STARKVILLE— Mark Keenum promised to uphold academic excellence Friday as he was formally installed as 19th president of Mississippi State University.
The Starkville native has been on the job at his alma mater since January. An investiture ceremony was held Friday on the campus in Starkville.
Keenum is a former chief of staff for Republican U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran of Mississippi. He also was U.S. undersecretary for Farm and Foreign Agricultural Services under then-President George W. Bush.
Keenum holds a bachelor's, a master's and a doctoral degree in agricultural economics from Mississippi State. The university has its highest enrollment ever, with about 18,600 students.
October 16, 2009
Governor Barbour, and all of our distinguished elected state and local officials; Chief Justice Waller, and members of the Mississippi judiciary; Federal Judge Aycock; Senator Cochran, and members of Mississippi’s Congressional delegation; Commissioner Bounds and Mr. Ross, and members of the Board of Trustees; Distinguished faculty, staff, students, alumni, and friends of Mississippi State University; Representatives of colleges and universities from throughout Mississippi and across the nation; Honored guests; Mom and Dad.
Thank all of you for being here to help celebrate the enduring strength and contributions of Mississippi State University.
For while I am greatly honored to formally assume the role of president, I hope this occasion will be a reminder that our university is defined and shaped not by one person—but by the tens of thousands who have built it, and nurtured it, and whose labor and love give it life each and every day.
When it became known that I would have the opportunity to lead this great university, the reactions were varied:
My parents said, “We’re proud of you, son.”
My wife, Rhonda, said, “Don’t let it go to your head.”
The Commissioner of Higher Education said, “Remember your place.”
My mother-in-law said, “There must be some mistake.”
As I arrived, former President Roy Ruby said, “Well, good luck.”
The faculty leadership said, “You’ll need it.”
I say, I’m happy and proud to be here.
This event is not so much a celebration of a new chapter in the life of the university as it is a re-affirmation of this institution’s constancy as a source of service and leadership for our state.
I become the 19th president of my alma mater in its 131st year with a keen awareness that Mississippi State has a long and distinguished history; that among my predecessors have been some exceptional leaders; and that the continued success of this university is of vital importance to the State of Mississippi and its citizens.
With these things in mind, I accept the office of president with humility, with determination to do my best, and with deep gratitude to the Board of Trustees and all who had the confidence in me to bestow this responsibility. I solicit your patience, your advice, and most importantly, your prayers.
Buoyed by your trust and support, I am ready for this challenge. Affection and enthusiasm for this university have been instilled in me from birth.
I was born in Starkville while my father was a student at Mississippi State. I came home from the hospital wrapped in a maroon and white blanket and lived in campus student housing for the first two years of my life.
My earliest memories include attending MSU athletic events with my family and friends. I earned three degrees here. I began my career here. I dated Rhonda throughout our years as students here, and earlier this year we celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary. We are blessed by the opportunity to raise our four children—Katie, Rett, Mary Phillips, and Torie—here in this community and on this campus.
When our family arrived in January from Washington, D.C., we were truly coming home. We can never thank the Mississippi State family enough for the warm and wonderful welcome we have received over the past nine months.
I owe much to many people who have helped and guided me along the path that brings me before you today.
Senator Thad Cochran has had a tremendous influence on my professional growth and development and my personal journey. The lessons I learned from watching him serve our state and nation with unfailing integrity, courage, and compassion have been invaluable to me.
I am especially grateful to Sen. Cochran for his constant demonstration of the power and importance of truly listening to what others have to say.
And I am eternally indebted to many other individuals—my parents, my wife, teachers, coaches, professors, friends and colleagues—who helped me become what I am today. Under their influence and example, I came to understand, as Albert Schweitzer once said, that the only people who will be really happy are those who have sought and found how to serve.
I am proud that Mississippi State, as much as any university, is dedicated to the ideal of service—to our students, to our state, and to our great nation.
This fall, our enrollment is at an all-time high, and it will continue to expand. We welcome that growth. A university with the size and stature to attract top faculty, top students, top donors, and top research sponsors is the institution that can best serve the long-term needs of our state.
