Monday, January 25, 2021   
MSU receives $4.3 million to support innovations in education
Mississippi State University is using $4.3 million allocated by the Governor's Emergency Education Response (GEER) Fund program to implement innovative education solutions throughout Mississippi. The 15 projects funded through GEER address several educational needs that have emerged during the pandemic, such as improving online learning in K-12 and higher education, providing virtual mental health services, and supporting at-risk students such as those with autism and dyslexia. Additionally, funding will be used to expand a program providing support to MSU students nearing graduation in need of financial assistance to earn their degree. The GEER program is funded by federal COVID-19 relief legislation and administered by governors in each state. MSU's funded projects are part of Gov. Tate Reeves' second round of administering the fund. "The proposals funded will not only support MSU students, but provide meaningful resources for our state's K-12 students and teachers," said MSU Vice President for Research and Economic Development Julie Jordan. "We pride ourselves on leveraging our expertise to work with partners across Mississippi to make an impact. Throughout the pandemic, our faculty and staff have continued to do just that. I appreciate Gov. Reeves' support for these important projects."
MSU's Andrew Lang receives Library Journal's starred review for new Civil War book
A Mississippi State University Civil War expert and associate professor of history received a starred review in Library Journal for his newest publication, described by the periodical as a "brilliant book" that depicts how "the Civil War-era generation struggled to give form and force" to American ideas of liberty. Andrew F. Lang's book, "A Contest of Civilizations: Exposing the Crisis of American Exceptionalism in the Civil War Era" (2021), is the final installment of UNC Press's landmark series, the "Littlefield History of the Civil War Era." "The book explores a controversial yet long-standing dogma of national identity -- American exceptionalism -- which holds that the U.S. was founded as the exception to monarchical tyranny and aristocratic privilege," Lang said. The book explains how 19th-century Americans "questioned whether the Union could chart a distinct course in human affairs when slaveholders, abolitionists, free people of color and enslaved African Americans" had differing definitions of nationhood. Library Journal, founded in 1876 to review library-related materials, said in its starred review, "Lang's tour de force is a compelling and essential read. He shows how Americans' self-anointed claim of exceptionalism was, and is, premised on a supposed consensus on liberty's meaning that never was and perhaps will never be. Vital reading for all."
Mississippi State's Famous Maroon Band holds auditions for fall 2021
Mississippi State's 119-year-old Famous Maroon Band is hosting auditions for prospective members. Auditions are open to high school seniors or community college transfer band students and are scheduled exclusively by appointment. In-person auditions are offered on weekdays throughout the spring semester along with a few weekend dates. Although safe physical distancing will be practiced, the process is subject to change depending on COVID-19 protocols. To sign up, contact the band office at (662) 325-2713. "We are always excited to host prospective students on our campus, and this in-person audition gives us time to visit with the students, answer their questions and help them learn more about our program," said Director of Bands Elva Kaye Lance. "Being a part of the Famous Maroon Band has provided so many amazing experiences, once-in-a-lifetime opportunities and memories that I'll have forever," said senior band member Olivia Grace Ausbon, an interior design major from Amory. "Please take this opportunity to join our big, fun and loud family -- you won't regret it."
MSU Extension Service warns of COVID-19 vaccine scams
The Mississippi State University Extension Service announced consumers need to be wary of potential fraud related to the COVID-19 vaccine as it is rolled out. Those who have not yet scheduled an appointment to receive their first dose will be waiting another month. Becky Smith, a family financial management specialist with the MSU Extension Service, said two of the most important facts to keep in mind about the vaccine is that it will be free of charge, and it will require an appointment to receive. "Scammers never miss an opportunity to capitalize on the latest crisis, and they are constantly adapting their methods to swindle as many people as possible," she said. "The rule of thumb in this situation is to not trust anyone who contacts you offering a vaccine, and be on the lookout for different ways they may try to do that." No one can pay for early access to the vaccine or have shots delivered to their residence, and any such offers are fraudulent. "You should get your vaccination only from your doctor, a hospital or clinic, or a licensed pharmacy. There will be no do-it-yourself versions of the vaccine," said MSU Extension health specialist David Buys.
SMART ridership down 40-plus percent in 2020
In Sam Pitts' 2 1/2 years driving the central campus route for the Starkville-MSU Area Rapid Transit (SMART) system, 2020 stands out. He's unlikely to ever forget it. The system abruptly shut down its campus routes in mid-March, when the COVID-19 pandemic drove Mississippi State University's courses to an all-virtual format. By the time a limited number of students returned to campus in August, SMART was requiring masks for riders and only allowing buses to carry half of their passenger capacity -- with riders directed to sit in every other seat. "It was a lot more solemn at first because people didn't want to get sick," Pitts recalled. "People, understandably, were scared of the unknown. As time has moved, people have gotten more comfortable with wearing masks and the other protocols." "Vital" and "essential" are words SMART director Jeremiah Dumas leaned into Tuesday, even as he reported to Starkville aldermen a 42-percent systemwide decrease in fixed-route ridership in 2020 as part of his annual report to the city. SMART has fixed routes on campus and throughout the city, all of which are free to ride. There also has been a 32-percent decrease in paratransit, a door-to-door transportation option for citizens with disabilities or medical needs, Dumas said. "There's no doubt, when you look at these numbers, what the impact (of COVID-19) has been," Dumas told the aldermen.
Challenger qualifies in Starkville Ward 7 alderman race
Ward 7's alderman seat has produced the first competitive race for this year's Starkville municipal elections. Nedra Lowery, 36, qualified Friday to challenge three-term incumbent Henry Vaughn in the Democratic primary, according to information the city clerk's office released. Lowery, a Columbus native, is no stranger to politics. She ran unsuccessfully in a crowded field in a 2019 special election to fill the vacant Ward 1 council seat in Columbus, after Councilman Gene Taylor passed away. At that time, she said, she split time living in a family home in Columbus and a rental house in Starkville. After losing that election, she said, she began living in Starkville full-time. "Ward 7 (in Starkville) reminds me a lot of Ward 1 (in Columbus)," Lowery told The Dispatch on Saturday. "It needs a visible leader, and I don't want to be somebody people only see when I'm running. Constituents (in Ward 7) seem to be ready for change, and I want to be the type of leader that people say, 'When I need something, I can call Nedra.'" Lowery earned a mass media degree in broadcasting from the Mississippi University for Women and works as an independent marketing consultant, she said. So far only one candidate each has qualified for the mayor's race and the six other alderman seats. Deadline to qualify is Feb. 5.
Coalition of businesses set rigorous precautions to promote travel
Golden Triangle Regional Airport and a handful of area businesses have formed a coalition aimed at reassuring travelers to the Golden Triangle area that the airport, rental cars, hotels and restaurants they're using are taking rigorous safety precautions during the COVID-19 pandemic. GTRA announced the formation of Mississippi's Trusted Triangle in a press release Friday. Each business in the coalition has written safety procedures that "meet or exceed" guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Mississippi State Department of Health. "The message is that you can come to the Golden Triangle, and from the airlines through the airport through the rental cars through hotels through the restaurants and back, every one of those places you stay will have written and enforced COVID procedures," said Mike Hainsey, GTRA's executive director and CEO. The businesses who have joined the group are the airport; Delta Airlines; Enterprise Rent-a-Car; National Car Rental; Eat With Us Restaurant Group, which includes Harveys, Sweet Peppers Deli, The Grill, Bulldog Burger and Smackers; and six area hotels owned and managed by Atlanta-based Peachtree Hotel Group, including Courtyard by Marriott Columbus, Courtyard by Marriott Starkville MSU, Fairfield Inn and Suites Columbus, Hampton Inn and Suites Columbus, Hampton Inn and Suites Starkville and Hilton Garden Inn Tupelo.
