OUR OPINION: University collaboration a key tool for the state

By NEMS Daily Journal

American higher education has long been a force for economic development through applied research in many fields.
Some areas of the country, however, have outpaced others when it comes to universities’ involvement in partnerships that move the work done on campus into practical application in the wider community and marketplace.
The Research Triangle in North Carolina is an example often cited where universities not only team with state government and the private sector but with each other to maximize their potential as catalysts for improving the quality of life in the regions they serve.
Our state’s two leading universities, the University of Mississippi and Mississippi State University, have long made their own contributions to the state’s development beyond the obvious job of educating our citizens. But for too long they were too competitive – or simply not interested enough in working together – to reach their full collaborative potential.
That is changing. Over the last 10 to 15 years, individual initiatives by current and former university leaders have greatly improved communication and cooperation between MSU and Ole Miss. Then in 2010, a task force of representatives from both universities was formed with the help of the CREATE Foundation to find ways to spur economic growth and social cohesion in Northeast Mississippi. As a report in the Sunday Journal noted, the task force hasn’t met recently but work is ongoing in building collaborative partnerships.
Mississippi is too small and poor a state to have its two premier public educational institutions protecting turf or duplicating efforts. Competition in athletics is one thing, and generally healthy; beyond that, the competition can be counterproductive to the best interests of citizens and taxpayers.
MSU President Mark Keenum and Ole Miss Chancellor Dan Jones have worked closely together on issues affecting both higher education and the state in general. The impetus for productive cooperation between the universities has to start at the top, and it is there.
We hope it continues in concrete ways until it becomes firmly embedded in the culture of both institutions – and in the expectations of their alumni and supporters. Mississippi needs every tool it can get to move out of the economic basement, and these two universities working together are potentially the most powerful tools we have.