Keenum named Mississippi State president

Published 2:04 pm Friday, November 14, 2008

U.S. Department of Agriculture Undersecretary Mark Keenum is the new president of Mississippi State University, which has seen rapid leadership changes the past few years, including the interim chief resigning amid a landscaping funding flap.

The state College Board said Wednesday’s decision to hire Keenum was unanimous and that he will become the land-grant university’s 19th president in early January. The formal vote followed day-long interviews with various campus and community constituency groups in Starkville.

“Dr. Keenum is an excellent choice to lead Mississippi State University to the next level,” said Scott Ross, who headed the board’s search committee. “We are looking forward to him coming home to Mississippi State.”

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The board had announced last week that the 47-year-old was its preferred candidate to head Mississippi’s largest university with an enrollment of 17,000 students.

Keenum is an MSU alumnus and has been an agricultural economics professor at the school. Keenum earned his undergraduate, master’s and doctorate degrees from Mississippi State.

A Corinth native, he was sworn in as undersecretary in December 2006.

Keenum provided leadership and oversight for the Farm Service Agency, the Risk Management Agency, and the Foreign Agricultural Service. He is also a former chief of staff for Mississippi’s senior U.S. senator, Republican Thad Cochran.

The College Board has been searching for a new president since Doc Foglesong resigned in March.

Vance Watson was the school’s interim chief until last month when he resigned over a landscaping job worth just over $6,000 that an audit determined was done at taxpayer expense at the home of former Mississippi Higher Education Commissioner Tom Meredith.

Meredith retired early amid the flap.