Creative partnerships: Building skills and success for the creative economy
Whether a painter completing an ethereal landscape, or a writer crafting a page-turning plot, creatives among us add substance and beauty to the world at large. No matter how intense the talent, however, the painters, writers, sculptors, the weavers, potters, playwrights and poets unaware of how best to connect with the buying public often languish professionally. "Just because you make it doesn't mean people are going to buy it," said Starkville Area Arts Council (SAAC) Executive Director John Bateman. "It is possible to make a living doing this. It's just learning how to make it work. It does require people to put themselves out there." To support the creative community -- and the area's creative economy as well -- Bateman and the SAAC board began looking at how they could assist. About two years ago, they began a series called Business Skills Workshops. Bob Brzuszek of Starkville markets his acrylic paintings online. The year 2020 made it more important than ever to maximize his virtual presence. "With all the art shows and different types of fairs that have closed, online sources are about the only way to be able to market any type of art products," he said. He attended a Business Skills Workshop to learn as much as he could about resources and sites available to him. "It was extremely helpful to have artists who are already doing this and have experience and helpful tips and techniques for different stages of your business," Brzuszek said.
18 projects receive grant funding through Department of Archives & History
The Board of Trustees of the Mississippi Department of Archives and History has awarded nearly $3 million through its 'Community Heritage Preservation Grant Program' to 18 preservation and restoration projects from across the state. The program, authorized and funded by the Mississippi Legislature, helps preserve and restore historic courthouses and schools in Certified Local Government communities and other historic properties. "The Legislature has saved hundreds of significant Mississippi properties through this program," said MDAH director Katie Blount. "The Department of Archives and History is grateful for the Legislature's support and pleased to be able to help preserve these local treasures." Grant awards are paid on a reimbursable basis upon the successful completion of the entire project or at the time of the completion of pre-established phases of the project. Prior to application, all buildings must have been designated Mississippi Landmarks. Only county or municipal governments, school districts, and nonprofit organizations granted Section 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status by the Internal Revenue Service may submit applications.
Cora Norman, ex-director of Mississippi Humanities Council, dies
Former Mississippi Humanities Council director Cora Norman, who worked to promote the state's diversity soon after court-ordered school integration in the early 1970s, has died. She was 94. Norman died Jan. 11 in Crossville, Tennessee, according to an obituary from Bilbrey Funeral Home. Norman became the first director of the Mississippi Humanities Council when it was founded in 1972, and she worked there until her retirement in 1996. Many Mississippi public schools continued to resist integration after the U.S. Supreme Court's 1954 Brown vs. Board of Education ruling that state-sanctioned segregation was unconstitutional. The ruling was from a Kansas case. Mississippi schools that had continued to hold out were finally ordered to integrate in 1970. As the first Mississippi Humanities Council director, Norman, who was white, "worked to create an organization that reflected and served the full diversity of our state," the council's current director, Stuart Rockoff, wrote in a newsletter published Friday.
Southern author, Mississippi native Julia Reed estate will be auctioned
The estate of a writer who chronicled Southern food and life will be auctioned next month to benefit a charity created to continue her philanthropy. Julia Reed was 59 when she died in August of cancer. She was a contributing editor to Garden & Gun magazine, which chronicles life and culture in the South, and wrote numerous books about the region. Reed's estate includes art, furniture, china, flatware and jewelry from her homes in New York, New Orleans and Greenville, Mississippi, according to Neal Auction Co. of New Orleans. They'll be auctioned online Feb. 5 to benefit the Julia Evans Reed Charitable Trust. Phone, absentee and online bids will be taken. The Reed trust's webpage states that it continues her work to help people in need "by supporting organizations dedicated to providing the things in life that Julia deemed essential: a good home, nourishing food, a quality education, and opportunities for learning, literacy and engagement in the arts." A storm-suffused landscape by Mississippi painter William Dunlap -- one of several pieces of his work to be auctioned -- is expected to raise $12,000 to $18,000.
Surging Grain Prices Fuel Surprise Farm Recovery
A crop glut that battered American farmers is subsiding, fueling an unexpected recovery in the U.S. Farm Belt following a yearslong agricultural recession. Prices for corn, soybeans and wheat have soared to their highest levels in more than six years as dry weather and strong export demand from China drain U.S. stockpiles. The rising commodity prices are rippling through the food chain, helping drive a sharp increase in U.S. farm income and lifting the prospects for a swath of rural businesses, from grain traders to equipment manufacturers and fertilizer suppliers. At the same time, the revival in the grain sector is boosting costs and pressuring profit margins for producers of food and fuel that soak up vast quantities of U.S. corn and soybeans each year, and likely will drive increases in food prices for consumers, some food executives say. It is a dramatic reversal from recent years in which bumper harvests swelled U.S. grain supplies, pushing prices lower and slashing farmers' incomes. A wave of bankruptcies swept Midwestern farms, followed by trade disputes and the coronavirus pandemic, which deepened farmers' struggles.
MSDH reports 1,196 new COVID-19 cases, 21 deaths
The Mississippi State Department of Health (MSDH) on Sunday reported 1,196 more cases of COVID-19 and 21 deaths. The statewide total number of cases since March 11, 2020 is now 264,219 with a death toll of 5,772. As of this week, MSDH reports around 207,769 people presumed recovered from the virus. In Northeast Mississippi, Lee, Prentiss and Union counites reported one additional death. Monroe and Pontotoc counties each reported two additional deaths. MSDH also reported 198 ongoing outbreaks in long-term care facilities. All counites in the Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal's coverage area reported new cases.
'You need somebody who's at the table': Black leaders discuss vaccination disparities
Two Black health care leaders with Tupelo-based nonprofit Project ELECT believe accessibility and trust are key to addressing current vaccination disparities in Mississippi. As of Friday, the Mississippi State Department of Health reported that only 15% of the COVID-19 vaccines distributed throughout the state have gone to Black people, far below their 37.8% share of the population. White Mississippians currently account for around 70% of the total number of vaccinated residents. Dr. Vernon Rayford, a Project ELECT member and an internal medicine and pediatrics physician with North Mississippi Health Services, said one of the organization's current goals is to improve accessibility to vaccination among the state's Black population. Rayford said ensuring equitability of access requires a realization that access isn't equitable in the first place. "If we are assuming that all people have access to standard things, I think you're going to get the number that we're seeing in the state," he said.
Officials: Virus samples from Mississippi sent to CDC for further testing
Some virus samples taken in Mississippi have been sent to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for advanced testing after state officials said they seemed suspicious. During a weekly meeting with the Mississippi State Medical Association, State Epidemiologist Dr. Paul Byers said the B.1.1.7 COVID-19 variant strain hasn't been detected yet in Mississippi. Byers did not say the Mississippi State Department of Health believes the samples are the new variant. But he and State Health Officer Dr. Thomas Dobbs said they feel the variant is likely already in the state and has not yet been identified. But Dobbs stressed that samples from the state are regularly sent to the CDC for testing, something he has mentioned since the variant strain first appeared in the U.S. in late December. "We do routine surveillance," he said. "We're not aware of any samples seen here. I wouldn't say that I think it's widespread (in the state)." The strain, which first appeared in Britain in late December, is said to be at least 50% more contagious than the original. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said Friday that some evidence exists that the B.1.1.7 variant may also be more deadly. But Johnson said the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine currently authorized for emergency use in the U.S., as well as the AstraZeneca-Oxford University vaccine being used in Britain, have proven effective against the mutation.
State Health Officer: COVID vaccination plan for long-term care was 'faulty'
Mississippi's top health official criticized the rollout of the coronavirus vaccine within the state's long-term care facilities Friday, calling the plan made by the federal government and pharmacies contracted to give the shots "faulty" and "frustrating." "We gave them too much vaccine too soon," State Health Officer Dr. Thomas Dobbs said during a virtual briefing with the Mississippi State Medical Association, adding that the situation is now a "daunting problem" for health officials. The Department of Health is now having conversations with CVS and Walgreens about whether some of the doses allocated to them need to be pulled back, Dobbs said. Overall, Dobbs said, the state is doing "remarkably well" at vaccinating people who are not long-term care residents -- the state had used 75% of its allocation for first doses as of Friday. Still, officials at the drive-thru sites and other facilities offering vaccinations have not been able to come close to keeping up with the demand.
