses; and
  • Change the name of South Dakota State College of Agriculture and Mechanical Arts to SDSU. Davis stated, “The institution is a university in all but name now, and it should be properly labeled for the benefit of students, faculty and the public,” according to Harold Bailey’s “A Quest for Excellence; On Making a Major University from a Small State College.”

Nothing happened again until 1964, when the Legislature took up the matter. Though the final votes were overwhelming — 65-8 in the House and 17-4 in the Senate — the measure did require a bit of lobbying.

According to a Jan. 23, 1964, article in State’s Collegian newspaper, “President H.M. Briggs and his assistant David Pearson urged students, parents, alumni and friends of State to contact their solons, either at home or by writing letters to their legislators at Pierre. 

“Pearson said that State is a university and should be identified as such. 

‘We should be on the same level with other institutions of higher learning with the same programs,’” Briggs said.