A product of enrollment growth will be more college-educated workers for Mississippi—an essential ingredient in the quest to boost employment opportunities and earnings potential for everyone in our state.
ACT scores for entering freshmen and graduation rates continue to rise, along with the size of the student body, and I am pleased that our Shackouls Honors College is steadily expanding.
Our students continue to achieve recognition among their peers—as when MSU teams were among the top performers for the past three years in national competitions to design more fuel-efficient and environmentally cleaner vehicles, and when a wildlife sciences major earlier this year became MSU’s 12th national Goldwater Scholar.
Mississippi State is proud of its historic strengths in agriculture, natural resources, engineering, mathematics, and natural and physical sciences. But today our university offers a comprehensive range of undergraduate and graduate programs, including architecture, the fine arts, business, education, the humanities, the social and behavioral sciences, and veterinary medicine.
We are determined to provide our students in the liberal arts and sciences with the opportunity to earn recognition as members of the Phi Beta Kappa honor society.
In that regard, the College of Arts and Sciences is the largest academic unit on campus. Our institutional commitment to the humanities is illustrated, to cite just two recent examples, by this year’s acquisition of a major collection of papers of President Ulysses S. Grant now housed in our library and by a week-long visit to campus last spring by the 2008 Nobel laureate in literature.
We will also continue working toward making our library the state’s first member of the prestigious Association of Research Libraries.
Our university embraces its role as a major contributor to the economic development of Mississippi through targeted research and the transfer of ideas and technology to the public.
We welcome our responsibility as the state’s flagship research university to help make business, industry, agriculture, and schools more productive and competitive. MSU ranks 58th among all U.S. public universities in research and development, based on annual research expenditures of more than $200 million, and I want to see us move into the top 50 within the next few years.
Led by our Mississippi Agricultural and Forestry Experiment Station, the Forest and Wildlife Research Center, and the College of Veterinary Medicine, we already rank fifth in agricultural sciences research.
And our Bagley College of Engineering ranks among the top 10 percent in the nation in research expenditures.
As a land‑grant university, we have a special calling to provide service and outreach to every part of our state, working through the MSU Extension Service and numerous other outreach units.
In partnership with Extension, our National Center for Rural Early Childhood Learning Initiatives is the nation’s go-to source for data and guidance on providing quality early child care in rural areas.
Learning begins at birth, and during those critical and vulnerable first years, children gain the groundwork for success in kindergarten, in school, and in life. If we fail our youngest citizens, we risk relegating them to a lifetime of underachievement. I am proud that MSU is taking the lead in addressing this vital need of our state and nation.
At the other end of the education spectrum, MSU is making a major commitment to be the center for academic programs focusing on the needs of community colleges. More than 60 graduates of our master’s and Ph.D. programs in community college leadership are currently serving as faculty members and administrators in Mississippi’s outstanding two-year institutions.
Our Meridian Campus will play an increasingly important role in the educational and economic life of Lauderdale and the surrounding counties, growing in enrollment, programs, and service—with exceptional community support.
All of the university’s achievements—in teaching, in research, and in service—are the products of an enormously talented and dedicated faculty and staff. Our world class faculty includes more than 50 fellows of major national and international professional societies, numerous winners of prestigious national and international awards such as Fulbright Scholarships, and editors of scholarly journals. We have attracted to our campus members of the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Engineering.
All of these scholars truly are at the forefront of their disciplines, and our undergraduate and graduate students are the direct beneficiaries. Our faculty members are committed to quality in the classroom and the laboratory, and they also are dedicated to student success. That focus shows in our rising graduation rates.
Mississippi State will maintain its tradition of instilling among its students and alumni ideals of diversity, citizenship, leadership, and service.
Approximately 20 percent of our students are African-American, which is the highest ratio among historically white land-grant institutions. We rank fifth in the nation in awarding bachelor’s degrees in education to African-American students.
Mississippi State students excel across a wide range of endeavors, and we seek to provide opportunities for them to explore and develop their talents not only in the classroom, but in all of life’s dimensions. I am proud that MSU students are developing the attributes that Mississippi and the country will require of this generation.