Amid pandemic, Medicaid expansion faces dim outlook in Mississippi Legislature
Even as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to shine a harsh light on state's long-standing health disparities, the prospects appear dim for any expansion of Medicaid access to the state's working poor. Both Gov. Tate Reeves and Speaker of the House Philip Gunn oppose expansion of the Medicaid program, but Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann continues to voice a willingness to consider some version of the idea. Reeves, Gunn and Hosemann are all Republicans. In a recent editorial board interview with the Daily Journal, Hosemann said he has looked at how Arkansas expanded Medicaid by using a modified version of the Affordable Care Act provisions. However, Hosemann was frank that the politics of the issue present a steep climb in the Legislature. "There's some built-in resistance to anything that starts with an O," Hosemann said, referring to the "Obamacare" nickname often used as a shorthand for the ACA. But Hosemann has also suggested that a Northeast Mississippi lawmaker, Sen. Hob Bryan, D-Amory, holds sway in the process. Bryan chairs the Senate Public Health and Welfare Committee. In a press briefing earlier this month, Hosemann indicated that he's given Bryan wide discretion regarding policy proposals, and then suggested that some version of Medicaid expansion might surface either this year or next. "I want to leave that up to Sen. Bryan," Hosemann told reporters. "I want to leave him a clean slate."
House members can get paid for work at home, but senators must come to Capitol
Under the COVID-19 safety protocols being put in place for the coming weeks, members of the Mississippi House can participate in the legislative process from the comfort of their homes. On the Senate side, members also can participate via the internet – through Zoom – but at some point each day they must come to the Capitol if they want to be paid. Both chambers have reported positive COVID tests in recent days -- at least two in the Senate and one the House. Legislative leaders are trying to prevent what happened last summer while in session where 49 members tested positive, as did multiple staff members and lobbyists. Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann, who presides over the Senate, has proposed recessing the session until later in the year to provide time for more COVID-19 vaccines to be administered. House Speaker Philip Gunn has rejected that proposal. Instead, the House leadership has developed a unique plan where members can log into Zoom to participate not only when the Legislature is in full session, but also when they are in committee meetings. When House members log in for the full session, they are counted as present and thus receive the $151 per diem that legislators receive during the legislative session.
Prisons taking tobacco orders ahead of legal smoking
Officials at some Mississippi prisons say they are being inundated with orders for tobacco products as the state prepares to once again allow inmates to smoke. Corrections Commissioner Burl Cain announced in December that smoking would be legal in Mississippi prisons starting Feb. 1, a decade after the practice was banned. Cain, who became commissioner last year, said the change would decrease the amount of contraband being smuggled into prisons. "By selling the same cigarettes that are allowed to free people, we are breaking the contraband tobacco trade ... reducing inmate contraband violations and recouping for taxpayers some of the dollars it takes to run state prisons," he said in a statement. Some public health groups, including the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, are opposed to the change. Cain said he is sympathetic to anti-smoking groups. However, he said he believes lifting the ban improves the quality of life for non-smokers.
2 former lawmakers running again as mayors in Mississippi
Two former Mississippi lawmakers are seeking reelection as mayors, while leaders of some other cities will not be back on the ballot this year. Billy Hewes said Friday that he is running for a third term as mayor of Gulfport, again as a Republican. He served in the state Senate from 1992 to 2012 and unsuccessfully sought the Republican nomination for lieutenant governor in 2011. George Flaggs Jr. filed papers Friday to run for a third term as mayor of Vicksburg. Flaggs was a Democrat in the state House from 1988 until he was elected mayor in 2013. He was elected mayor in 2013 and 2017 as a Democrat. He later became an independent, saying he thinks city officials can best serve without party attachments. Jackson Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba, who is a Democrat, said months ago that he will seek a second term in Mississippi's largest city. The Democratic mayor of Tupelo, Jason Shelton, is not seeking a third term. Several candidates have entered that race. Most Mississippi cities are holding elections this year. Candidates' qualifying deadline is Feb. 5.
Mississippi National Guardsmen return home after successful mission in nation's capital
After being at the nation's Capitol providing security during Wednesday's 59th Presidential Inauguration, members of the Mississippi National Guard are back home. The aircraft carrying the service members from the 114th Military Police Company arrived around 5:30 p.m. Saturday. While in Washington D.C., the soldiers provided military and strategic support to law enforcement, ensuring a peaceful transition of power during the historic inauguration. This beefed-up security came in light of the protest at the Capitol earlier this month. Roughly 100 troops from Mississippi volunteered to go to Washington, D.C., for the mission. All returned home safely. As the men and women stepped off the aircraft, they were greeted by two of the state's top leaders, Gov. Tate Reeves and Congressman Michael Guest. The two expressed their gratitude towards the brave men and women for the work the accomplished this week.
Analysis: Transition turmoil splits Mississippi delegation
Republican U.S. Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith of Mississippi won a 2018 special election and a 2020 regular election by making a single overarching promise -- to support President Donald Trump. She stuck with Trump even as he made unfounded claims about the November election that he lost to Democrat Joe Biden. Hours after a violent mob stormed the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, Hyde-Smith joined Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas, Josh Hawley of Missouri, Tommy Tuberville of Alabama and a few other Republican senators in voting to reject the certified Electoral College votes that Biden won in Arizona and Pennsylvania. Hyde-Smith said "unacceptable violence and destruction" had occurred at the Capitol, but that she was "alarmed with the erosion of integrity of the electoral process." Mississippi's senior U.S. senator, fellow Republican Roger Wicker, voted to accept the certified votes that showed Biden won the presidency. Shortly before the violence at the Capitol, Wicker said he had supported Trump but that the Republican incumbent "lost a close election, and it is time to acknowledge that." Hyde-Smith and Wicker both issued statements after Biden's inauguration calling for national unity.
Buy American: President Biden to direct federal government to purchase more U.S.-made goods
President Joe Biden will take steps Monday to encourage the federal government to buy more American-made products, a move the new administration argues will protect U.S. jobs and juice an economy severely hobbled by the deadly coronavirus pandemic. Biden, who pushed a $700 billion Buy American campaign as a candidate for president, is set to sign an executive order that will advance several policies to boost the federal government's purchase of U.S.-manufactured goods and services, administration officials said Sunday. Federal law requires government agencies to give preference to American firms when possible, but critics say those requirements haven't always been implemented consistently or effectively. Some have not been substantially updated since the 1950s. The federal government spends nearly $600 billion a year on contracts, which is money the administration says can spur a revitalization of the nation's industrial strength and create new markets for new technologies. To that end, Biden's order will increase the domestic content threshold, which is the amount of a product that must be made in the U.S. before it can be purchased by the federal government.
Janet Yellen wins unanimous Senate panel backing for Treasury post
The Senate Finance Committee voted 26-0 to advance the nomination of Janet Yellen to be Treasury secretary, as Republicans noted their policy differences with her but cited Yellen's promise to be responsive to their questions and work with them. Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., the powerful tax-writing committee's incoming chairman, said after the markup that Democrats were hoping that Republicans would agree to bring Yellen's vote to the floor Friday afternoon. But party leaders couldn't gain consent to do so before Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer pulled the plug on further roll call votes during Friday's session. Schumer later said an agreement was reached to vote on Yellen's confirmation at 5:30 p.m. on Monday. "This is an urgent appointment and anybody who questions it, look at the unemployment numbers yesterday," Wyden said, referring to the Labor Department's report Thursday that there were 900,000 new claims for unemployment insurance for the week that ended Jan. 16. Yellen has previously been confirmed by the Senate five times, including for Federal Reserve chairwoman, a job she held from 2014 to 2018.
AP source: Lawmakers threatened ahead of impeachment trial
Federal law enforcement officials are examining a number of threats aimed at members of Congress as the second trial of former President Donald Trump nears, including ominous chatter about killing legislators or attacking them outside of the U.S. Capitol, a U.S. official told The Associated Press. The threats, and concerns that armed protesters could return to sack the Capitol anew, have prompted the U.S. Capitol Police and other federal law enforcement to insist thousands of National Guard troops remain in Washington as the Senate moves forward with plans for Trump's trial, the official said Sunday. Law enforcement officials are already starting to plan for the possibility of armed protesters returning to the nation's capital when Trump's Senate trial on a charge of inciting a violent insurrection begins the week of Feb. 8. It would be the first impeachment trial of a former U.S. president. Though much of the security apparatus around Washington set up after the riot and ahead of Biden's inauguration -- it included scores of military checkpoints and hundreds of additional law enforcement personnel -- is no longer in place, about 7,000 members of the National Guard will remain to assist federal law enforcement, officials said.
