Keenum preferred candidate for new MSU president

Published 3:15 pm Friday, November 7, 2008

Mark Keenum, the undersecretary for Farm and Foreign Agricultural Services, is in line to become Mississippi State University’s new president.

The state College Board announced Wednesday that the 47-year-old Keenum is the preferred candidate for the post. He goes for on-campus interviews Nov. 12, and the College Board will vote on his confirmation after that.

The state College Board has been searching for a new president since Doc Foglesong, a retired Air Force general, resigned as the school’s leader in March.

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The College Board’s selection of Keenum was unanimous, said Scott Ross, a board member from West Point. However, he said the on-campus meetings are not just a formality and will have some bearing on whether Keenum is confirmed.

“The feedback we get on campus will be critical. We want to listen to what the campus constituency groups have to say,” Ross said during a news conference in Jackson.

Keenum, a Corinth native, was sworn-in as under secretary in December 2006. He provides leadership and oversight for the Farm Service Agency, the Risk Management Agency, and the Foreign Agricultural Service.

He received his undergraduate, master’s and doctorate degrees from MSU. He also was a former agricultural economics professor at the university and said in a statement he welcomed the announcement.

“I want to thank the distinguished Board … for its vote of confidence in selecting me as the preferred candidate to be President of Mississippi State University,” Keenum said, adding he and his wife and family “look forward to our campus visit next week to share with the Bulldog Family our commitment and dedication to the place we still call home.”

In 1989, Dr. Keenum joined the staff of U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran, R-Miss., as a legislative assistant. He was Cochran’s chief of staff from 1996 to 2006.

The search process was complicated in recent weeks by fallout over a landscaping flap that forced the state’s higher education commissioner and MSU’s then-interim president to leave their positions.

An investigation by state Auditor Stacey Pickering revealed that landscaping was performed at the home of Commissioner Tom Meredith at taxpayers’ expense.

Vance Watson, who had served as MSU’s interim president until he stepped down last month, repaid the state more than $12,000 for the work done in 2007. Watson then resigned as interim president and retired from MSU, where he had worked for 42 years. He had been a candidate in the MSU search.

Pickering’s report said Meredith had asked Watson for a recommendation about landscaping and soil testing at his Flowood home. At the time, Watson was vice president and director of the Mississippi Agriculture and Forestry Experiment Station at MSU. Pickering said Watson sent the students and equipment to Meredith’s home.