As a land grant public institution, University of South Dakota, since its founding, has been concerned with public participation in government. This was, in part, a reflection of the importance of government and the necessary involvement of voters in the making and adoption of a state constitution as a prelude to statehood. As a consequence, among the early issues confronted by the state was women's suffrage and South Dakota became famous as the first state to adopt the use of the initiative and referendum.
At USD, civics was one of the first courses taught in the Department of History. Enrollments grew to the point where in 1929 a separate Department of Government (now called Department of Political Science) was established. Thereafter, courses in political science grew at a rapid rate.
The Government Research Bureau (GRB), devoted to studies, reports, and conferences on governmental and political problems and issues, was established in 1939. Since then, activities have included sponsoring numerous events such as:
- "I Am An American Day" (Citizenship Day for new citizens).
- Forums on governmental topics.
- Furnishing speakers to civic organizations, including League of Women Voters, South Dakota Municipal League, Association of County Officials, Boys and Girls State.
- Participating in the work of the Institute of American Indian Studies.
The GRB was also one of the sponsors of the successful Rushmore Presidential Institutes held in the Black Hills.