How Joe Biden's Catholicism Could Influence The Abortion Debate
Joe Biden is only the second Catholic president of the United States. He's also a supporter of abortion rights -- a position at odds with official teachings of the Roman Catholic Church. For some Catholic activists, like Marjorie Dannenfelser, Biden's high-profile example of a Catholic who supports abortion rights is troubling. "It's a negative example of a deep and important moral issue that is being debated in this country," she said. But for those who would like to see the church take a more permissive stance on issues including abortion, Biden's election is an opportunity. Jamie Manson, president of Catholics for Choice, said she hopes for what she describes as a "better dialogue" between church leaders and some rank-and-file Catholics who disagree with aspects of the church's teachings. Polling suggests a majority of American Catholics support abortion rights in most or all cases and oppose overturning Roe v. Wade, the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion nationwide. With a conservative Supreme Court majority and Biden in the White House, Manson predicts continued battles over issues including "conscience exemptions" -- for example, for pharmacists who object to dispensing the morning-after pill or employers who oppose including contraceptive coverage in their health insurance plans.
In Biden's Catholic Faith, an Ascendant Liberal Christianity
Hours before President Biden took the oath of office, he entered the front pew of the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle, the seat of Catholic Washington, and beheld the mosaics behind the altar. An intimate group of family, friends and congressional leaders had gathered for Mass, in the place where Pope Francis spoke in 2015 and where the funeral for John F. Kennedy, the nation's first Roman Catholic president, was held. There are myriad changes with the incoming Biden administration. One of the most significant: a president who has spent a lifetime steeped in Christian rituals and practices. Mr. Biden, perhaps the most religiously observant commander in chief in half a century, regularly attends Mass and speaks of how his Catholic faith grounds his life and his policies. And with Mr. Biden, a different, more liberal Christianity is ascendant: less focused on sexual politics and more on combating poverty, climate change and racial inequality. His arrival comes after four years in which conservative Christianity has reigned in America's highest halls of power, embodied in white evangelicals laser-focused on ending abortion and guarding against what they saw as encroachments on their freedoms. Their devotion to former President Donald J. Trump was so fervent that many showed up in Washington on Jan. 6 to protest the election results. Mr. Biden's leadership is a repudiation of the claim by many conservative leaders that Democrats are inherently anti-Christian.
Some Black Southern Baptists feel shut out by white leaders
As a student in college and seminary, then as a pastor in Texas, Dwight McKissic has been affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention for more than 45 years. Now he's pondering whether he and his congregation should break away. "It would feel like a divorce," McKissic said. "That's something I've never had, but that's what it would feel like." If he does, he would be following in the footsteps of several other Black pastors who have recently exited in dismay over what they see as racial insensitivity from some leaders of the predominantly white SBC. Tensions are high after an election year in which racism was a central issue, and after a provocative declaration by SBC seminary presidents in late 2020 that a fundamental concept in the struggle against racial injustice contravenes church doctrine. A crucial moment for McKissic and other Black pastors could come in June at the SBC's national meeting in Nashville, Tennessee, if delegates rebuff their views on systemic racism in the U.S., and if Rev. Albert Mohler, a high-profile conservative who heads the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, is elected SBC president. More recently he played a key role in the seminary presidents' repudiation of critical race theory -- a broad term used in academic and activist circles to describe critiques of systemic racism
Kentucky Republicans reject resolution urging Mitch McConnell to stand with Trump
The Republican Party of Kentucky's State Central Committee rejected a resolution Saturday that would have urged Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell to fully support former President Donald Trump and condemn his second impeachment. The committee met Saturday to consider the proposal after the Republican Party of Nelson County announced more than 30 GOP county chairs and vice chairs had called for a meeting to consider the resolution aimed at the commonwealth's longtime senator. Republican Party of Kentucky Chairman Mac Brown called the resolution out of order, and the majority of the committee agreed, a member told The Courier Journal after the meeting. The final vote agreeing the resolution should be deemed out of order was 134-49, the member said. McConnell -- who is widely credited with helping transform the commonwealth into a Republican stronghold over the past 30 years -- still has stalwart supporters among the state GOP who trust his judgment, as the committee's decision Saturday made clear. On Friday, McConnell struck a deal with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer to wait until the week of Feb. 8 to start the impeachment trial -- a move that gives Trump's defense team extra time to prepare.
Reports: Trump weighed firing attorney general to toss Georgia results
In his final days in office, President Donald Trump contemplated firing the acting attorney general, with hopes that his replacement would be willing to force Georgia lawmakers to block results showing Joe Biden won the state, according to reports in The New York Times and The Washington Post. The Times story, citing four unnamed former Trump administration officials, said Trump listened to a plan to oust the acting attorney general, Jeffrey Rosen, and replace him with another Justice Department attorney, Jeffrey Clark, who "had been devising ways to cast doubt on the election results and to bolster Mr. Trump's continuing legal battles and the pressure on Georgia politicians." Rosen had refused to take such steps, according to the reports. The Times wrote that other senior Justice officials had said they would resign if Trump tried to force the issue. Both publications said Trump dropped the idea following a meeting with officials. Before stepping down last month, Attorney General William Barr said the Justice Department had not uncovered evidence of widespread voter fraud that would change the election's outcome. Rosen, who was deputy attorney general, then became acting attorney general.
State Republicans push new voting restrictions after Trump's loss
Republican legislators across the country are preparing a slew of new voting restrictions in the wake of former President Donald Trump's defeat. Georgia will be the focal point of the GOP push to change state election laws, after Democrats narrowly took both Senate seats there and President Joe Biden carried the state by an even smaller margin. But state Republicans in deep-red states and battlegrounds alike are citing Trump's meritless claims of voter fraud in 2020 -- and the declining trust in election integrity Trump helped drive -- as an excuse to tighten access to the polls. Some Republican officials have been blunt about their motivations: They don't believe they can win unless the rules change. "They don't have to change all of them, but they've got to change the major parts of them so that we at least have a shot at winning," Alice O'Lenick, a Republican on the Gwinnett County, Ga., board of elections in suburban Atlanta, told the Gwinnett Daily Post last week. She has since resisted calls to resign. Georgia Republicans, in particular, are intensely focused on their state's election laws, after the state became the epicenter of Trump's attempts to undermine confidence in the 2020 election results.
QAnon enters new period of danger, opportunity
Former President Trump's exit from office marks a new period for QAnon, and a new opportunity for those interested in stifling it. Many of the conspiracy theory's followers were disillusioned Wednesday when President Biden was sworn in without incident. QAnon forums, chat rooms and message boards briefly went into disarray, as influential figures within the community had been pushing the story that Trump would interrupt the inauguration to imprison and execute his political opponents in the "Great Awakening." Although the prediction was by no means the first to miss the mark, some QAnon supporters were notably thrown by the news and began questioning whether they have been tricked. This presents a window to get some members out of the community and reconnect them with their family and friends, according to experts on conspiracy theory groups. Steven Hassan, an expert on drawing people away from cults, told The Hill that the best way to reach out to people lost to QAnon is to start simple, emphasizing empathy and kindness. Quashing the unsubstantiated theory, which posits that Trump is working to expose a shadowy group of Democratic elites that run vast child trafficking rings, will take a lot of effort, experts told The Hill.
Dr. Anthony Fauci: Divisiveness has failed America 'in every single way'
When Dr. Anthony Fauci and "Sunday Morning" special contributor Ted Koppel first met on camera, remote interviews were still something of a novelty, and the nation was fixated on a global epidemic called HIV-AIDS. Koppel, then of ABC's "Nightline," asked Fauci, "What degree of optimism do you have about some kind of vaccine?" "Two vaccines are in phase one trials to determine safety, but it won't be well into the 1990s, if we're lucky enough, to have a vaccine. It won't be at least until 1995," he replied. Even 33 years ago, Fauci had a wide national following, but mostly among AIDS activists who were often highly critical; and he had not yet inspired any videos, T-shirts, coffee mugs or suggestions of impending sainthood, as he has recently. And then there is a July 22 Sinclair Broadcasting video, "America This Week," in which a former chronic fatigue syndrome researcher, Dr. Judy Mikovits, claimed, "I believe Dr. Fauci has manufactured the coronaviruses." "You know, Ted, I think this is a dramatic example of the divisiveness in our country," Fauci said. "We've had a complete distortion and throwing aside of scientific facts and evidence. And a certain part of the country believed the hoax aspect, the fake news aspect. The other half was longing for clarity, longing for facts, longing for truth."
