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Lee pledges to keep opera house project on track

By By Steve Gillespie/staff writer
Jan. 28, 2002
The leadership of a major partner may have changed but the direction of major downtown Meridian revitalization projects is still forward, says Dr. J. Charles Lee, interim president of Mississippi State University.
In a visit to Meridian, Lee, who said his term as MSU president is temporary, said MSU's commitment remains strong to the $26 million restoration of the Grand Opera House and Marks-Rothenberg Building into a Riley Education and Performing Arts Center. The projects were launched during the presidency of Dr. Malcolm Portera, who left MSU to head the University of Alabama System. Portera was named last week to the Riley Foundation's board of directors.
Because federal funds are included in project funding, MSU must adhere to guidelines on such elements as the labor force used. There are also some historical guidelines to consider, as well as input from the Riley Foundation and other sources of funding.
Interim president
Lee was MSU's vice president for agriculture, forestry and veterinary medicine and dean of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences before being named by the College Board as Portera's interim replacement. In an agreement with the board, Lee said he will not seek the job permanently.
Formerly at MSU, Lee was dean of forest resources and associate director of the Mississippi Agricultural and Forestry Experiment Station.
As dean of forestry, Lee said he spent a lot of time in Meridian.
Before his return to MSU, Lee was an administrator in the Texas A&M University System, where he served four years as vice chancellor for research, planning and continuing education.
Lee has a private business background in the forest products industry. He began his academic career in 1972 when he became forestry department head at the University of Arkansas at Monticello.
He holds a bachelor's in forest management and a doctorate in forestry and genetics from North Carolina State University
Search for dean at Meridian campus
Saying Mississippi State's internal flexibility is severely hampered now because of budget circumstances, Lee said the university is still going forward with the recruiting process to find a permanent dean of the MSU-Meridian campus and university president.
Lee said the lead person in Meridian will have a challenging job, "in terms of managing things down here, in terms of the right kind of interaction with people in Starkville and Jackson, and also helping us to stretch together because not everybody finds themselves in the business of running an opera house. This person will have to be not only good at dealing with academic affairs, but will obviously have to have some ability to represent all of our activities here and to ensure that the marketing of the opera house and the conference center gets top drawer attention by first-class people to make that happen."
Lee said the announcement of Meridian's new dean will be made "soon."
Meanwhile, a committee of College Board members has been formed to begin the search for a new MSU president.
Funding
Lee said the university is bracing for another downsizing because of state funding cuts.
He said Mississippi State is rethinking some infrastructure projects and looking to save money through energy conservation.
The appropriation would be similar to what the university received in state funding in 1995, but MSU's enrollment has grown by about 16 percent since then.
Lee said a 28 percent increase in tuition would be required to offset the expected cut.

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