MSU Keenum president sets $100M fundraising goal

Published 12:30 am Sunday, October 18, 2009

Mississippi State University President Mark Keenum was formally installed in his job Friday, and announced an ambitious campaign to raise $100 million in private money for the land-grant institution.

Keenum said his goal is to raise the money over four years to support scholarships, to help with development and retention of faculty and to improve the library.

The 48-year-old Starkville native holds a bachelor’s, a master’s and a doctoral degree in agricultural economics from MSU. He was selected as the university’s 19th president last November and has been working since January. During an investiture ceremony Friday on campus, he was formally given his duties.

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“I solicit your patience, your advice, and most importantly, I solicit your prayers,” Keenum told several hundred people in the Bettersworth Auditorium of Lee Hall on campus. His remarks also were carried live on the university’s Web site.

Keenum outlined goals for the university to become one of the top 50 research institutions in the nation and to earn a chapter of Phi Beta Kappa, a prestigious academic honorary society.

MSU has a record enrollment of about 18,600 students this semester, and it is the largest university in Mississippi. Keenum said he wants to expand enrollment.

Over the past decade and a half, public money has made up a smaller percentage of the budgets at Mississippi’s eight public universities and the schools have relied more heavily on private donors.

Gov. Haley Barbour also cut state spending in early September because tax collections were falling short of expectations.

With Barbour in the audience Friday, Keenum said MSU has survived a wide array of challenges, from a 1918-19 influenza outbreak that killed 38 students to plummeting budgets and enrollment during the Depression. Keenum said the university will withstand the current economic challenges.

“We know that it may get worse before it gets better and that the days ahead may be painful for many of us,” Keenum said. “But we do not despair.”

Keenum is a former chief of staff for Republican U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran of Mississippi. In 2006, he was confirmed as U.S. undersecretary for Farm and Foreign Agricultural Services under then-President George W. Bush.

Cochran said during Friday’s ceremony that Keenum “will strengthen the bond of respect and friendship that have been the hallmarks of his life here at Mississippi State.”

The university was founded in 1878 and opened in 1880.