Corporations offer to help with vaccine rollout
The Donald Trump administration left the vaccine rollout, for the most part, to state and local governments. So right now, "it's literally the Wild West," said Anna Nagurney, professor of operations management at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. "You need better coordination, better communication and emphasizing operational efficiency," Nagurney said. "And we know how to do that." By "we," she meant American companies. To end the coronavirus pandemic, the federal government needs hundreds of millions of Americans to get vaccinated. And one of the hardest parts of rolling out the vaccine is the so-called last mile. In e-commerce, that's the final step -- the stuff that happens just before a package gets delivered to your door. In the vaccine realm, it's the part just before the needle plunges into your arm. The logistics are incredibly difficult. And big companies are offering to help. In Charlotte, North Carolina, Honeywell is helping the government host big vaccination events. The company is contributing its technology, like bar-code scanning to help patients check in faster, said Taylor Smith, chief marketing officer for Honeywell Productivity Solutions and Services.
MUW's Ghanshyam Heda receives IHL's Diversity and Inclusion Award
Diversity and inclusion are part of Ghanshyam Heda's DNA. Growing up in Hyderabad, a large cosmopolitan city in India, allowed Heda to experience different cultures, religions, languages and dialects. The lessons Heda learned in his formative years fostered a desire to incorporate diversity and inclusion into his teaching, research and everyday life. Heda continues to implement those ideas as a tenured professor of biology at the Mississippi University for Women. The Mississippi Institutions of Higher Learning recently recognized Heda's work when it named him The W's recipient of its annual Diversity and Inclusion Award for Excellence. "This award is very special, and I consider it a tribute to the success of the many advisees and students of diverse background who were trained and are still being trained in my research laboratory," Heda said. "This award motivates me and strengthens my resolve to contribute more toward diversity and inclusiveness at The W and beyond." W President Nora Miller nominated Heda for the annual award based on the recommendation of the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Council. She said Heda, who has been at the university since 2008, has made many notable contributions in the area of service and teaching, including traveling to India during his sabbatical in 2015 and as a Fulbright Scholar in 2018.
Ole Miss Announces Task Force Preparing for Campuswide COVID-19 Vaccinations
Although the exact date when doses will arrive is pending, the University of Mississippi Vaccine Distribution and Administration Task Force is preparing to launch a campuswide vaccination program as soon as shipments are available. The task force is working with the Mississippi State Department of Health to obtain doses of a COVID-19 vaccine as soon as possible. Ole Miss officials are hopeful that once it arrives, the process to offer immunizations to the entire campus community can begin quickly. "I am extremely confident in our vaccine administration team," Provost Noel Wilkin said. "They have been administering vaccines on our campus for about a decade and conduct Operation Immunization each year for influenza vaccines. With the planning and competence of our team and the expertise and guidance of the Vaccine Distribution and Administration Task Force, I am confident that we will be able to begin administering vaccine to people on our campus within hours of it arriving." University officials do not know how many doses will be received initially.
USM Researchers Date Timbers from North Mississippi Structure to 1734
What began with a random phone call became an intense research project that led to remarkable discoveries by a group of professors and students at The University of Southern Mississippi (USM). Assistant Professor of geography Dr. Tommy Patterson, Associate Professor of geography Dr. David Holt, and Associate Professor of geography Dr. Grant Harley joined forces to assist archaeologists in determining the age of timbers used in construction of the historic Colbert-Walker home site near Tupelo, Miss. After nearly two years of painstaking analysis, the group formed a startling conclusion: pine wood from the Colbert-Walker structure could be traced back to 1734. What that means is that the former home represents one of the oldest, if not the oldest, dendro-dated (a scientific method of dating tree rings to the exact year they were formed) structures in the Gulf South region. Countless hours were spent on the project that also included valuable contributions from USM undergraduate and graduate students.
USM alumna creates scholarship for HHS students
A new scholarship has been made for Hattiesburg High School students who wish to attend the University of Southern Mississippi through a donation by USM alumna Dr. Beverly Dale. Named in honor of Dr. Dale's niece and nephew-in-law, the Julie and John Arender Hattiesburg High School Scholarship Endowment will allow an incoming freshman from HHS with a minimum high school GPA of 3.5 to receive about $28,000 in scholarship support - $7,000 each year for four consecutive years as long as a 3.0 GPA or above is maintained. Julie and John Arender both graduated from USM in 2017, as Julie earned her bachelor's degree in foreign languages (licensure), and John earned his degree in journalism with an emphasis in public relations. Julie started working for HHS after graduating, where she teaches Spanish. During the 2018-19 school year, she was selected as Teacher of the Year for the Hattiesburg Public School District. John began his own videography and photography business while attending USM and continues to grow his trade in the city and more. He still works closely with the HHS Athletic Department in developing and growing its media presence in the community.
MC Professor Christian Pinnen Writes New Book on Colonial History
An award-winning scholar, and superb teacher, Mississippi College professor Christian Pinnen co-authored a new book spotlighting the Colonial era prior to the Magnolia State's birth. Titled "Colonial Mississippi: A Borrowed Land," the book is co-authored by Pinnen and Charles Weeks. The writers reveal compelling stories spanning over 300 years. They feature a diverse collection of people from America, Europe, and Africa. The book offers the first composite of histories from the entire colonial period in the land now called Mississippi. The authors dwell on the trials and tribulations of Mississippi as a colony. The writers touch on regions of the land stretching from the Gulf Coast to the Natchez area. Mississippi became a state in 1817, and two years later, neighboring Alabama joined the United States. The Jackson-based University Press of Mississippi published the 246-page book due to be released in the early part of 2021. Pinnen began teaching history at Mississippi College in 2012. He earned his doctorate at the University of Southern Mississippi in 2012 and master's in history at USM in 2008.
Belhaven University builds COVID-19 testing facility on campus
One Mississippi university has built a COVID-19 testing facility on its campus, and it's located in the Capital City. When you take a look and see the white coats, medical equipment and testing being done, you might think you're at a medical clinic. But no, you are actually on campus at Belhaven University. The students and professors are scientifically trained to run the show. "This is more of a biochemistry type of training that is needed to do this type of work," said Dr. Shelley Smith, assistant to the president for coronavirus management and assistant chemistry professor at Belhaven. The university began working to build the facility in November and students said they're already seeing the benefits of having it on campus. "It allows us to be able to actually go to on-campus classes without having to resort to online schooling," said Clare Bishop, who's a student worker at the facility. Bishop recently got accepted into medical school and believes the center is offering her early experience in her future career field.
Brandon Robinson joins Phi Theta Kappa staff
Brandon Robinson of Bells, Texas, has joined Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society's staff as special assistant to the President and CEO. In this role, Robinson will provide administrative, communications, and research support to PTK's President and CEO, Dr. Lynn Tincher-Ladner, and oversee special events at PTK's Headquarters in Jackson. Previously, Robinson was a training manager for The Massey Organization, which operates multiple quick service restaurants in the Dallas area. He served in the United States Navy as a Hospital Corpsman during Operation Enduring Freedom. Robinson was inducted into PTK at Grayson College in Texas. He served as an officer in his chapter and in the Texas Region, was a finalist for PTK International Office, the highest position of student leadership available, and represents Texas on the Phi Theta Kappa Foundation's Alumni Advisory Board. He remains active in the Texas Region, serving as the Director of Sponsorship.
Auburn not testing students upon arrival, despite doing so in fall
Last semester Auburn University asked students to get tested for COVID-19 before or upon arrival to campus. The public university in Alabama sent out home testing kits for students, offered on-campus sites and allowed students to demonstrate results they got elsewhere. This semester, the university chose not to repeat that practice. The move was criticized by some observers and faculty members. But university officials say there are good reasons to not do it again. For one, it didn't work. "I hate to say it, but it clearly did not prevent a spike at the start of the fall," said Dr. Fred Kam, clinical medical director at Auburn. The university struggled, like others in the state, Kam said, to get 90 to 100 percent compliance with the protocol. And in the first few weeks of the term, the university saw more than 1,300 cases. "It clearly did not stop a spike at University of Alabama, or Auburn, or some other schools. It still happened," he said. The situation at Auburn illustrates some of the ambiguity facing colleges and universities this term. With such a new virus, public health protocols are still being developed, tested and perfected. The public health and medical experts advising colleges are experienced professionals. But with research still being done, many institutions and their experts have had to rely on anecdotal evidence from their peers and others even outside higher education to make decisions about how to contain the disease on campus.