Our students and graduates always have exhibited loyalty and a willingness to sacrifice for the good of our country. From its earliest days, when Mississippi A&M cadets lived under military discipline, to the current conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, members of the MSU family have responded to the nation’s needs in time of crisis.
My own childhood friend and MSU classmate, Lt. Col. Jerry Dickerson, Jr., became one of the first casualties of the Global War on Terror when he died in the attack on the Pentagon on September 11, 2001. He was not the first to give all, nor was he the last. We grieve deeply for such losses, but our duty as an institution is to carry on, and to honor the sacrifices and the service of all veterans with our continuing support.
I am pleased to know that our Sonny Montgomery Center for America’s Veterans and other efforts are helping to make MSU one of the most veteran-friendly campuses in the nation.
Today, Mississippi State, along with other universities, state governments, and private businesses throughout the country, face economic challenges that are undoubtedly the most difficult in memory for most of us here today.
We are in the process of adapting to a reduced and still declining level of state support, squeezing out efficiencies and implementing innovative ways to stretch our dollars wherever we can. We know that it may get worse before it gets better, and that the days ahead may be painful for many of us.
But we do not despair. As a university, we have enormous reservoirs of strength and talent and a history of perseverance in the face of adversity. These are not, after all, the worst of times.
Our first president, Stephen D. Lee, and his colleagues built a college on this very spot that took root and survived and then flourished despite a paucity of resources almost beyond our imagining.
World War I virtually emptied the campus of students for a time as they rushed to the armed forces, or to the farms and factories. In fact, graduation was canceled in 1917, but Mississippi A&M shouldered a role in the war effort, and we endured.
The traumatic effects of the Great Influenza of 1918 and 1919 sickened a substantial portion of our student body, and 38 of them died. But we recovered.
During the Great Depression, faculty salaries went unpaid for a time. Enrollment dropped by half, and the university teetered on the brink of closure. But we survived.
In the early 1930s, a governor engineered the firing of one of my predecessors, along with many faculty members, and we lost accreditation for a time. But we regained our footing and renewed our progress.
World War II of course took its toll, but Mississippi State College came back stronger than ever and matured into a university.
In fact, as long-time administrators and historians of the university have noted, the necessity of periodically cutting budgets, of taking two steps forward and one step back, has been a recurring theme in the institution’s history.
When former President Donald Zacharias arrived at MSU in 1985 during another period of financial distress, he found serious discussions underway about closing some university campuses and professional schools, including our own College of Veterinary Medicine.
The Vet School survived and has proven its worth many times over, but during that same period dozens of faithful MSU employees lost their jobs, and my colleagues at the time in the MSU Extension Service were especially hard hit.
Every generation of Mississippi State people, and almost every president, has faced difficulties, but they rolled up their sleeves and steeled their nerves and went ahead, and we will, too.
We will emerge from this recession focused, efficient, and well positioned to help our state and its citizens achieve new levels of prosperity. In the meantime, we will protect the quality of our core functions of teaching, research and service.
We may even find a silver lining in these dark clouds. Horace, the ancient Roman poet who experienced his own share of troubles, observed that “Adversity has the effect of eliciting talents that in prosperous circumstances would have lain dormant.”
I am looking forward to the profusion of previously undiscovered talent that we can expect to see blooming here.
In Mississippi, we perhaps have more than our share of obstacles, as we are frequently reminded by national rankings of poverty, health problems, social problems, and the like. But the best long-term solution to most of our problems, I believe, is education.
Even—perhaps I should say “especially”—during these times of scarce resources, the best investment we can make is in the future leadership of our state and nation.
As former Gov. William Winter said almost 10 years ago in an essay on the future of the rural South: “We must understand that the only road out of poverty and economic dependency runs by the schoolhouse.”
I don’t believe Gov. Winter would disagree if I added that the road eventually must lead by the college campus, as well.
Mississippi currently ranks too near the bottom in the percentage of adults with a bachelor’s degree. That is a condition we have to change if our state is going to be able to compete for the best jobs in our increasingly knowledge-driven workplaces. We intend to do our part.
