Thursday, February 6, 2020   
MSU's Science Night at the Museums offers scientific exploration for all ages
For the fourth consecutive year, Mississippi State's Museums and Galleries Committee is presenting Science Night at the Museums. Free and open to all, the interactive event is Feb. 12 from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. at various locations in Hilbun Hall, Harned Hall and the Cobb Institute of Archaeology. Amy Moe-Hoffman, committee chair and MSU geology instructor, said the event offers visitors a wide array of hands-on activities. "Participants can do everything from holding a live tarantula to watching chemical reactions," she said. The Dunn-Seiler Museum, located in Hilbun Hall, and the Lois Dowdle Cobb Museum of Archaeology, located in the Cobb Institute of Archaeology, will be open for tours and showcase MSU's research across various scientific disciplines. Featured specimens on display include portions of Dunn-Seiler's mosasaur skeleton, a 65-billion-year-old marine reptile that was found in the area last year. New this year is the inclusion of Harned Hall, which will highlight biological disciplines such as ornithology, botany, microscopy, microbiology and evolutionary biology.
Starkville Main Street Association undertakes overhaul of Fire Station Park
After several years in the works, the first phase of improvements at Fire Station Park will begin soon. "(It's) probably the biggest physical improvement project that the (Starkville) Main Street Association has taken on," SMSA board member Jeremy Murdock said. The board of aldermen unanimously approved SMSA's master plan for the project on the consent agenda Tuesday. The first and most visibly obvious change will be the transfer of the pavilion at the intersection of Jackson and Lampkin streets to the southwest corner of the park, making it an amphitheatre-like setting for performances, SMSA vice chair Hagan Walker said. The pavilion will be moved in time for the King Cotton Crawfish Boil at the park in April, and the other three parts of the project will be complete by the time fall semester classes begin at Mississippi State University in August, Walker said. Phase one also entails refurbishing the University Drive and East Main Street entrances to the park and repairing the fencing along Russell Street.
Aldermen issue bonds for Starkville park projects on 4-3 vote
A 4-3 vote Tuesday moved forward a resolution for Starkville aldermen to issue up to $25 million in general obligation bonds for park improvements, including building a tournament ready sports complex at Cornerstone Park off Highway 25. While issuing the bonds themselves seemed a housekeeping issue, as city voters last year approved a 1-percent tourism tax increase to back them, debate swirled around how to -- and what firm would -- underwrite them. Ultimately, the narrowly approved resolution named the Raymond James firm as underwriter without requiring a bid process for those services. The bond resolution calls for a repayment term of up to 30 years, something both Ward 2 Alderman Sandra Sistrunk and city financial consultant Nick Schorr said was rare for municipal bonds. Most commercial banks shy away from such long-term bonds, they said, meaning an underwriter with a large capacity and customer base -- like Raymond James, a nationwide company with a significant footprint in Mississippi -- made them easier to sell.
More rain could impact dam at Oktibbeha County Lake
More rain could impact the Oktibbeha County Lake and its dam this week. The county has been pumping water out of the lake for several weeks, but rain being back in the forecast could just add more water to the lake. Two of the pumps over the weekend failed, but County Fire Coordinator Kirk Rosenhan said they were repaired on Monday. County Lake Road is still closed and there are still six pumps working to lower the water level in the lake right now. Rosenhan, the retiring fire services coordinator, said, "We are draining, one estimate is 28 square miles of watershed, so even an inch of rain is a lot of water. I've got six pumps going and we're making substantial progress." The lake needs to lower another 2 to 3 feet before the county can remove pumps and the county engineer can decide what repairs need to be made to the dam. Right now, he said conditions are stable.
Ex-welfare chief, wrestler charged in Mississippi fraud case
The former director of Mississippi's welfare agency and four other people embezzled millions in federal money meant for the poor and instead channeled some of it to pay for a luxury drug rehabilitation program for a former pro wrestler, the state auditor said Wednesday. Former Mississippi Department of Human Services Director John Davis, former wrestler Brett DiBiase and four others have been indicted and arrested, Auditor Shad White said. White characterized it as the largest public corruption case in Mississippi for at least the past 20 years. Those indicted and arrested are Davis; DiBiase; former Department of Human Services employee Latimer Smith; Nancy New, who is owner and director of the Mississippi Community Education Center and New Learning Resources; her son Zach New, who is assistant executive director of the education center; Anne McGrew, an accountant for the education center.