Auburn University extends remote operations through Feb. 7
Auburn University announced that it will extend its remote operations policy another week through Feb. 7, returning to full on-campus operations on Feb. 8. The extension was announced via a campus-wide email to students and faculty on Friday afternoon. "This one-week extension will allow for the additional review of COVID-19 policy changes recently announced by the Biden administration," the University said in the email. The further change to policy means that faculty offering face-to-face courses this semester may opt to teach their classes remotely, either synchronously or asynchronously, for an additional two weeks, factoring into the previous extension. Students whose courses continue to be held remotely will be notified of these changes to class delivery, the University said. Despite the extension, the University said all current COVID-19 guidelines will remain in place. "Students, faculty and staff are expected to comply with all University policies -- including wearing face coverings indoors and outdoors and practicing physical distancing and proper hygiene -- as well as restrictions on travel and event size," the University said.
You can only hope to contain them: Auburn University gets $450K grant to stop the spread of feral hogs
A trio of Auburn University researchers has landed a federal grant to study a longstanding problem for Alabama farmers and landowners: feral hogs. The state's coastal and Black Belt areas are rife with the animals, which eat and root up crops to the tune of millions of dollars per year. AU Forestry and Wildlife Sciences faculty members Steven Ditchkoff, Mark Smith and Graeme Lockaby have been awarded a $450,000 federal grant to help launch the Alabama Feral Swine Control Pilot Program (FSCP), to be run through the Alabama Soil and Water Conservation Committee. According to Smith, the study will track the hogs' spread around the state. Lee and surrounding counties are not affected nearly as much as the aforementioned coastal plain and Black Belt, but there are notable populations as far north as Limestone County, located on the Tennessee state line. Feral hogs breed prolifically and are intelligent, aggressive and highly adaptable -- all traits that make controlling their population difficult, according to Ditchkoff, who was recently recognized by The Wildlife Society for his work on the book "Invasive Wild Pigs in North America: Ecology, Impacts, and Management."
Auburn alum Lloyd Austin confirmed as Secretary of Defense
Auburn graduate Lloyd Austin has been confirmed to serve as the next U.S. Defense Secretary. The retired four-star Army general and current member of the Auburn Board of Trustees confirmed his appointment on Twitter. "It's an honor and a privilege to serve as our country's 28th Secretary of Defense, and I'm especially proud to be the first African American to hold the position. Let's get to work," Austin said in a tweet on Friday. The U.S. Senate voted by an overwhelming majority of 93-2 to confirm Austin as the next defense secretary, with the only two no votes coming from Sen. Josh Hawley, R-MO, and Sen. Mike Lee, R-UT. Born in Mobile, Alabama, and raised in Georgia, Austin first attended West Point where he graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in 1975. In 1986, Austin graduated from Auburn University with a Master of Arts degree in counselor education. After serving in the United States military for 41 years, he retired in 2016.
U. of Tennessee hopes to more than double enrollment at Martin Methodist after adding it to the system
The University of Tennessee is hoping to eventually grow enrollment at Martin Methodist College to 1,500 students, but that will require more dorms and classrooms on campus. The UT board of trustees executive committee met on Friday morning, where they heard an update on the proposal to add Martin Methodist College to the UT System. The goal of the merger is to create access to more affordable higher education in southern Middle Tennessee, where Martin Methodist is located. While the merger isn't final, it was given the green light by both schools in December. It now has to be approved Tennessee's general assembly later this year. Linda Martin, vice president for academic affairs and student success, outlined the enrollment goals for the new campus. By becoming a UT campus, tuition costs at Martin Methodist will drop. "The primary objective of this acquisition is to better serve the residents of South Middle Tennessee," Martin said. "It is a higher education desert, and we're giving students in that area access to high quality, affordable public education. And I think this is something that can really have an impact in those counties." Currently, there are 671 full-time equivalent students enrolled at Martin Methodist. UT outlined plans to grow that to between 1,000 and 1,500 students over the next several years.
U. of Florida assistant professor featured on CBS show 'Mission Unstoppable'
From fighting fires to igniting them, Rae Crandall, fire ecologist and assistant professor of fire ecology at the University of Florida, will be featured on the CBS series "Mission Unstoppable." Crandall sparked her passion for fire ecology after participating in a prescribed burn during her undergraduate career at Indiana's Butler University. "I actually got to light the fire and watch it burn," said Crandall. "But it was even more interesting to walk by that prairie every day and watch everything resprout." Crandall worked briefly as a wildland firefighter after college but discovered that fires were important for regeneration within ecosystems. She went back to school, earning her master's in botany and a doctorate in biology. In 2016, Crandall began working at UF teaching the effects of fires on the regeneration of plants and oversees "prescribed" or planned fires to maintain healthy ecosystems. "When fires burn plants they are able to resprout again and help with new growth," Crandall said. "Fires also open up spaces for germination of new plants."
Texas A&M hosts grand opening for new Polo Road Rec Center
Texas A&M opened its Polo Road Rec Center this week an exciting new addition to campus for many students, including senior Kade Flitton. Flitton dropped by the facility with his roommate, A&M senior Nico Monroig, during Friday afternoon's grand opening to check out the new space and pick up a tote bag of goodies provided by the Rec Center staff. Flitton and Monroig live off campus near the Northgate area and said the new building will be a closer place to work out. The main Student Recreation Center is located near Kyle Field and the West Campus garage. "It was really cool -- very wide open, well designed, lots of new equipment, which is super exciting," Flitton said of the facility. "We usually go to the other [rec center], which is either a long bike ride or a drive that's like 10 minutes. But this one is probably like a five-minute bike ride or a mile jog, so it's a huge improvement to convenience." The new recreation center, located across the street from the Emerging Technologies Building, is equipped with features that department of recreational sports Director Rick Hall said are some of the most popular parts of the West Campus center. The 28,000-square-foot facility on Polo Road has an indoor turf area, rooms for fitness classes, towel service and day-use lockers as well as locker rooms. The $12 million center is just a piece of the $78 million Polo Garage Facility, which includes food courts, Transportation Services offices and a five-story, 546,000-square-foot parking garage.
COVID on Campus: Unprecedented challenges, mixed results
In April in the early weeks of the pandemic, as University of Missouri System President Mun Choi evaluated whether his school should come back in the fall, he predicted that 20 students at MU would need to be sequestered with COVID-19 if they came back for in-person classes. Upon reopening in August, Missouri had isolation and quarantine housing available for more than 200 students. By Thanksgiving, the school had more than 2,300 reported cases overall. As students prepared to return to the University of Illinois, officials forecast 700 positive cases by Thanksgiving break. That number hit almost 4,000 by the holiday. Many colleges and universities throughout the country didn't try to reopen this fall. At those that did, a wide range of policies and protections were put in place in hopes of limiting the spread of the virus. But an analysis of the efforts at four major Midwestern universities shows that no matter what schools tried -- whether it was Illinois' much-touted testing program or Missouri's lack of comprehensive or random testing -- the results were much worse than predicted. At those campuses and the flagship universities in Indiana and Wisconsin, at least 15,000 tested positive for COVID-19 this fall.
Bill would bar Iowa universities from spending nonstate money without state government approval
The state's public universities could not spend millions of dollars in federal grants, private gifts and other sources unless state lawmakers give their permission each year, according to a measure advancing in the Iowa Legislature. House Study Bill 66 cleared an education subcommittee Thursday. The measure would bar the state's public universities from spending any nonstate money "unless the expenditure is approved by an act of the general assembly." It would apply to the University of Iowa, including its health care system, Iowa State University, the University of Northern Iowa and the regents' special schools beginning in July 2022. Lobbyists from all three of the campuses oppose the proposal, but Rep. Phil Thompson, R-Jefferson, during the subcommittee meeting, said he supports discussing it further -- saying he's aware of lawmakers who want more input on campus spending. "In the interest of continuing to drive conversation about the budget, I'm willing to sign on to this bill," Thompson said. "Again, I just want to increase conversations. ... I'm concerned that there's no recourse for the Legislature on the backside, as opposed to just responding to what spending has happened." The proposal comes a year after the UI entered a groundbreaking partnership allowing for private operation of its massive utilities system. The $1.165 billion deal -- aimed at carving out a new revenue source for a campus facing enrollment declines, state funding cuts and rising costs -- enabled the UI to invest $999 million in an endowment it hopes will generate interest annually in support campus strategic initiatives.
