Keenum touts faculty research productivity during annual spring meeting

Contact: Allison Matthews

MSU President Mark E. Keenum speaks during the spring general faculty meeting.
MSU President Mark E. Keenum speaks during the spring general faculty meeting. (Photo by Beth Wynn)

STARKVILLE, Miss.—President Mark E. Keenum and other senior administrators at Mississippi State addressed the faculty Tuesday [Feb. 1] at the annual spring general faculty meeting, with updates on the university’s legislative priorities, campus developments and university achievements.

Keenum reported on legislative activities, noting the state is fiscally strong as the current legislative session gets underway. He said his No. 1 priority is securing needed funding to address pay raises.

“Our No. 1 priority has been and will continue to be operational dollars—recurring dollars—that we can use to invest in you, our faculty and staff on this campus, with pay raises.”

He touted how Mississippi State faculty are among the SEC’s most productive in generating research and development expenditures.

“I’d also note that our faculty are more productive, per capita, than our counterparts at other leading research universities such as Virginia Tech, Clemson, Florida State, and the Ohio State University, to cite a few examples.”

He commended faculty and staff contributions including “those who are making a difference in classrooms, promoting future leaders for this state and nation,” as well as those “engaged in research, outreach and extension.”

“You are making a difference with our industries, communities and families all across this state. You are making an impact on the future. This one institution contributes right at $2 billion per year to our state economy, and we provide about a 130% annual return on investment,” Keenum said.

In addition to the general legislative appropriation, Keenum said there are two items slated for Year 3 of the current four-year bond plan, funding capital improvements. MSU is requesting second-phase funding of just under $15 million for the College of Architecture, Art and Design, and $9.6 million for the renovation of Dorman Hall, part of the Division of Agriculture, Forestry and Veterinary Medicine. Keenum said he anticipates also receiving a portion of the American Rescue Plan Act funds as part of an IHL systemwide request for campus infrastructure improvements, such as expanding broadband reliability and connectivity, upgrading water and sewer components, as well as improving HVAC systems for energy conservation.

Keenum gave updates on ongoing construction projects across campus. The Bulldog Way project creating a new corridor on the eastern side of campus will connect East Lee Blvd. and Blackjack Road, with the northern portion opening this March and the southern portion expected to open in October.

Some upcoming projects likely will cost more than originally projected due to materials and labor inflationary costs throughout the construction industry, Keenum noted. Three projects all currently in the design stage include renovation of Ballew Hall, projected for completion in 2024; an advanced high-performance computing data center in the Thad Cochran Research, Technology and Economic Development Park, with projected completion in 2023; and a new 100,000-square-foot Kinesiology and Center for Student Support and Autism Services building, projected for completion in 2025. Keenum said original budgets for these projects may not be adequate in the current climate of rising costs.

“Clearly we’ve got some funding challenges, but we’re hopeful legislators will work with us on meeting these unanticipated costs,” he said.

Renovation of Humphrey Coliseum also is planned to begin later this spring, targeting completion in October 2023. Keenum said 2022 graduation ceremonies and the next basketball season will proceed in “The Hump” while construction is underway.

He also pointed to the new pedestrian-friendly plaza between the Colvard Student Union and the YMCA Building that is “moving along” toward its summer completion.

Regarding national research rankings, Keenum touted MSU’s achievement of a record $280 million in R&D expenditures for FY20, accounting for 55% of Mississippi’s total of $506 million.

“Our 6% growth in expenditures is also well above the national average of 3.3%,” he said. “I applaud Dr. [Julie] Jordan and her team, and all of our faculty, staff and students who are a part of the university’s growing research enterprise.”

Provost and Executive Vice Provost David Shaw reported on a number of academic affairs task forces examining university issues, from new interdisciplinary programs to faculty performance and teaching, to student success efforts. He said a good amount of planning has prepared the university to move toward execution on many of the ideas that task force groups have proposed.

“The fact that we’re looking at a record enrollment and the fact that we’re handling the pandemic situation as well as we are is a huge testimony to our faculty and students and the resiliency they are demonstrating. I would also like to say thank you for all that you’re doing to make this institution thrive in the face of challenges,” Shaw said. He said after working at MSU for nearly 37 years, he firmly believes “our best years are ahead of us rather than behind us.”

Julie Jordan, vice president of research and economic development, explained MSU’s National Science Foundation rankings and other awards with more context.

“I was thrilled to find out that right now we have $720 million worth of active awards, and so that means we are managing across this campus $720 million worth of work. We estimate that somewhere upwards of 3,900 employees—faculty, staff and students—are represented among those working in our research enterprise,” Jordan said. “Everyone should be really proud of the research work that we do and the impact that we have not only on our disciplines, but on the economy of our state.”

Keith Coble, vice president of MSU’s Division of Agriculture, Forestry and Veterinary Medicine, commended new leadership in the colleges of Forest Resources and Agriculture and Life Sciences as “forward looking,” and he touted the longtime leadership of the College of Veterinary Medicine and the MSU Extension Service, which extends the reach of MSU to every county statewide. He said CVM’s work with the university’s COVID response has been integral, and he applauded the adaptability of employees in outreach positions.

“I want to compliment our outreach and extension faculty in adapting the traditional model of MSU Extension,” Coble said. “The rapid things that we did in our classrooms on our campus we did as well in terms of outreach. Our extension faculty and staff had over 700,000 direct education contacts, and they found a way, even during COVID, to do things in terms of reaching out to their clientele.”

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Friday, February 11, 2022 - 4:10 pm