By Sid Salter
STARKVILLE – There are few people on the planet who enjoy the Mississippi State-Ole Miss rivalry more than this writer. I like everything about it – the ridiculous and the sublime.
I like the fact that the outcome of the Egg Bowl has a lot to do with who shows up for church the next day. I like the fact that close-knit families needle each other constantly about it. I like the fact that for the fanatics on both sides, each SEC football Saturday has two components – rooting for your team to win and for their team to lose.
I love the close friendships, the business associations, even the “house-divided” marriages that find their only real bone of contention buried in State-Ole Miss rivalry.
But as one who has had the pleasure of teaching journalism at both universities, I can also appreciate the fact that Mississippi is blessed to have both State and Ole Miss serving the people of this state. Both institutions are charged with guiding, molding and developing Mississippi’s most precious resources – our young people who will one day lead this state.
In that vein, it is notable that Mississippi State University President Mark Keenum and University of Mississippi Chancellor Dan Jones joined forces this week to jointly embrace an innovative new collaboration between the two universities designed ultimately to put more and better teachers in Mississippi middle schools and high schools.
The Mississippi Excellence in Teaching Program, or MET, is a joint effort by the School of Education at Ole Miss and the College of Education at MSU to raise the prestige and perception of the teaching profession among undergraduates. The goal of this program is to attract more academically talented students to the profession and is funded by the Robert M. Hearin Support Foundation in Jackson. The universities will share $12.9 million over five years to fund the project.
By approving the joint MET program, Jones and Keenum said their universities have accepted responsibility for producing the very best teachers and will use the grant to attract the best and brightest to the teaching profession. The MET program essentially establishes an honors college for education majors that carries the same financial benefits and rewards as those offered top students in other fields.
The program – targeting 20 students at each campus per year for five years – will provide students accepted into MET full scholarships and room and board for up to four years. The program also provides money for study abroad or off-campus learning activities such as visiting high-performing schools around the nation or abroad. The initial goal will be to attract high ability students who want to become mathematics and English teachers.
Best of all, all graduates of the program must make a five-year commitment to teach in Mississippi after graduation. That’s perhaps the most important aspect of this program – incentivizing paths for Mississippi’s best and brightest to not only train for the teaching profession but to enter it and get established in Mississippi communities.
While sports rivalries are fun, the work of attacking Mississippi’s dual demons of poverty and lack of educational attainment is far too serious work to be sidetracked. It is not surprising that Keenum and Jones are willing to put their collective shoulders – and that of the institutions they represent – to the wheel of raising the prestige of the teaching profession in hopes of attracting more and better teachers in the poorest state in the union.
Education remains the one process best equipped to improve Mississippi’s economy, quality of life and standard of living. Why shouldn’t we all as Mississippians – whatever colors we wear to football games – rally together in that cause?
Sid Salter is a syndicated columnist. Contact him at (601) 507-8004 or firstname.lastname@example.org.