Governor restores $260 million in pandemic-related cuts to Ohio K-12 schools, universities
Gov. Mike DeWine has moved to soften pandemic-related budget cuts to Ohio's K-12 schools and public universities and colleges. The governor on Friday signed an executive order restoring $160 million to schools' basic state aid and $100 million to the bottom line of higher education. But, his order preserved $390 million in previous budget cuts made by state agencies for the fiscal year ending June 30. No new reductions were ordered. The state was able to restore some education funding because Ohio's tax take has not been as badly harmed by the COVID-19 pandemic as originally envisioned. DeWine cut $776 million in state spending last spring for the prior fiscal year as state revenues nose-dived after the start of the virus and forced business closures led to record unemployment claims. The cuts included $300 million to schools' foundation formula funding. Higher education sustained a $110 million cut. "As many schools, colleges and universities return to in-person learning, it's important that the funding be reinstated," DeWine said in a statement.
Some Colleges Revamped the Academic Calendar in Response to the Pandemic. Here's What They Learned.
As the fall approached and colleges considered what impact Covid-19 would have on their campuses, some of them settled on a solution: an altered academic calendar. Many made adjustments like delaying the start of the semester for a couple of weeks or moving classes online after Thanksgiving to keep students at home. But a number of small liberal-arts colleges did something more radical: They cut their semester into halves, on the idea that navigating two courses at a time -- albeit at a much quicker pace -- would be logistically and intellectually easier for students than juggling four at once. Now, with one semester under their belts, these colleges are looking back on what they learned. The experiment with the academic calendar came with its share of stress. But as often happens with innovations that emerge in response to a crisis, it also sparked other changes -- in this case, to central elements of course design and teaching -- that were less obviously connected to the logistics of the class schedule.
Joe Biden promised to forgive student debt, but don't expect relief anytime soon
As Nate Wlodarchak drove people to the polls on Election Day, he couldn't stop picturing his life without student debt. On the campaign trail, now President Joe Biden had promised to forgive $10,000 of the loans for all borrowers, which would practically reset Wlodarchak's balance to zero. Without the loans weighing on him, Wlodarchak, 37, a scientist who studies tuberculosis, could direct more of his paychecks to his savings each month. And he and his husband, Shawn, who live outside Denver, could finally start thinking seriously about the many goals, like having children, that they've had to leave on the back burner. Now Wlodarchak and tens of millions of other borrowers saddled with student loans are looking to the new president to ease some of their debt burden. "We took to heart his promise to make it a core priority," Wlodarchak said. However, with the Biden administration coming in amid dual and historic economic and health crises, student loan forgiveness may not come as quickly as some had hoped. Vaccinating people against Covid, re-opening schools and getting financial relief to unemployed and food-insecure Americans will likely take priority.
President Biden's free college plan would increase enrollment at public colleges but hurt privates
Wells College sits on a picturesque tree-filled campus on the shores of New York's Cayuga Lake, with brick buildings dating back to its founding in 1868, a year when a different president, Andrew Johnson, was impeached. It has a modest $24 million endowment and enrolls a little more than 400 full-time students. It's quite different from the image of blue-blooded and cash-rich institutions like Harvard University, with $42 billion in endowments and 36,000 students. Its margins are so slim, in fact, that last May, when Wells faced the prospect of the pandemic closing its campus in the fall, the college's president, Jonathan Gibralter, wrote that closure could push Wells over the edge. "Wells simply will not receive enough revenue to continue operations," he wrote in a letter. As it turned out, the college was able to hold in-person classes in the fall, and donations have put it on more stable footing, Gibralter said last week. But a new threat is on the horizon, menacing private colleges and universities, particularly smaller ones without much wiggle room that are already facing a decline in the number of traditional college-aged students in the coming years. In the White House now is a president who is promising to make college -- or at least public ones as well as those predominantly serving students of color -- free. But it would also mean private colleges and universities, which would still be charging thousands a year in tuition, would find themselves competing for students, who could go elsewhere and not have to pay tuition.
States Weigh Making Financial-Aid Applications a High-School Graduation Requirement
Lawmakers in at least eight states are pushing legislation this year that would require high-school seniors to complete federal or state financial-aid applications before they can graduate, part of a broad effort to guide more high-school students toward college. Supporters say the mandates would bring postsecondary education within reach for millions more young adults by helping them claim billions of dollars in grants for which they are already eligible, and ultimately help improve the economy by creating a more educated workforce. They also hope that requiring the forms -- or even compelling students who want exemptions to meet with guidance counselors -- would provide an opening for discussions about college plans. Opponents argue the requirements are unnecessarily burdensome. Nationally, 55.6% of last year's high-school seniors completed the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, a form long criticized as overly complicated that unlocks access to federal grants and loans and is often required for state and institutional aid as well. Aid experts say students who most need the assistance are least likely to apply for it.
Can we Americans bridge our political schism?
Syndicated columnist Bill Crawford writes: When is the last time you used the word "schism?" Oh, it's not in your daily vocabulary. Well, since we're living in one it should be. The Macmillan online dictionary provides this etymology: "The noun schism comes ultimately from a Greek word meaning 'rent' or 'cleft'. It came into Middle English in the 14th century, originally referring to division in the Christian church. The more general meaning came later in the 15th century....Schism is more commonly used nowadays to refer to political splits. A corpus search shows that schisms are frequently said to be 'precipitated' or 'provoked' by a particular event. They are frequently 'widened' or 'deepened' but sometimes they can be 'mended', 'bridged', or 'healed'." We have been living in an ever widening and deepening schism personified by the vitriol between the left and the right, exemplified by the growing gaps between the rich and the middle class and poor, and impelled by the predators who profit from division. Are we doomed to continue riding this destructive spiral into anarchy, or does one of those rare "sometimes" loom to mend, bridge, and heal?
Lawmakers could take lessons from the historic teacher pay raise of 2000
Bobby Harrison writes for Mississippi Today: As Mississippi legislators grapple with how much and whether they can afford to provide a pay raise to teachers during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, what occurred in 2000 might be of interest. Lawmakers that year passed the state's largest teacher pay increase: a $337 million proposal that was enacted over a six-year period. That pay raise is equivalent to $523.9 million in today's dollars. There are some similarities between what happened then and what is going on now. In the 1999 gubernatorial election, then-Lt. Gov. Ronnie Musgrove campaigned on moving the pay for Mississippi teachers to the Southeastern average. During the 2019 gubernatorial election, both candidates -- Democrat Jim Hood and Republican Tate Reeves -- promised large pay raises for teachers. About a month before the November 2019 general election, Reeves, the eventual winner, proposed raising teacher pay $4,300 over a four-year period, costing, he said at the time, a total of $225 million -- far less than the 2000 plan, but still a lofty goal. In 2000, like now, there were events beyond the control of Mississippi's politicians making it difficult for them to commit to spending such a large amount of money.

Bulldogs Finish with PRs at Carolina Challenge
The Bulldogs of Mississippi State track and field had eight student-athletes record personal bests at South Carolina's Carolina Challenge. "We got some good things done today," said head coach Chris Woods. "We had two athletes, Rosealee Cooper and Francesca Chambers, make their way into the top five in the history of their respective events. We were able to come here and get some things done. We'll turn our sights to Arkansas, that's going to be our first really big competition of the year. It's going to be a good opportunity to go and compete against some of the best teams in the country." The Bulldogs had 10 freshmen compete in Saturday's meet. Three of them updated their personal bests from the week prior in Terry Smith Jr., Trent Zelden and Jeremiah Pierce. Mississippi State saw seven performances inside the top five marks of their respective events. This included freshman Rosealee Cooper finishing third in the women's 60m hurdles, Jesse Henderson finishing second and Smith Jr. finishing third in the men's 60m hurdles, Pierce in third in the shot put, Francesca Chambers in third in the weight throw, and Peyton Mickelson tied for third in the pole vault. Next up for the Bulldogs is the two-day Razorback Invitational hosted by Arkansas. The meet will take place on January 29 and 30 in Fayetteville.
