During June I had the opportunity to welcome incoming students and their parents at several Orientation sessions for freshmen and transfers. It has been inspiring to repeatedly look out into a sea of expectant and enthusiastic faces in a filled-to-capacity Bettersworth Auditorium in Lee Hall.
It has been even more satisfying to hear the excitement in the voices of students and parents alike and to realize the magnitude of the responsibility with which we are entrusted. Here is a portion of what one father wrote to me in an email message just after returning home from a freshman orientation session:
"Every single staff member and student volunteer that I heard or had an opportunity to speak with was clearly interested in the success of the students at MSU. I don't know how you have imparted such a 'heart' for the students to your staff, but it was amazing to see such unity of purpose among this very impressive group of people. . . . I walked away from this weekend's activities with an amazing sense that my youngest son was entering the best environment possible to prepare him to succeed in life."
I am grateful to the faculty and staff for the dedication that earns such accolades for the university.
All indications continue to point to a larger freshman class, a larger group of transfer students, and a larger overall enrollment for the fall semester. We expect to again have the state's largest and academically best qualified freshman class.
Another opportunity to show support for our new students will be Saturday, August 8, when the residence halls open. If you can volunteer to help for an hour or more on move-in day, go to http://www.housing.msstate.edu/mvnu2msu/volunteer/ and sign up.
The freshmen--and some parents, too--are getting into the spirit of The Maroon Edition, our new first-year reading experience. The inaugural book selection of MSU graduate John Grisham's "A Painted House" is proving to be a popular and thought-provoking choice. Congratulations to the numerous faculty and staff who helped envision and implement this program.
I hope you will take a few minutes to explore the Maroon Edition website at http://www.maroonedition.msstate.edu/ and make a suggestion for next year's book or see how you can become involved. And remember to read "A Painted House" during the summer. I read it a few years ago, and it may be my favorite Grisham novel among the 20-plus he has written since "A Time to Kill" made its debut 20 years ago.
In the wake of this week's special legislative session, we expect Board of Trustees approval on Thursday, July 2, of our state funding allocation for the new fiscal year that is about to begin. Higher education--including the separately budgeted units in our Ag Division--will be funded at approximately the same level as where we began FY 2009, thanks to federal economic stimulus funds. While that level of increase will not cover our rising costs for energy, insurance premiums, and other inflationary increases, it is a significantly better outcome than we might have expected a couple of months ago.
Level funding for our separately budgeted units represents a major improvement over what was being proposed this spring, when cuts of 6 percent or more seemed likely. I am grateful for the Legislative support that materialized in recent weeks and for the efforts of university constituents who worked with us to bring it about.
The Board of Trustees has chosen to allocate whatever funding we receive for FY 2010 in across-the-board fashion, rather than adhering to the funding formula adopted last year. That means that MSU's significant enrollment increases of the past two years won't be taken into account as we had anticipated, and our per-student allocation of state funds will be lower for the coming year.
The Board has declined to approve any in-state tuition increases for next year, although out-of-state fees will increase by about 7 percent. Fees for housing and meal plans will increase about 7 percent on average at MSU for next year.
We have no assurance that the FY 2010 budget will not be reduced at mid-year, as happened in FY 2009, in response to declining tax revenues. We have even less assurance about what FY 2011 and FY 2012 will bring. The forecasts for state revenues in those outlying years are not encouraging, and we cannot expect federal stimulus funds to continue to shore up our budget. We will hope for the best, but we must plan for the worst.
In that light, I have asked the vice presidents, in consultation with others in their areas of responsibility, to begin planning for an FY 2010 allocation based on of 95 percent of budgeted funds. That will soften the impact of a mid-year reduction, if it comes, and put us in a better position going into succeeding budget years.
The Board of Trustees has emphasized the need to achieve cost-saving efficiencies wherever possible, and we will be examining all university budgets and sources of funds in detail down to the department level as we plan for at least the next three years. This will be a painstaking process of cost cutting, prioritization, and reallocation, but we hope to finalize the FY 2010 budget within four to six weeks. We will be looking for opportunities to enhance programs with high demand and growth potential while we strive for efficiency in all that we do.
