This Mississippi university president offered $800,000 incentive to stay until 2025. He wants to give it all toward student scholarships.

Published 1:40 pm Thursday, October 21, 2021

The governing board for Mississippi’s eight public universities is extending the contract of Mississippi State University President Mark Keenum.

The board of trustees for the Institutions of Higher Learning announced Thursday that it had approved the extension through June 30, 2025. Keenum is being paid $400,000 a year from the state and $400,000 a year from the private Mississippi State University Foundation.
The board president, Dr. J. Walt Starr, said it’s the same compensation Keenum was already receiving.

Starr said Keenum has provided “distinguished and impactful service to the university” and did not seek a pay raise. But Starr said the board authorized the foundation to pay Keenum another amount — up to $800,000 — if he remains for the full term of the contract.

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“As president of the Mississippi IHL Board, I strongly believe that this plan reflects very positively on Dr. Keenum and his leadership team at MSU, along with the students, faculty and staff of the institution and provides the foundation for continued growth and development of the university for the foreseeable future,” Starr said in a statement.

Trustees voted on the contract during a closed session Sept. 16 and announced their decision Thursday after they approved the minutes from that meeting.

Keenum is in his 13th year as president, and the university had about 23,000 students last year.

Keenum sent a letter last week to the president of the Mississippi State University Foundation saying he wants to increase the amount of scholarship money available to students, and some or all of the $800,000 he is set to receive at the end of his contract could go toward that, according to a university news release.

“If I fulfill the obligations set forth in the provision, it would be my request that the Foundation Board of Directors, after determining an appropriate amount, use a majority — if not all — of this incentive for scholarships,” Keenum wrote. “While I know any possible action on the retention incentive item is several years away, I wanted you to know of my desire to make this investment in our students.”

Keenum said in the news release that the contract extension is “a reflection of the entire MSU leadership team and all of the wonderful things happening on our campus because of their efforts.”

“I appreciate the fact that the Board of Trustees wants to see the strong momentum we have at Mississippi State continue in the years to come,” Keenum said. “I also appreciate the confidence they have placed in me, and I look forward to continuing to work with them and all of our many stakeholders.”