By PAUL SIMS
Recent congressional budget strategies could create challenges for research institutions like Mississippi State University, MSU President Mark Keenum said Friday.
Keenum made his remarks at a community roundtable event MSU hosted Friday afternoon. The quarterly gathering brings together city, county, university and Greater Starkville Development partnership leaders where they discuss issues of common interests and approaches to address them.
Keenum, University of Southern Mississippi President Martha Saunders and Ole Miss Chancellor Dan Jones traveled to Washington, D.C. this past week to express their concerns about federal funding changes.
Research “is a big part of how we’re able to bring and attract industries to want to come locate in Mississippi and many of them are wanting to locate in close proximity to Mississippi State University,” Keenum said. “When you think about research funding, it’s not just some scientist with a white lab coat in a laboratory. There is that, of course, but it’s also taking that research and putting it to practical application which is so important to a state like Mississippi.”
Congressionally directed funding has played a large role in why MSU has been successful over several decades and now lawmakers are suspending earmarks, he said. They’re also reducing competitive research funding, he said.
Cuts to both earmarks and competitive money will create a “double whammy for all research institutions across the nation and it’s going to have a big impact on this university, potentially,” Keenum said.
MSU officials expect “well over 20,000 students to show up here next fall,” he said, adding the enrollment rise is creating some infrastructure issues, with students turning to the community for housing, and dining services at capacity. University officials look to hire more faculty and likely more staff, the president said.
One of the things community and MSU leaders look to address together is resurrecting a shuttle system between Starkville and the university, he said.
Around five years ago, city and university leaders operated what was known as a “flag-and-ride” community bus system. The two-line system operated with about 50 daily riders on a northern route – passing Brooksville Gardens and Oktibbeha County Hospital Regional Medical Center – and about 150 passengers using the system each day on a southern path, which followed Lynn Lane out to Lakeside Place apartments and then down Highway 12.
The routes began and ended at Cullis Wade Depot.
At the time, university officials said the community system as it operated placed a financial strain on the campus system, which carried about 3,000 people daily.
Keenum says that the current leaders could start out “together, understanding what our commitments would be, our obligations would be” and discuss the idea with state transportation officials.
The city of Oxford and University of Mississippi started a system about the same time as Starkville and MSU and “theirs is thriving and doing very well,” Keenum said.
Officials have had “some good dialogue” about the idea of reviving a local system, with staff looking back at the previous effort to “learn from our mistakes,” he said.
Mayor Parker Wiseman said: “We are committed to continuing to pursue the establishment of a mass-transit program that will benefit this community.”
District 3 Supervisor and Board President Marvell Howard said with the population growing older, a transit system will be “very beneficial.”