Ex-Mississippi DHS head arrested in embezzlement scheme, auditor says
The former head of the Mississippi Department of Human Services has been arrested as part of a multi-million dollar embezzlement scheme that -- among other things -- paid for a former professional wrestler to go to a luxury drug rehabilitation center in California, the state auditor announced Wednesday. Auditor Shad White said his office is still attempting to determine the total amount of money involved, but the "sprawling conspiracy" already exceeds any embezzlement scheme in recent years. John Davis worked at DHS for nearly three decades, eventually rising to director in 2016. He resigned in July 2019, at about the same time the auditor's office began its investigation. According to the auditor's office, Davis and another DHS employee made fake invoices to pay Brett DiBiase -- a former pro wrestler who later became a DHS employee -- with money intended to help poor families. DiBiase is the son of well-known former pro wrestler Ted DiBiase.
Former welfare agency head, others arrested for embezzling millions intended for poor Mississippians
The former Mississippi Director of Human Services and nonprofit officials conspired to embezzle millions of dollars meant for services to poor Mississippians, according to a Wednesday release from the office of the state auditor. Special agents arrested John Davis, the former Human Services director, along with his employee, Latimer Smith. Nancy New, Zach New, Anne McGrew -- all officials from the nonprofit Mississippi Community Education Center -- as well as retired professional wrestler Brett DiBiase were also arrested in connection with the scheme uncovered during an eight-month investigation. Indictments include charges of fraud and embezzlement. "The funds that were illegally obtained in this case were intended to help the poorest among us. The funds were instead taken by a group of influential people for their own benefit, and the scheme is massive. It ends today," said State Auditor Shad White. A human services department media release Wednesday evening stated that the agency self-reported the information that prompted the investigation to Gov. Phil Bryant in June 2019. The department of human services announced Davis' retirement in early July of that year.
Auditor charges former DHS head, others in sprawling fraud scheme
The office of State Auditor Shad White arrested the former Mississippi Department of Human Services Director John White Wednesday and charged him and alleged fellow conspirators with fraud and embezzlement. In what White's office calls the "largest embezzlement case in state history," investigators claim that John White and others diverted public Temporary Assistance for Needy Families money for personal use. In addition to Davis, the auditor has charged Latimer Smith, a former DHS employee; Nancy New, Zach New, and Anne McGrew, all of the Mississippi Community Education Center, and professional wrestler Brett DiBiase. The defendants were indicted by a grand jury in Hinds County. All charges will be prosecuted by Hinds County District Attorney Jody Owens.
Mississippi Senate OKs teacher pay raise, plan goes to House
A plan to give Mississippi teachers at least a $1,000 pay raise won unanimous approval Wednesday in the state Senate, and now it goes to the House. Republican Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann says he wants it to be part of a multiyear plan to increase some of the lowest salaries in the nation. "All members came together today in an effort to continue to show our public educators they have our support and, most importantly, our respect," Hosemann said after Wednesday's bipartisan vote. Republican Gov. Tate Reeves said during his State of the State speech last week that he wants to increase teachers' pay, but he did not offer a specific plan. "My priority is simple," Reeves said. "Let's pay our teachers as much as we can possibly afford."
Mississippi Senate approves teacher pay raise, bill moves to House
The Mississippi Senate unanimously passed a bill on Wednesday that would raise all teacher salaries by at least $1,000 a year. The legislation will now be sent to committees in the Mississippi House of Representatives and eventually the full House if the bill survives. Under Senate Bill 2001, most teachers would receive a $1,000 pay increase. Teachers holding a single "A" license would receive a $1,110 increase, raising the starting pay for new teachers with a bachelor's degree and other qualifications to $37,000 a year. Rep. Randy Boyd, a Republican from Mantachie who sits on the House Education Committee, said he doesn't think the bill will have any problems in the House. He said ultimately the raise amount will depend on how revenue figures look towards the end of the legislative session. "We feel comfortable with $1,000 but it's going to hinge on what our revenue numbers are later in the session," Boyd told the Daily Journal. "If it continues to rise, we may increase it. Since it's set at $1,000, I don't expect it to go below that."
