EDITORIAL: Academic energy

Mississippi State's methodical quest to advance every year in rank among the leading American research universities notched forward in the National Science Foundation's latest list.

MSU rose from 84th to 82nd in research and development expenditures – to $141.7 million – in NSF's statistics for 2001, released this week.

MSU's achievement is magnified by the company it keeps in the rankings:

– It is fifth in total agricultural research in the nation;

– It leads universities like Carnegie-Mellon and the University of Tennessee System in engineering research, standing in place with LSU, Cal Tech and UCLA.

– In total research, MSU ranks ahead of such esteemed universities as Auburn, Carnegie-Mellon, Arizona State and Washington State.

Mississippi State's ambitious climb in the strongly competitive research environment is all the more impressive because it struggles, along with other Mississippi universities, for adequate state support. Its academic merit attracts most of the funds from the federal government and major private sector firms widely engaged in research and product development.

The core and strength at MSU is found in operations like the Engineering Research Center and dozens of similar agencies, institutes and experiment stations. Some purely research functions like the Agriculture and Forestry Experiment Stations stand on their own reputations on a level almost as lofty as the university itself.

Research – in the social sciences as well as biology, math and engineering – makes MSU an academic magnet for scholars from around the world.

The university maintains cooperative relationships with leading academic and research centers worldwide. The university also has one of the largest and fastest supercomputer operations in the world.

Newly selected President Charles Lee comes from the mainline of research, and he carries forward enthusiasm given new life during the presidency of Mack Portera, who now heads the University of Alabama system.

MSU's work provides a startling core of highly advanced jobs, and it creates intellectual and economic energy for the state.

Mississippi's politicians need to be reminded in this election year why MSU requires constant attention, nurture and support from the state, still its basic source of support.

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