USD to rename law school after historic $12.5 million gift

Published: Aug. 3, 2020 at 10:06 AM CDT
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A big announcement was made Monday at the University of South Dakota’s Law School. The University is renaming its law school in conjunction with a $12.5 million gift from T. Denny Sanford.

The law school will be re-named the “Knudson School of Law.” In honor of David Knudson, a well-known Sioux Falls lawyer and former state lawmaker. He also previously served as chief of staff to Governor Bill Janklow. And was the majority leader in the state senate from 2007 to 2011.

“Who has been a pillar of the legal, business, and political community for generations in South Dakota. He is just a great example of everything that you can do with a law degree to change the world around you for the better,” said Neil Fulton, Dean of USD Knudson School of Law.

The $12 .5 million gift from Knudson’s friend and colleague, T. Denny Sanford more than doubles the school’s current endowment. It will also provide up to 10 full-tuition student scholarships for every incoming class.

President Sheila Gestring says this gift is important to continuing law in South Dakota. Currently, the Knudson School of Law is the only law school in the state.

“By training South Dakotas future lawyers, policymakers, businessmen and women, the law school provides fundamental service to the state in providing a critical pipeline of legal practitioners in our communities,” said President Gestring.

The new name is something Knudson is still getting used to.

“It was a very humbling experience for sure. one that was hard to even comprehend, still is hard to comprehend,” said Knudson.

But he is excited about the future of the school.

“One of the real weaknesses of South Dakota is that we have had very few need-based scholarships available to students, whether it’s undergraduates or graduates school. And now we’re going to have a real opportunity for people who might not otherwise be able to afford law school to attend,” said Knudson.

According to the dean, the endowment is permanent and will go on to help students year after year.


VERMILLION, S.D. (Dakota News Now) - To honor the legacy of Sioux Falls lawyer, businessman and public servant David Knudson, the University of South Dakota’s law school will take on the name of the University of South Dakota Knudson School of Law.

The naming of the USD Knudson School of Law is the result of a $12.5 million gift from Knudson’s friend and colleague, T. Denny Sanford. The gift will ensure the law school remains a national leader in excellence, service and leadership.

“It’s quite meaningful to see an investment of this size and to see the vision Mr. Sanford and Mr. Knudson have for securing the future of law in the state of South Dakota,” said USD President Sheila K. Gestring. “The USD Knudson School of Law is the only law school in the state, and most of our graduates practice in the state and regionally. This gift is very important to continuing law in South Dakota.”

“This gift is tremendous because it more than doubles the size of our current endowment at the law school, and it will fund up to 10 full-tuition student scholarships for every incoming class,” said Neil Fulton, dean of the law school. “It literally changes the lives of 10 students every year, and it gives us the opportunity to help 10 students begin their careers right here in South Dakota.”

Born and raised in Yankton, South Dakota, Knudson has served the state in many capacities. After earning his bachelor’s degree from Harvard University (1972) and a juris doctor degree from New York University (1975), Knudson returned to his home state to practice law. He started working for Davenport, Evans, Hurwitz & Smith, LLP, and in 1978, he became a partner. It is at the firm where Knudson began representing Sanford, beginning a collaboration that has lasted decades. Through their working relationship, the two formed a lifelong friendship that has in major ways transformed South Dakota.

In 1981, Knudson received his M.B.A. from the University of South Dakota. He went on to serve as chief of staff for South Dakota Gov. William J. Janklow in both 1995 and 1999 and as chair of the Governor’s Task Force on Managed Care in 1995 and chair of the Governor’s Task Force on Physician Recruitment in 1996. He was chair of the Governor’s Task Force on Trust Law Reform and Administration, a position he held for 15 years. Knudson was on the City of Sioux Falls Charter Revision Commission from 1998-2000, and he continues to serve the city through philanthropy today. He is on the Washington Pavilion Board of Trustees, the chair of the Stewardship Committee at Our Savior’s Lutheran Church and is co-chair of the Great Plains Zoo Fundraising Campaign.

Knudson served the state as a South Dakota senator from 2003-2011 and a Senate majority leader from 2007-2011. He was vice-chair for the education committee and the legislative procedure. Knudson is a member of the South Dakota Bar Association.

Knudson worked at Sanford Health as a senior vice president from 2010-2013, and he is now senior vice president at United National Corporation. Knudson resides in Sioux Falls with his wife De, a USD alumnus. They married in 1976 and have two sons, one in which – Michael – is also a USD alumnus.

“Dave chose to come back to South Dakota because he cares about his home,” said Fulton. “Dave is a perfect example of what a lawyer can do here in South Dakota, and for the students of the law school to walk in the front door every day and see ‘USD Knudson School of Law,’ it’s transformative.”

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