Bill targets e-cig sales
Sen. Jenifer Branning has filed a bill that would make it illegal for minors to purchase or possess alternative nicotine products in Mississippi. Senate Bill 2189 would make it illegal for people 18 and under to purchase or possess electronic cigarettes or any product that can be used to ingest nicotine into the body by chewing, smoking, absorbing, dissolving, inhaling as a vapor or any other method. "This has not been available in state law because this product has not be available until recent years," said Branning, a Republican. "We are trying to get into our law, that minors cannot possess or use these alternative nicotine products." Branning said she is working with others and may be amending the bill in the next few days. It has been assigned to the Senate Judiciary B Committee and the Municipalities Committee. She added that similar legislation is being considered in the House. Branning has filed several other bills since the start of the 2020 Legislative session and is working on more. She said the deadline to fill legislation is still three weeks away. Another one of her bills will add a scholarship given from the Mississippi Rural Physicians Scholarship Residency Program to include emergency medicine students.
Tupelo lawmaker files bill banning law enforcement agencies from using ticket quota practices
A local lawmaker has filed a bill in the Mississippi House of Representatives that would make it illegal for law enforcement agencies to adopt an arrest quota system. State Rep. Rickey Thompson, a Democrat from Tupelo, filed House Bill 64 in the Legislature recently, and the bill prohibits all local and state law enforcement agencies from employing a practice of making law enforcement officers write a certain number of citations within a given period of time. "No state or local agency employing peace officers or parking enforcement employees ... shall use the number of arrests or citations issued by a peace officer or parking enforcement employee as the sole criterion for promotion, demotion, dismissal, or the earning of any benefit provided by the agency," the bill reads. Thompson said the bill stems from concerns that a number of his constituents in different communities raised to him and to "have a law on the books that would address these concerns."
Putting away the paddle? Legislators say parental input critical in school discipline as House bill seeks to ban corporal punishment
A bill making its way through the Mississippi House of Representatives potentially banning corporal punishment -- which traditionally has entailed paddling children for certain school offenses, such as fighting -- from public schools has area legislators thinking about when to involve parents in school discipline. House Bill 12, which was written by Rep. Carl Mickens (D-Brooksville), would amend a 1972 code to "prohibit the use of corporal punishment in public and charter schools to discipline a student; to provide that any employee who violates the corporal punishment prohibition shall be held liable for civil damages suffered by a student as a result of the administration of corporal punishment...." Most local legislators said they would be against the bill, arguing corporal punishment could be an effective way to enforce behavior -- provided the students' parent or parents OK the punishment.
Advocates Seek Funding to Expand Early Learning Collaboratives
Mississippi advocates for the Early Learning Collaboratives say 76 percent of 4-year olds are ready for kindergarten after completing the Pre-K program. Jennifer Calvert operates the ABC Preschool and Nursery in Monroe County. She leads a collaborative that's a partnership between three school districts, three Headstarts and two day care centers. "It's the hands on materials and everything that we produce, the learning centers, the outcomes when they go take the MCAT's, it's very good," said Calvert. Calvert is among the education advocates meeting with the House and Senate Education Committees seeking more funding. Rachel Canter with the non-profit Mississippi First says there are 18 learning collaboratives statewide, serving only 22-hundred children. Canter says the program received $6.7 million in 2019. She wants $18 million for fiscal year 2021 to more than double the program. Senate Education Chair Republican Dennis DeBar of Leakesville says an increase may be possible.
Secretary of State Michael Watson touring the state
Secretary of State Michael Watson is just beginning a tour of all 82 counties in Mississippi to meet with local election officials, to form friendships and working relationships. Watson says it's a grassroots effort that puts him in direct contact with those that run local and state elections. "We want to make sure they understood is that we are here to listen," said Watson. "The things that they see on the ground every day is important to the Secretary of State's office if you have those relationships and if those relationships are built on trust, you can get the answers a lot more quickly." Watson, a Republican, defeated Democrat Johnny DuPree in last November's general election to replace Delbert Hosemann.
Mississippi House upholds election of Hester Jackson McCray
Members of the Republican-controlled Mississippi House on Wednesday affirmed the election of one of their Democratic colleagues. On a voice vote and without opposition, they rejected a request by a Republican former lawmaker for a do-over in a close election in north Mississippi's DeSoto County. The decision means that Rep. Hester Jackson McCray of Horn Lake will remain in the 122-member House for the four-year term. She is the first African American woman to hold a state legislative seat from DeSoto County. A bipartisan House committee heard testimony last week from DeSoto County election officials. DeSoto County Elections Commission chairman Danny Klein said the election was conducted and counted fairly. "I'd say the will of the voters was carried out," Klein said.
