Welcome to the beginning of a new academic year. We're off to an exciting start, with about 5,000 new students, including first-time freshmen, transfers, and new graduate students, and more than 100 new faculty members joining the Mississippi State family.
Fall enrollment figures won't be final for several days, but overall attendance is at a record high, with over 18,000 students expected, including those at the Meridian Campus and on-line learners.
We have much to celebrate as the semester gets under way.
- This month we were named one of the nation's Top 20 "best buys" in higher education by Forbes magazine. Another national publication, Diverse Issues in Higher Education, reported that MSU ranks fifth in the nation in the number of bachelor's degrees in education awarded to African Americans.
- Alumni and friends contributed $61.5 million in new gifts and pledges during the fiscal year ended June 30, up 19 percent from the previous year despite troubled economic conditions.
- External research support in the form of contracts and grants totaled about $146 million for FY 09, and the increased number of proposals submitted and projects in the pipeline make us very optimistic about this year.
- We recently named a new Vice President for Agriculture, Forestry and Veterinary Medicine. Dr. Greg Bohach of the University of Idaho will join us on October 1.
- Dr. Jack Tucci is the new Dean and Executive Director of the Meridian Campus, having served previously as director of the Business Division.
- Searches are under way for the next Vice President for Research and Economic Development and for a Provost and Executive Vice President. Dr. Sarah Rajala, dean of the Bagley College of Engineering, chairs the search committee for the research vice president and Dr. Gary Myers, Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, chairs the provost search committee. Web sites with links on the MSU home page will provide updates on the progress of those searches.
- Football season ticket sales have reached a new high, nearing the goal of 40,000, and our fans are excited about the season that begins on Sept. 5 when Jackson State comes to visit and Coach Dan Mullen makes his MSU debut.
- Our athletic department has launched an effort called "Are You in the Maroon?" to encourage alumni and fans everywhere to wear maroon every Friday, year round, to show MSU colors and demonstrate pride in the university to prospective students and others. The Student Association has organized a "Maroon and White Campaign" in cooperation with local retailers to encourage all Bulldogs to wear maroon and white to every football game. I hope you will support both efforts.
The MSU family takes seriously our commitment to being responsible and ethical, and each member of our community is a part of that effort. With the start of the semester, we announced some new tools to better promote ethics and integrity at the university.
A training program that addresses ethical situations that might be encountered and how they relate to laws, regulations and policies kicks off on Sept. 15 for non academic administrators.
The new Web-based MSU Ethics Line at www.msstate.ethicspoint.com provides an anonymous way to address potential issues of waste, fraud or unethical actions. The reporting site is independently operated by Ethics Point, a company with more than 2,000 clients nationwide. MSU becomes the state's first public university to adopt such a system.
And in conjunction with the training and MSU Ethics Line, a new "Whistleblower" policy outlines protections against retaliation that already are in place and what our individual responsibilities are in reporting wrongful conduct. The policy on line at www.msstate.edu/dept/audit/0107.html also helps ensure compliance with federal regulations related to American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds.
Our Student Health Center is seeing numerous probable cases of H1N1 flu, as anticipated. We began planning early this summer to be as prepared as possible for both H1N1 and regular seasonal flu. Earlier this month, we launched an aggressive information campaign providing students and staff with information on how to lessen their chances of getting the flu and what to do if they do get it.
I encourage you to visit our Flu Watch website at www.flu.msstate.edu/ and learn more about how to help protect yourself and others. Later this fall, we'll hold vaccination clinics on campus for both seasonal flu, as we have done for several years, and H1N1 flu, starting as soon as the vaccines are made available.
Budgeting for this year and beyond
Our state support for the current year for Education and General operations is $100,735,107, which is a very slight decrease from the FY 2009 starting point. Most of our Ag Division and other separately budgeted units received increases over the prior year of about one-tenth of a percent.
That essentially level funding, however, will not cover our rising costs for energy, insurance premiums, and other inflationary increases. There will be no increase in in-state tuition for next year, so that potential source of new revenue is not available. IHL Commissioner Hank Bounds and the Governor's office have warned us to expect a reduction in state support of 5 percent this fall in response to continued declines in state tax collections.
We were able to absorb last year's 5 percent cut centrally, from the university's general fund. But that unplanned expenditure of reserves, coupled with rising costs, means that is not an option this year. And indications are that even leaner years may be ahead.
Federal economic stimulus funds played an important part in shoring up our budget for this year, accounting for about 8 percent of our E&G allocation. That support is likely to be significantly reduced next year and phased out entirely for the following year. According to our current projections, our state support may decline through FY 2012.
For all of those reasons, I asked the vice presidents, in consultation with others in their areas of responsibility, to plan for a current-year allocation based on 95 percent of budgeted funds. That will soften the impact of a mid-year reduction and conserve resources that will be needed in succeeding budget years.
As a starting point, we gathered information needed to make good decisions by asking every unit on campus to describe the impact of a 5 percent cut on its operations. Those reports have been received from across the university and are being reviewed. We hope to have the modified budget for this year, reflecting expenditures at the 95 percent level, in place by the end of September.
We do not anticipate that the 5 percent reduction will be applied evenly across-the-board when all is said and done. We will prioritize, reallocate, and consolidate, as well as cut over the next three years. And while we are looking for cost-saving efficiencies, we will also be looking for opportunities to enhance programs with high demand and growth potential.
First, we will look for ways to expand revenue. Increased enrollment of traditional and on-line students and expanded research activity will help in that regard. We will also be reviewing auxiliary fees and assessments.
Second, we will focus on efficiencies. For example, we are moving to electronic alternatives to reduce paper flow. We are already eliminating paper checks for student workers, who are now being paid by direct deposit or a university issued pay card that works like a debit card. Later, that system will extend to all employees and vendors, saving up to $400,000 a year.
Third, we will use targeted reductions at a programmatic level, consolidating or eliminating support programs, for example. Potential realignments of academic or research units would require longer-term study with faculty involvement.
Finally, we will turn to short-term reductions that can be achieved by curtailing budgets on a percentage basis, which may be implemented by scaling back travel, equipment purchases, and so on.
Throughout, we will be guided by a commitment to protect our core functions of teaching, research, and service and by university strategic plans and priorities. For example, we are planning for an increase in the library budget, supported in part by new revenues from our dining services contract and from additional athletics revenue.
Congratulations to Dr. William Batchelor, head of the Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering, who has been named a Fellow of the American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers, and to Professor Marita Gootee of the Department of Art, whose work is being featured in the Mississippi Museum of Art's 2009 Mississippi Invitational.
Visit www.msstate.edu/president/facultyhonors.php to stay up to date on recent faculty and staff achievements.
Mark E. Keenum, President