Professor Craig Jones, emeritus professor of political science, envisioned an organization that would stimulate students' interest in getting involved in the public affairs of their communities by running for elected offices, serving on various boards and committees, and being informed and active citizens. Mr. Jones felt that the quality of life available to us in this nation and in our various communities is, to a large extent, due to the fact that a critical segment of citizens are willing and able to lead, serve, and participate in public affairs. As such, he felt that SUU was well suited to help promote the ideals which have helped make this region and nation what it is today.
Thus the Center for Politics was born. With the enthusiastic support of SUU’s administration, especially President Steve Bennion, and SUU student leaders, the Center for Politics and Public Service was officially established on November 16, 1998. Ted Wilson, director of the Hinckley Institute for Politics at the University of Utah, was the guest speaker at the inauguration ceremony and pledged much needed support to the Center.
Originally known as the Center for Politics and Public Service, the Center was renamed after former Governor of Utah and SUU alumnus Michael O. Leavitt during the 2004 Commencement exercises at Southern Utah University. During his address at the ceremony, President Bennion remarked that the name change was in honor of the great accomplishments of Mr. Leavitt and the possibilities and opportunities that are available to graduates of SUU. The center is now known as the Michael O. Leavitt Center for Politics & Public Service.
The central and overriding mission of the Leavitt Center is to help sustain and strengthen the democratic system of government at work in the United States of America from the national to the local level through education and practical experience. These aims will be achieved through the Center’s service as a non-partisan entity that fills an interdisciplinary educational role within the university. As such, the Leavitt Center will neither engage in political lobbying efforts nor take official or unofficial stands on the issues of the day.
To help plan and carry out the Leavitt Center’s activities and purposes, a Student Action Committee consisting of SUU students and a Board of Advisors of fifteen members was created. Five members of the board are administrators and staff who provide coordination, support and accountability. The ten appointed board members are citizens and leaders from throughout the state and region who provide ideas, direction and contacts with individuals and organizations whose support is vital to the Leavitt Center's success.