Feds investigate Mississippi prisons after string of deaths
The Justice Department has opened a civil rights investigation into the Mississippi prison system after a string of inmate deaths in the past few months, officials said Wednesday. Federal prosecutors are looking into conditions at four state prisons after the deaths of at least 15 inmates since late December. The investigation is examining whether state corrections officials are adequately protecting prisoners from physical harm and will look into whether there are adequate health care and suicide prevention services. The investigation by the Justice Department's civil rights division will specifically focus on conditions at the Mississippi State Penitentiary at Parchman, the South Mississippi Correctional Institution, the Central Mississippi Correctional Facility and the Wilkinson County Correctional Facility, the Justice Department said.
Feds launch civil rights investigation into Mississippi prisons
The U.S. Department of Justice's Civil Rights Division announced Wednesday it is launching an investigation into Mississippi prisons. The announcement comes a month after deadly riots and a statewide prison lockdown thrust Mississippi into the national spotlight and brought renewed scrutiny into the state's long-troubled prison system. "The investigation will focus on whether the Mississippi Department of Corrections adequately protects prisoners from physical harm at the hands of other prisoners at the four prisons, as well as whether there is adequate suicide prevention, including adequate mental health care and appropriate use of isolation, at Parchman," the release said. A MDOC spokeswoman declined to comment on the investigation. Earlier this year U.S. Congressman Bennie Thompson and nearly a dozen civil rights and social justice organizations sent a letter to the Department of Justice's Civil Rights Division requesting an investigation into Mississippi prisons.
DOJ To Investigate Mississippi Prisons After Spate Of Inmate Deaths
After a string of inmate deaths in Mississippi that began late last year, the Justice Department announced Wednesday that it is opening a civil rights probe into the state's penitentiary system. The violence in Mississippi prisons has drawn national attention, particularly because of the advocacy of entertainment figures such as hip-hop artist Mysonne and Jay-Z, whose company, Roc Nation is funding a lawsuit against the state demanding improved conditions. Mississippi has one of the highest incarceration rates of any state. Long hours and low pay for prison guards has meant that many positions go unfilled. According to a report by ProPublica, rather than counting inmates, as required, some guards falsify their counts. Jimmy Anthony of the Mississippi Association of Gang Investigators told state lawmakers this week that gangs such as the Gangster Disciples, City Royals and Vice Lords are operating in the prisons and engaged in narcotics and other criminal activity. "It's not popular to admit [that] you have a gang problem," Anthony said, according to Mississippi Public Broadcasting. "Nobody wants to hear it. It scares people."
After a Dozen Deaths, Justice Dept. Investigates Mississippi Prisons
For weeks, Mississippi's prisons have been gripped by crisis. At least a dozen inmates have been slain or killed themselves, and feuding gangs have forced lockdowns. Images and videos taken on smuggled cellphones have highlighted deteriorating conditions, and legislators and activists have asked for federal intervention. The Justice Department responded to the turmoil on Wednesday by announcing a civil rights investigation to explore whether prison officials have done enough to protect inmates from one another and the quality of mental health care and suicide prevention efforts. The inquiry into Mississippi's Department of Corrections comes after a Justice Department investigation into Alabama's prisons. Federal investigators last year found evidence that Alabama's prisons had violated constitutional protections against cruel and unusual punishment, as officials had failed to provide safe conditions for inmates and protect them from violence and sexual abuse.
Infrastructure plan could point to sea change for schools
The nation's roads and bridges may be falling down, but its schools aren't far behind. So education proponents paid attention last week when, unveiling a $760 billion legislative infrastructure framework, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi suggested that any infrastructure package would ultimately include federal dollars for school construction. "We tell children that education is important, they should study, it's important to their own self-fulfillment and to that of our country, and yet we send some of them to schools that are so substandard that it sends a different message," Pelosi said the day after rolling out the infrastructure plan. A bigger federal role in school construction would amount to a sea change for public education in the U.S., where state and local governments have traditionally paid for building and renovation. While the federal government has demanded school districts educate all children equally, it hasn't demanded that the school buildings themselves be equal.
