The Carl Vinson Institute of Government has been a public service and outreach unit of the University of Georgia (UGA) for more than seventy-five years. The faculty and staff work to improve the quality of life for all Georgians through an extensive program of instruction, technical assistance, policy research, and communications.
In 1927 the Institute of Public Affairs was established at UGA to “provide a forum to study international, national, state, and local affairs and to make recommendations for improved governance.” There were only 1,585 students at UGA, and the state population was 2.8 million.
From 1938 until 1952 Georgia’s population grew, and so did the needs of its citizens. During this time the public service activities of what was then named the Institute for the Study of Georgia Problems ranged from holding forums on constitutional reform to publishing studies on county road administration, forms of government, and voter registration. In 1943, coinciding with Governor Ellis Arnall’s extensive reform of state government, a separate Bureau of Public Administration was created. UGA’s political science faculty taught short courses at the bureau to local government officials. The two units became the Institute of Law and Government in 1953.
The first Biennial Institute for Georgia Legislators was conducted in 1958 and remains one of the longest-running educational and orientation programs for newly elected legislators in the country. The three-day program features special policy sessions for both new and veteran lawmakers, as well as a speech by the governor.
The Handbook for Georgia Legislators, first published in 1958, is in its twelfth edition. Many other institutes and handbooks have subsequently appeared, including those for mayors and council members, county commissioners, probate judges, and peace officers. Other publications include compilations of Georgia and federal laws in specific areas, research studies on current issues, classroom teaching materials, and practical guides for improving government operations.
In 1965 the organization was renamed the Institute of Government and began reporting to the new Office of the Vice President for Services. The final name change occurred in 1983, when the institute was renamed in honor of Congressman Carl Vinson of Milledgeville, who served in the U.S. House of Representatives for more than fifty years. In 1991 the institute moved from UGA’s North Campus to the historic Lucy Cobb Institute building on Milledge Avenue, just west of campus. Lucy Cobb, a private school established in 1859, provided primary and secondary education for young women until it closed in 1931.
The Vinson Institute faculty and staff carry out a wide range of services—for instance, teaching a local government clerk about new budget procedures, staffing a special legislative committee on water issues, facilitating a leadership retreat, conducting an economic impact or personnel study, working with a consolidation committee, or developing civic-education lesson plans. Such long-term and personal commitment to service has given the institute a reputation for being responsive and objective.
In the twenty-first century the institute has expanded its mission to assist communities and regions in Georgia and the Southeast, and it has established the International Center for Democratic Governance, which extends outreach to the world’s emerging democracies. Faculty have also been involved in such special outreach initiatives as the Study on Persistent Poverty in the South and the Balanced Growth Initiative. An expanded survey research function has brought about the Peach State Poll, a quarterly public opinion survey.
The Carl Vinson Institute of Government continues to help improve the understanding, administration, and policymaking of governments and communities by bringing the resources and expertise of the university to bear on the issues and challenges facing Georgia. These efforts have resulted in a partnership with local, regional, and state governments that has propelled the organization to national prominence.