University task force progresses toward its goals

By Chris Kieffer/NEMS Daily Journal

TUPELO – One year after announcing an unprecedented collaboration, the leaders of the University of Mississippi and Mississippi State University talked about the rivalry their two schools had in athletics.
It’s a rivalry, they said, that must be confined to the fields and courts.
“We are partners,” Mississippi State University President Mark Keenum said during the CREATE Foundation’s State of the Region meeting at the BancorpSouth Conference Center. “Yes, we’re rivals, and we are serious rivals on the playing field. That is what makes being a Mississippian so special, that we take great pride in our institutions.
“But we are a small state and a poor state, and we can not be rivals when it comes to moving our state forward.”
It was at last year’s State of the Region meeting that Keenum and University of Mississippi Chancellor Dan Jones first laid out their plans to have a team of leaders and deans at each university work together to promote Northeast Mississippi.
That task force has since met four times and has presented a report on specific steps that can be taken to improve the region’s education, its access to colleges and its economic development.
“We have moved from philosophy and theory to concrete steps that can be taken to move Northeast Mississippi forward,” Jones said. “It is very gratifying to see it come together in a very short period of time.”
Next for the task force will be working to implement specific recommendations. For instance, representatives from both universities have set up workshops to help high school seniors complete the paperwork required to receive federal financial aid to college. They’re also working on longer-range goals such as developing a stronger system of early childhood education and better preparing school teachers. Researchers from the universities will work to help local businesses grow.
Keenum said that while future meetings are not currently scheduled, the structure is now in place to call them, as needed.
“When issues come up, we now have a mechanism to come together quickly and bring our resources together,” he said.
Said Jones: “We often talk in sports about what it would be like if we had one SEC football team in the state of Mississippi … We won’t ever do that on the football field, over my dead body.
“We can do it in the research labs and in the classrooms of Northeast Mississippi. We can do it together.”