Mississippi's Hyde-Smith, Wicker vote 'not guilty' as President Trump is acquitted
Mississippi Sens. Roger Wicker and Cindy Hyde-Smith voted to acquit President Donald Trump as his impeachment trial drew to a close Wednesday. The two Republicans had telegraphed their votes for several weeks as they rallied support behind the president. Wicker and Hyde-Smith joined all of their GOP colleagues but one, Utah's Mitt Romney, in finding Trump not guilty of both articles of impeachment -- abuse of power and obstruction of Congress. The final vote following the six-week trial was 48 to 52 on abuse of power, and 47 to 53 on obstruction. Trump was impeached by the House in December due to his role in holding up military aid from Ukraine while pressuring the country's officials to investigate Joe Biden, a political rival. Tuesday's Senate vote concluded impeachment proceedings which began last fall against the president.
Meridian voters, state leaders weigh in on impeachment
Voters around Meridian had differing opinions on the outcome of President Donald Trump's impeachment trial Wednesday. Logan Stewart, who studies criminal justice at Meridian Community College, called the trial a waste of taxpayer money. "This is just a last-ditch effort for the Democrats...because they know they're not going to win 2020, so this is their effort of trying to get Trump out of the White House and they failed," he said. He did not believe Trump had committed an impeachable offense. "They released the transcript and there was nothing wrong with it," Stewart said. Joseph Rupert, a Meridian Community College student in the automotive mechanics program, disagreed. "I think it's at the level of impeachment...That's wrong, regardless. I don't think that's right," he said. "I think the Republicans are just trying to keep him there for their own needs and their own reasons." U.S. Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith and U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker of Mississippi voted "not guilty" alongside their Republican colleagues on both charges in the trial.
Trump budget proposal pitches billions for rural America, a key constituency in 2020
President Donald Trump will use his budget rollout next week to propose spending billions on health care, infrastructure, business loans and internet access in rural America, a key part of his constituency as he seeks reelection in November. "Many Americans living in rural communities continue to face barriers that prevent them from attaining the quality of life they deserve," said a Trump budget document provided to USA TODAY. The administration formally proposes its Fiscal Year 2021 budget on Monday, though friction with Congress and election-year politics may make this plan more contentious than most. Still, budgets are as much about priorities and politics as governance. Trump is expected to make a major appeal to rural voters in his reelection campaign, especially as it relates to farmers in key states like Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin. Democrats, including those running for president, say that Trump's economic policies -- including tariffs, tax cuts, and regulation reductions -- favor the wealthy at the expense of farmers and other residents of rural America.
An Unsettling New Theory: There Is No Swing Voter
What if everything you think you know about politics is wrong? What if there aren't really American swing voters -- or not enough, anyway, to pick the next president? What if it doesn't matter much who the Democratic nominee is? What if there is no such thing as "the center," and the party in power can govern however it wants for two years, because the results of that first midterm are going to be bad regardless? What if the Democrats' big 41-seat midterm victory in 2018 didn't happen because candidates focused on health care and kitchen-table issues, but simply because they were running against the party in the White House? What if the outcome in 2020 is pretty much foreordained, too? To the political scientist Rachel Bitecofer, all of that is almost certainly true, and that has made her one of the most intriguing new figures in political forecasting this year.
New culinary arts facility in the works at Mississippi University for Women campus
Chefs are just like athletes. The more you practice, the better you become. In Columbus, the Mississippi University for Women has taken notice of the talent they have in their culinary arts program. So what better way than to invest in the future by building a facility aimed to best prepare future chefs. "We are super excited that this is finally coming to fruition," said Alexei Harrison, director, assistant professor at the Mississippi University for Women. Mark Ellard, VP for administration and CFO for the university, said the new facility will have many new features. "We've got several instructional kitchens," said Ellard. Space for events to be held for catering. Things like that. New offices for faculty and staff. Very nice classrooms as well. Tiered classrooms. It's going to be unique. It's going to have a very nice atrium in-front if the building which will allow us to have special events."
Delivery robots at UM causing headaches among food service staff
For students, the new Starship robot service offers food delivery on campus. However, the service has caused headaches for many of the employees at campus restaurants where it is offered. "Yes, it has caused a disruption," said Katavia Sisk, an employee at Starbucks in the JD Williams Library. "Like in a drive-thru line, you have to prioritize orders from them, and it disrupts the flow because we have to have someone hop in and out to take the order." Ole Miss currently has 30 delivery robots on campus. While the delivery system has given employees more work to do, some see the new robots as a positive challenge. Since working with the delivery robots on campus, Sisk said she has had to deal with the issue of people vandalizing or abusing them. "Someone pushed one down the hill. That's not okay," she said. "They're there to make your life easier, so you shouldn't want to vandalize them. There could be someone's food in there."
