Public service: “What counts in life is not the mere fact that we have lived. It is what difference we have made to the lives of others that will determine the significance of the life we lead.” — Nelson Mandela
At a recent wedding reception a woman I know approached me and asked:
“Who is that man with all the white hair in the seersucker suit?”
“That’s Harvey Jewett,” I told the out-of-state guest. “He recently stepped down from the state Board of Regents and was its longest serving member. And maybe its most influential.”
The last part of the explanation is just my opinion, of course, but Jewett, an Aberdeen attorney appointed to the board in 1997 by Gov. Bill Janklow, has been in the middle of higher education – and its able advocate – for longer than most people can remember.
At 68 he still cuts a dashing figure, and the aforementioned seersucker suit (who knows what one of those is, much less wears one?) was typical Jewett, who always seemed to show up at public forums right out of central casting.
There is far more to Jewett than his dapper demeanor, though. A highly successful lawyer and businessman, his two decades of public service as a regent came during a time when the state’s colleges and universities faced new and difficult challenges – enrollment stagnation and creeping tuition rates for students to name but two.
Those problems persist, despite Jewett’s focused attention.
There were times when his generally cool demeanor gave way to a firmer, more strident tone.
I remember receiving a phone call from Jewett, who was clearly unhappy about an editorial in The Daily Republic, where I was publisher. The editorial challenged the wisdom of establishing university centers in Sioux Falls, Rapid City and Pierre. My view was that those new universities would cost the state money, siphon off students from established campuses and exacerbate the enrollment problem.
We launched into a mildly heated discussion about it, but with no lasting consequences, thankfully.
Today, there is a debate going on about relocating the USD law school to Sioux Falls. Enrollment is down at the law school, which some would argue is not necessarily a bad thing, given the abundance of lawyers. The premise is that the state needs to take services to the population centers instead of the interested population coming to the existing campuses. If implemented, it will accelerate the concentration of population, growth and economic development to Sioux Falls and away from the rest of the state.
Jewett won’t be around to help resolve that issue. He’s had his day and he’s made his contribution. It was substantial and enduring.
July 26, 2017