HED: Panel: MSU in great shape with bright future

By Marty Russell

Daily Journal

STARKVILLE - In 1880, Mississippi State University sprouted as a land grant institution, fertilized by a $188,920 investment from the sale of about 200,000 acres at 90 cents an acre.

Then, its primary purpose was to teach working class students about farming.

Today, it is a major player in the development of distance learning in a broad spectrum of subject areas as the state's economy has diversified from its agrarian past.

Now the state's largest university, it also pumps more than $500 million into Mississippi's economy and creates about 13,000 jobs.

Mississippi State's past and future were the subjects Thursday of a public forum sponsored by the Institutions of Higher Learning and the state Humanities Council.

As part of MSU's homecoming week, the forum drew an audience of about 50 and examined the school's impact on the state, its history and its future.

"Mississippi State is in a great state of repair in 1997," said Dr. William Person, associate dean of the graduate school, professor of curriculum and instruction and one of the first black, tenured professors at MSU when he joined the staff in 1977.

"In October of 2017, just before homecoming weekend, Mississippi State will be in an even better state of repair," Person predicted after recounting the travails the school faced in the '80s when there was talk of shutting down the veterinary school.

Dr. Roy Scott, the school's distinguished professor of history, spoke on MSU's beginnings as a land grant institution in 1880 before becoming Mississippi State College in 1932 and finally Mississippi State University in 1958.

MSU graduate Amy Tuck, secretary for the Mississippi Senate and a former state senator, told of the impact the university has had on the state. In addition to its distinguished almuni, Tuck said the school's economic impact has been enormous.

Tuck said the university has an annual economic impact of about $500 million with an additional $50 million spent by students for a return to the state of about $21.6 million in sales taxes.

"Without Mississippi State, without the community of learning here, Mississippi would be a very different place than it is today," Tuck said.

MSU President Donald Zacharias, who is retiring at the end of the year after a 12-year tenure, said the school's real impact and measure of success can be seen in a gesture by the late Marion T. "Red" Loftin, who died recently after retiring as vice president for graduate studies and research, and professor emeritus of sociology at MSU.

His voice breaking, Zacharias told how Loftin willed his estate, valued at $700,000, to the school.

"It was a unique gift and a brilliant statement that somebody thinks there is something of quality here," Zacharias said. "That tells the whole story of Mississippi State University."

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