Rudy Johnson replaced on East Mississippi Community College Board of Trustees
Two months before Rudy Johnson's term on the East Mississippi Community College Board of Trustees is due to expire, Oktibbeha County supervisors have already appointed his replacement at the urging of a former political rival. Supervisors voted 3-2 on Monday to appoint former Starkville police chief Frank Nichols to the board. He will replace Johnson after his term expires in April. Johnson had expressed interest to serve another term as one of Oktibbeha County's two EMCC trustees. But District 3 Supervisor Marvell Howard recommended Nichols on Monday, and Supervisors Orlando Trainer (District 2) and Joe Williams (District 5) voted with him. Board President John Montgomery of District 1 and Bricklee Miller of District 4 opposed Nichols' appointment and said the board should have taken the time to consider other candidates before making a decision, especially since the board had just received a new applicant's information that morning.
William Carey dean of education says it's not too late to teach
William Carey University's Dean of Education Dr. Ben Burnett knows the headlines surrounding education can be bleak. "The national trend for teacher education majors has declined by 35 percent," Burnett said. "The state of Mississippi is very close between 30 and 35 percent." But Burnett said he is trying to increase teacher numbers at William Carey University. "William Carey increased by 25 percent in our undergraduate program," Burnett said. He said teacher numbers could increase even more through the Alternate Route to Certification Program, which is for those who have a bachelor's degree in any field and want to go back to school to be a teacher. He explained how it works. "Take two graduate courses and take the necessary licensure exams, get a teaching job and then go through an internship program with us for 6 more hours," Brunett said. "Then, you will get a regular, standard five-year career license."
Auburn University leases 160 Ross for on-campus housing; students voice confusion
160 Ross -- an apartment complex located off campus -- will be considered on-campus student housing by Auburn University for the fall 2020 semester. The cost of living in the off-campus complex will be about the same as living in the Village. The Plainsman obtained emails from 160 Ross addressed to its residents that stated the apartment complex and Auburn University "entered into an agreement known as a Masterlease," meaning the University will be leasing "approximately half" of the complex as campus housing in the fall. Kevin Hoult, director of university housing and student life, confirmed to The Plainsman that the University plans to reach "a formal agreement very soon" with 160 Ross to house on-campus students. Several students who live in 160 Ross told The Plainsman they were concerned about possibly living with freshmen, but Hoult said the plan is to "assign upper-class students at 160 Ross." Current residents of 160 Ross who hadn't renewed their lease were sent an email stating there was no more room because of the partnership with the university.
Auburn University, area schools close for severe weather threat
Auburn and Opelika city schools are closed Thursday due to the threat of severe weather. The school systems announced the closures early Thursday morning. Auburn University also announced Thursday morning that the university is closed until 1 p.m. Thursday. Normal Auburn University operations will resume at 1 p.m. and classes will resume at 2 p.m. A powerful winter storm in the central United States dropped snow as far south as El Paso, Texas, on Wednesday while areas of the Deep South were at risk of severe weather including tornadoes and torrential rains, forecasters said. In Arkansas, forecasters said up to a quarter-inch of ice and 1 to 3 inches of snow were possible in the northwest part of the state.
Favorite for U. of South Carolina president returning as finalist in provost search
The University of South Carolina has announced finalists for its top academic officer. The three finalists for USC's next provost are: Nancy Rapoport, a law professor at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas; William Tate, vice provost of graduate education at Washington University in St. Louis; and John Wiencek, executive vice president and provost at the University of Idaho. Tate was a finalist for the USC presidency back in April. During the process, he received 91 percent positive comments from students and faculty who participated in an online survey -- more than any other candidate including current President Robert Caslen, according to a previous article from The State. If Tate is named provost, he will be the first African American in USC history to hold the post, USC spokesman Jeff Stensland said. Once the candidate forums are completed, Caslen will make a recommendation on who should be hired and the board of trustees will vote on whether to approve that candidate, Stensland said.