Today we are announcing a new initiative for student and faculty support that we call StatePride. Our goal will be to raise $100 million over a four‑year period in support of scholarships, faculty development and retention, and the library. A unique partnership between the MSU Foundation and the MSU Athletic Department will provide leadership for this undertaking.
We will raise scholarships that help to attract to Mississippi State the most academically talented students. We will provide other scholarships that help us recruit good students who have leadership potential.
And, very importantly, we will expand our need-based MSU Promise Award program to ensure access by students from families of limited means.
At the same time, we will raise support that helps us recruit top faculty members from across the nation and—just as importantly—reward and retain the outstanding scholars on our campus who are so frequently courted by other, often more affluent institutions.
The success of this effort will depend on the continued foresight and generosity of MSU alumni and friends and their confidence in the ability of our university to meet the needs of our state. We have no doubt that they will rise to the challenge and we will spare no effort to justify their trust.
Our immediate goals for Mississippi State are straightforward:
We will continue to expand student enrollment, broadening access to higher education and producing capable professionals and educated citizens.
We will recruit and retain the most outstanding teachers and researchers as we continue to strengthen our faculty.
We will become a top-50 research university and make even greater contributions to the economic development of our state.
We will shelter a chapter of Phi Beta Kappa and become the first Mississippi member of the Association of Research Libraries.
We will raise the visibility and prominence of the university while enhancing global awareness among our students and faculty.
We will compete for championships in athletics.
And we will continue to help our students become whatever they want to be in life.
Today’s ceremony is the turning of a page in the long history of the university. I hope it will herald, as the theme for this event proclaims, “a new chapter of service” to the state and nation.
Seated on the stage with us today are the real VIPs present for this occasion. These MSU students are representatives of our academic colleges and numerous organizations that reflect the diversity of our campus and the range of student interests and achievements. We asked them to participate, and to occupy a position of honor and high visibility, in order to remind all of us of why we are here.
Each one of these students is an outstanding individual and a promising leader. Beyond that, however, they represent all 18,600 MSU students and the many thousands more who will follow in their footsteps. Quite simply, these students represent our future.
And when I look at them, my optimism about our future soars, for I know that our university and our state will be well served by this next Greatest Generation.
With your help and with God’s blessing, Mississippi State University will open a new chapter of service, leadership, and excellence, and will build on its long and proud history of contributions to our state to help usher Mississippi into a new era of prosperity and a future filled with promise.
Thank you, and may God bless you.
From 10:30 a.m. MSU poised for Keenum's investiture
Patsy R. Brumfield/NEMS Daily Journal
STARKVILLE – As Dr. Mark Keenum prepares to be officially celebrated as his alma mater's new president, he said the state College Board and Legislature will be the ones to consider whether budget cuts will mean a merger of Mississippi State University and neighbor Mississippi University for Women.
"I think Dr. Limbert has done an outstanding job," he said about MUW's president, who announced Monday she'll retire when her contract runs out in 2010. MUW is about 25 miles to the east in Columbus and enrolls about 2,200 students compared to MSU's 18,000-plus.
"We'll just do our best at Mississippi State," he said.
Keenum fielded the merger question during a Q&A session with professional and student media before his investiture procession begins at noon from Swalm Hall to its mirror twin, Lee Hall, across the fabled MSU Drill Field.
The MSU-MUW issue "will be sorted out by other people," the Starkville native said.
MUW recently completed a new-name process and Limbert will recommend Reneau University as the choice to the College Board. Sally Reneau was a 19th century advocate for women's higher education in Mississippi.
The ultimate decision lies with the Legislature, where opponents to the change promise a tough fight.
In recent days, College Board trustees also have been vocal about deep changes within the state's higher education system, especially in the light of severe budget problems caused by a weak economy.
Investiture Day began with a 7:30 a.m. prayer service and a two-hour public reception in the Student Union. It will culminate with the Lee Hall ceremony, where speeches will come from Keenum colleagues and friends like Sen. Thad Cochran and Gov. Haley Barbour.
Come back to NEMS360.com for more and read Saturday's Daily Journal for a full story and photos. Click here for more at Patsy's blog.