This process will present us with difficult choices, but it is necessary to help the university weather the current recession and position itself to seize the opportunities that will come with recovery.
Your ideas on how we can operate more efficiently and productively are welcomed. We appreciate the patience and perseverance of the faculty and staff as we work through these lean years.
We will continue to emphasize increased enrollment and expanded research support as we attempt to outrun this recession.
Research awards for the current fiscal year totaled about $135 million through May, which is an increase of more than 14 percent from the same time last year. That is due in part to a substantial increase in the number of proposals submitted for funding by our productive faculty--great job!
We have just concluded interviews with three strong finalists for the position of Vice President for Agriculture, Forestry and Veterinary Medicine, and we hope to bring that process to a conclusion next month. The search committee for the next Vice President for Research and Economic Development plans to begin reviewing candidates' credentials for that position on August 10.
The search committee for the Dean and Executive Director of the Meridian Campus is in the process of selecting candidates for interviews with an aim of having the new administrator in place for the start of the fall semester.
Nominations have been received during the past two weeks for faculty representatives to serve on the search committee for the next provost, and an election for those 10 positions--one from each college, one from the Library, and one from the Meridian Campus--will be conducted by the Faculty Senate via email during the first half of July. I have appointed Dean of Arts and Sciences Gary Myers to chair the search committee and will name eight more committee members, for a total of 19. We hope to convene the search committee for the first time within a few days after the election.
Faculty Senate leaders and I are appointing members to an ad hoc committee to consult with me on the development of the provost position description, and we hope to have a final draft ready for review by the search committee at its first meeting. Although the timeline is tight, we will work toward having the next provost in place in early 2010.
New leaders in place
Congratulations to recently elected Starkville Mayor Parker Wiseman and Aldermen Ben Carver, Sandra Sistrunk, Eric Parker, Richard Corey, Jeremiah Dumas, Roy Perkins, and Henry Vaughn Sr., most of whom are MSU graduates or employees. We appreciate the public service being provided by each of these individuals and look forward to working with them to further strengthen university-community relations. We are also working on a plan to meet regularly with the new city leadership, our county supervisors, and representatives of the Greater Starkville Development Partnership to talk about how we can advance initiatives that will benefit the university and the community.
Our state universities are fortunate in the recent selection of Dr. Hank Bounds as the next Commissioner of Higher Education. As a member of the IHL Commissioner Search Advisory Committee, I had an opportunity to participate in the interview process, and I can assure you Dr. Bounds is an impressive leader.
He is a product the Mississippi education system, and he understands it very well. He has earned high marks in our state and nationally for his exceptional leadership and vision in tackling difficult issues associated with K-12 education in our state, including responding to tremendous challenges in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. I have every confidence that Dr. Bounds will make a seamless transition, and I am excited about the opportunity to work with him.
Last month I had my first opportunity to participate in a Southeastern Conference Presidents meeting, and it was interesting to observe the interplay among presidents, athletic directors, coaches, and faculty athletic representatives as each group brought its set of viewpoints and expertise to a wide range of athletics-related issues.
Certainly the one issue that attracted the most public attention was the decision of the presidents to impose a new limit of 28 on the number of football recruits who can be signed in a single year. NCAA rules prohibit Division I schools from having more than 25 players on scholarship per class, but it is common to sign a few more than that to offset anticipated losses from the team roster.
In recent years, however, some institutions in the SEC have signed significantly more than 25. Recruits who fail to qualify academically often find their way to community colleges and eventually back to the school that signed them first. The process is sometimes called "greyshirting."
The presidents, in a move that I strongly supported, took the position that we should sign students who we believe are fully capable of qualifying academically and contributing athletically. The SEC will propose to the NCAA that its new rule be adopted nationwide.
Congratulations to Dr. William Anthony Hay, associate professor of history, who has been elected a Fellow of Britain's Royal Historical Society, and to Dr. Cathy Grace, director of the Early Childhood Institute, who has been chosen for a one-year assignment directing early childhood development policy for the Children's Defense Fund in Washington, D.C.
Visit http://www.msstate.edu/president/facultyhonors.php to stay up to date on recent faculty and staff achievements.
Mark E. Keenum, President