UF Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences' hemp pilot project gains momentum
The University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences' Industrial Hemp Pilot Project has proven successful in its research and fostering relationships within the agriculture industry. The purpose of the hemp pilot project is to see if growing hemp commercially is feasible. It is a two-year project that identifies which hemp varieties and management practices function best in Florida. Zachary Brym, IFAS assistant professor and project coordinator, said it began research in May and started with seven faculty researchers and three sites. The project grew to 30 faculty members and 14 permits for research locations. "The program has grown larger and faster than I imagined," he said. "It's really great to have a strong team and the support of the IFAS Research, Extension and the Agronomy Department." The state of Florida does not provide funding for this hemp pilot project, said Ruth Borger, assistant vice president of communications for IFAS. Instead, they rely heavily on industry support.
Texas A&M adding new campus eateries for fall 2020
Texas A&M Dining Services announced that there will be some new places to eat on campus over the course of the next year. The university announced that a new food hall will be opening on west campus in fall 2021 and will include a Chick-Fil-A, Starbucks, an unnamed salad concept restaurant and Copperhead Jack's. The Polo Garage being built near the Bonfire Memorial, expected to open in spring 2021, will include a Shake Smart, Panda Express, Salata and Houston St. Subs. Cabo, the Tex-Mex option in the Memorial Student Center, is getting a new look and updated menu to include a barbecue twist, the dining services department said on a social media post. A Jason's Deli is planned for the upper food court in the MSC, in addition to am unnamed pizza concept restaurant where diners will be able to build a customized pizza on homemade dough.
Jamaica PM calls on U. of Missouri students to recognize nuances of climate change
Jamaican prime minister Andrew Holness encouraged young people to develop consciousness about climate change at a lecture Wednesday at the University of Missouri. "I am an optimist, so I think there is a great future for the world," he said, "but that does not mean there are no challenges." Holness is the distinguished lecturer for MU's recognition of Black History Month. His speech, "Democracy, Youth Leadership, and the Future of Our World," was the first of two presentations this week. "I think what ties all three (topics) together is the issue of climate change," Holness told the several dozen people in the Bond Life Sciences Center. The crowd was smaller than expected and the event was cut short by an hour because MU closed the campus early for winter weather.
College and university fundraising rises, but growth slows down
Donations to institutions of higher education grew for the 10th consecutive year, but the gifts were not evenly distributed among the types of institutions, and totals were inflated by some large gifts from mega-donors like Michael Bloomberg. The latest report on voluntary giving to higher education, from the Council for Advancement and Support of Education, or CASE, found that donations in the 2019 fiscal year reached $49.6 billion, an all-time high since the numbers have been reported. The total is up 6.1 percent from $46.7 billion in 2018. Donations grew by 7.2 percent between 2017 and 2018. The report covered information from 914 institutions. Of those, 872 institutions also reported information in fiscal year 2018. This slowdown "doesn't necessarily mean anything in the long term," Kaplan said. Research and doctoral institutions saw the largest increase in gifts of all major categories the survey tracked, with a 10-percentage-point increase from last year.
Some enrollment officers now considering poaching students
The National Association for College Admission Counseling, which has long been responsible for governing how colleges compete with one another for students, has reluctantly opened the doors to more aggressive student recruiting. As the result of an antitrust lawsuit from the Department of Justice last year, the association struck from its code provisions that banned colleges poaching students from another institution. While years ago one might have been the subject of a NACAC complaint for sending materials to or increasing the financial aid offers of students committed elsewhere, those practices are now ostensibly fair game. But whether or not colleges will take part in them, and to what degree, has yet to be seen. The organization changed the code in September, and this summer will be the first enrollment cycle when colleges may employ the new practices.
U. of Montana rebukes Foundation's censorship attempt
The University of Montana Foundation tried to force a professor into gaining prior approval of a speech planned for an event later this month before being rebuked by UM administrators. The professor involved has since condemned the request as a violation of academic freedom, as has the faculty union, though the requirement has been withdrawn, with the Foundation saying it was a misunderstanding on its part. UM spokesperson Paula Short said the President's Office had never requested to view or approve speeches from faculty as the professor said he was told by the Foundation. She said there was no question about the integrity of UM's dedication to academic freedom. "The University of Montana and, specifically, the Office of the President, does not review, edit, approve or otherwise vet faculty speeches or other academic products for any reason. This has not been a practice in the past and it is not done currently," Short said in a statement. "The University of Montana wholly supports and endorses academic freedom."