Mississippi State basketball falls to Alabama's 3-point barrage
Alabama went into Saturday night's game at Coleman Coliseum having made nearly twice as many 3-point shots as Mississippi State, including an SEC-record 23 in its last game. The Crimson Tide added to its SEC-leading total of 3s from the opening tip. Alabama made three 3s in the first five-and-a-half minutes, giving MSU a sign of what was to come. A flurry of five 3s in the final seven minutes of the first half was enough to give No. 16 Alabama a five-point halftime lead and the boost it needed to outplay Mississippi State in the second half of a 81-73 victory. "Give them credit, they knocked down open shots," MSU sophomore guard D.J. Stewart Jr. said. Mississippi State (9-7, 4-4 SEC) clamped down on the 3-point line in the second half. Alabama (13-3, 8-0) only made five shots from beyond the arc over the final 20 minutes, but it still made 14 in the game to Mississippi State's four. The Crimson Tide shot 46.7% from the field as a team in the second half, too. The Bulldogs slowed down the Tide's bread and butter but couldn't completely shut Alabama down. The Bulldogs' next chance to take a step forward is against No. 6 Tennessee in Knoxville on Tuesday night.
D.J. Stewart's 27 points not enough for Mississippi State against No. 18 Alabama's balanced scoring effort
Prior to Saturday night, Alabama had been blowing by every Southeastern Conference opponent standing in its way. And yes, we're talking about basketball, mind you. The Crimson Tide had won each of their last three games by at least 20 points and had vaulted to a 7-0 start in SEC play en route to earning the No. 18 spot in the AP Top 25. Mississippi State coach Ben Howland knew the scoring capacity Alabama's potent lineup had, calling the Crimson Tide the "best team in our league" in his media session Friday. Nevertheless, after coming off an embarrassing 18-point defeat to in-state rival Ole Miss on Tuesday, the Bulldogs pushed the Crimson Tide for 40 minutes Saturday at Coleman Coliseum, staying within three points with just more than 30 seconds remaining in the contest. A hot shooting start, a second straight strong outing from D.J. Stewart and a return to respect on the boards a game after Howland called his team's blockouts against Ole Miss "despicable" gave the visitors life. But in the end, it didn't matter. Alabama (13-3, 8-0 SEC) used a bevy of 3-pointers and forced 16 MSU turnovers to stay undefeated in SEC play, knocking off the Bulldogs (9-7, 4-4) on Saturday 81-73. "I thought our guys really played hard and really played tough," Howland said. "We battled and went after every 50-50 ball with all our might. I think there were a lot of positives today even though we lost the game."
No. 18 Alabama wins 9th straight, 81-73 over Mississippi State
No. 18 Alabama faced down a challenge and kept its winning streak alive, if not the Crimson Tide's string of blowouts. Herbert Jones had 17 points and seven assists to help Alabama win its ninth straight game with an 81-73 victory over Mississippi State on Saturday night. This one wasn't decided until the last minute for a team that had won its past three games by an average of 27 points. "It's actually good to play some close games," Alabama coach Nate Oats said. "We had been hitting shots at a pretty high clip and blowing teams out so it's good to have to execute some late-game stuff." The Tide (13-3, 8-0 Southeastern Conference) has won eight consecutive SEC games for the first time since starting league play 8-0 in the 1986-87 season. This one didn't come as easily as recent wins over Kentucky, Arkansas and LSU. The Bulldogs (9-7, 4-4) cut an 11-point second-half deficit down to three in the final minute, but John Petty Jr. answered with a 3-pointer with 32 seconds left.
Arkansas looking to fill senior AD position for athlete brand development
The University of Arkansas athletic department wants to get ahead of the impending legislation that will allow college athletes to capitalize on their marketability. So the UA has advertised for a new senior athletics director role that will serve as a facilitator for athletes in their personal branding, or what is commonly called name, image and likeness. The NCAA legislation to approve of NIL advancement, tabled in meetings last week, has been sidetracked somewhat due to the covid-19 pandemic, but those in college athletics understand it is on the way. "The name image and likeness train is coming down the track quickly," Arkansas Athletic Director Hunter Yurachek said on Thursday. "Even though that was tabled at last week's NCAA meetings, there's still state legislation in many states across our country. We believe there will be federal legislation. That's coming." The position will be called a senior associate athletic director for athlete brand development and inclusive excellence. Yurachek said the deadline for applications to the position was Friday. He hopes to have the position filled in March.
Why Danny White saw the Tennessee AD job as an opportunity worth grabbing
Danny White saw a Tennessee athletic department where the football program was under investigation into recruiting malfeasance, the head coach had recently been fired and a bit of shine had worn off the Vols brand. Perfect, he thought. "I actually like the fact that the brand needs to be polished a little bit," White, Tennessee's new athletics director, said during an introductory news conference Friday. It is an ideal opportunity for someone who is "not a placeholder type of leader," White added. "If there's not an opportunity to build and fight for something, I'm going to be bored to tears," White said. White, 41, gained a reputation for being an athletics director who can elevate a department's brand during his AD stints at Buffalo from 2011-14 and at Central Florida, where he had worked since 2015. This is White's first opportunity stepping into a job at an established "big brand place," he acknowledged, and the chance to re-establish the Vols as a prominent football program excites him. "If everything was humming here and going great, I wouldn't be standing here," White said. "It wouldn't be an attractive proposition for me."
Peyton Manning helped in Tennessee athletics director search
Peyton Manning was unaware that Danny White was on Donde Plowman's short list to be Tennessee's next athletics director. The legendary Vols quarterback unknowingly pointed toward White when he spoke with the UT Chancellor about the AD search. "He said, you know, I called (Duke coach David) Cutcliffe and said, 'What should I tell her about qualities in an athletic director?' " Plowman said Friday. "He said, 'Tell her to pick someone exactly like our athletic director, Kevin White.' That was just really amazing because we did our best. Because we hired his son." Plowman introduced Danny White as Tennessee's AD on Friday. He was hired Thursday, three days after Plowman announced former AD Phillip Fulmer is departing and coach Jeremy Pruitt was fired for cause. White is from a family of athletics directors. His father, Kevin, is the AD at Duke -- and the one Cutcliffe recommended Tennessee attempt to mirror in its hire. "He comes from an extraordinary family of college athletics administrators," Plowman said.
Gamecocks' basketball broadcasts live from baseball field: 'It's definitely odd'
Derek Scott, the radio voice for South Carolina men's basketball and baseball, did what he usually does from February to May. He strolled into the Founders Park pressbox, sat down his briefcase, removed his headphones and prepared to call the action. Except it was in the middle of January. The baseball field was dark and the stadium lights won't be turned on for another month. The Gamecocks' baseball team is still in winter workouts and hasn't even finalized the roster yet. The big-screen TV in front of the table where Scott and color analyst Casey Manning sat glowed, showing LSU and USC warming up for their basketball game in Baton Rouge, La. In the age of coronavirus, this is as courtside as the two can get. "It's definitely odd," Scott said. The pandemic has forced so many changes to sports it's difficult to number them, and the radio broadcasting teams are no exception. Normally part of the team on road trips, from travel to lodging to meals, the decision was made to limit the potential spread of COVID-19 as much as possible. During home basketball games, Scott and Manning -- and Brad Muller for the women's team -- are in their usual perches on the court, albeit the opposite side of it in Colonial Life Arena's COVID configuration. For road games, they're at the ballpark.
All U. of Michigan athletics on 2-week pause after outbreak of COVID-19 variant
Michigan's athletic department is shutting down for two weeks due to confirmed cases of the B.1.1.7 COVID-19 variant, a department spokesperson confirmed with the Free Press on Saturday night. The shutdown will affect all sports, including sports that are currently in season like men's and women's basketball, volleyball (which was moved from the fall) and ice hockey. The pause will start immediately. The student journalists at the Michigan Daily were the first to report it. No changes being made to any other university operations. "It is our understanding the state did not recommend changes beyond athletics," university spokesman Rick Fitzgerald told the Free Press. There are now five cases now confirmed with B.1.1.7, the highly contagious COVID-19 variant, in Washtenaw County. The outbreak traces back to one female student athlete, sources said. The new coronavirus variant transmits more easily and can lead to more positive cases, the health department said. The winter term for students began on Monday, however most students aren't on campus. The university announced in November it would cancel all housing contracts for the winter term and only allow some students on campus.

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