President Keenum welcomes a new academic year

August 20, 2012

As a new academic year gets under way, our momentum is high and our prospects for the future are brighter than at any time since I returned to my alma mater as president almost four years ago. Congratulations and thanks to all of you for the hard work and perseverance that have helped us weather the economic storm during the recent past and position Mississippi State to provide even greater leadership and service to our state.

Obviously, the campus is buzzing with the activity of thousands of students who are seeking the quality educational experience that we provide in preparation for productive careers and future leadership roles. Fall enrollment will be at a record level for the sixth year in a row. We awarded more than 4,000 degrees during the past academic year for the first time in university history.

At the same time, research activity is burgeoning. Research awards at this early point in the fiscal year are running 36 percent ahead of the previous year's pace, thanks to the outstanding faculty proposals being submitted. Grants and contracts totaled $135 million last year. Total research expenditures for FY12 have yet to be tallied, but the FY11 figure was over $226 million.

The support and involvement of our 124,000 alumni continues to grow. Alumni and friends contributed a record $86.4 million last year. And earlier this month, our StatePride initiative to raise funds specifically for scholarships and for faculty development topped the $100 million mark, reaching our four‑year goal well ahead of schedule.

Progress in all of those areas stems from the quality and commitment of the 4,500‑plus faculty and staff who are the backbone of our university. Despite the slow recovery of the state's economy and reduced state support for higher education, we were very pleased to be able to generate funds for a merit salary increase that took effect July 1, for the second year in a row.

The physical campus continues to develop to keep pace with enrollment growth and with our aspirations. Our two newest residence halls opened this month on the south side of campus. Construction began in July on a major renovation of Lee Hall, and an expansion of the football stadium is just getting under way. We will work to minimize the effects of the office dislocations and traffic disruptions that accompany large projects such as these.

Detailed planning and design is under way for the new classroom building with parking to be constructed next to the YMCA building. That facility should be ready for use in early 2014. Our plans also call an additional residential dining facility on the south side of campus to be open in fall 2014.

We are at the point of finalizing the Campus Master Plan that will guide our physical development in coming years. The plan has been available for review on our web site for more than a year now.

And within the next couple of weeks, our completed strategic plan for the next five years will be rolled out. I appreciate very much all the work and the comments received from across campus over the past year and more as that document has taken shape.

Our progress toward reaffirmation of accreditation by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) is on schedule. We received a very positive consultants' assessment of our preliminary compliance review during the summer, and we have identified writing as the focus of our Quality Enhancement Plan (QEP), which will be a major component of the reaffirmation effort. A QEP team will develop more specific goals this semester and we will run a pilot project next year before submitting our plan to SACS in early 2014.

We are finalizing a new application for membership in the Association of Research Libraries, and a new application to shelter a chapter of Phi Beta Kappa, the liberal arts and sciences honor society, is being prepared by our PBK faculty for submission this fall. We are now one of five universities in the nation to house a presidential library, following the designation this year of the Ulysses S. Grant Presidential Library, a collection held in cooperation with the U.S. Grant Association.

Mississippi State is reaching out to enhance opportunities and quality of life for our students, our state, the nation, and the world. This month we broke ground in Starkville on a Maroon Edition Habitat for Humanity house, for the fourth year in a row. This service learning project is a tie‑in with our Maroon Edition common reading experience. Efforts like this one earned Mississippi State a place on this year's President's Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll "with distinction," as one of only about 100 colleges and universities nationwide to receive that honor.

On August 31, we expect participants from other state colleges and universities to join us for a conference focused on improving retention and graduation of minority male students. I hope many of you will also take part in that event sponsored by the Office of Diversity and Equity Programs and others on campus.

On September 10, our International Institute will host an international gathering focusing on global food security. And in early October, historians from around the country will convene here for a conference celebrating the impact of the national land‑grant system, dating from passage of the Morrill Act in 1862.

I am proud of the outstanding performance of our faculty and staff and excited about the prospects for a great year ahead, thanks to your energies and abilities. It is an honor to work with such outstanding colleagues on behalf of our students and our state.

Mark E. Keenum