Syracuse grapples with how to meaningfully educate students about diversity, equity and inclusion
Syracuse University saw a spate of racist incidents last semester -- some 16 over a few weeks in November alone. Students reported hearing ethnic slurs shouted from dorm windows and otherwise being harassed, along with seeing hateful graffiti and a swastika drawn in the snow. The Federal Bureau of Investigation also looked into a white supremacist manifesto that was posted to an online Greek life forum. Students protested, including by occupying a campus building for a week, as faculty members pushed for change. In response, Syracuse announced a list of new diversity, inclusion and security initiatives. The university also promised to rethink its one-credit first-year seminar, SEM 100, and to work toward building a complementary, three-credit requirement for more advanced students. Many professors believe Syracuse's response should go further, however. They believe the moment demands a deeper rethinking of the curriculum, universitywide.
M.B.A. Programs Rush to Add STEM Degrees
Business schools are racing to add concentrations in science, technology, engineering and math to their M.B.A. programs as they try to broaden their appeal to prospective students overseas who want to work in the U.S. Several schools, including Northwestern's Kellogg School of Management and North Carolina's Kenan-Flagler Business School, have unveiled STEM-designated master's in business degrees in recent months. The University of California Berkeley's Haas School of Business recently reclassified its entire M.B.A. program as STEM. A STEM degree or concentration in a field such as data analytics or management science can be particularly appealing to international students, especially those with visa worries. The designation allows foreign graduates of U.S. universities to apply for a work-authorization program that can extend their stay in the country by two additional years versus a more traditional business degree.

Bulldogs tangle with Tennessee in top 25 showdown
It took Mississippi State 30 years to earn its first victory over Tennessee in women's basketball, losing the first 36 games to the Lady Vols. Vic Schaefer was finally able to get the job done in 2016 and the Bulldogs have won six of the last seven in the series since. No. 8 MSU will vie for another victory against the 23rd-ranked Lady Vols at 5:30 p.m. today on SEC Network. The Bulldogs (20-3, 8-1 SEC) have won in their last two trips to Thompson-Boling Arena and swept the series last season. State beat Tennessee 91-63 in Starkville and eliminated the Lady Vols in the quarterfinals of the 2019 SEC Tournament, 83-68. Tennessee (17-5, 7-2 SEC) is coming off a 69-48 loss at No. 1 South Carolina on Sunday. Junior wing Rennia Davis leads the Lady Vols averaging 18.1 points.
Vanderbilt basketball snaps record-long SEC losing streak with upset win over LSU
Vanderbilt record-long SEC losing streak died Wednesday night. Saben Lee and Max Evans killed it. The pair of junior guards scored a combined 64 points to lead the Commodores to a 99-90 upset win over No. 18 LSU Wednesday night for their first SEC victory in almost two years. They became only the second pair of teammates in college basketball this season to score 30 points each in the same game. Austin Peay's Jordyn Adams and Terry Taylor accomplished it twice this season. And now the Commodores and first-year coach Jerry Stackhouse can finally move on. "Now we can start talking about building the team that we want to build." Vanderbilt's next game will be at Mississippi State on Saturday (7:30 p.m., SEC Network). And for the first time in a long time, the Commodores won't carry an SEC losing streak to the arena.
Ole Miss: No offer extended to Northwood player who signed commitment letter
A Northwood High School football player's commitment to play in the SEC for a Division I school appears to have been a hoax. Hundreds of athletes put their name on the dotted line on National Signing Day, committing to attending a given college on scholarships. But KTAL/KMSS has learned that one of them signed a letter of commitment to Ole Miss on Wednesday for an offer that doesn't exist. As family and local news crews looked on, Northwood Wide Receiver Detraveon Brown signed a letter of commitment purportedly for Ole Miss, saying "I'd like to thank God for everything he did for me. I wouldn't be here in this position." However, Ole Miss confirmed to KTAL/KMSS on Wednesday afternoon that no scholarship has been extended to Brown and that the school has no paperwork on him. Northwood High has chosen not to speak on the record about Brown's signing.
Texas A&M to sell alcohol at baseball, softball games this season
Texas A&M will begin selling beer and wine to the general public at baseball and softball games this season, the school announced Wednesday. Beer, wine and alcoholic seltzers will be available at Blue Bell Park and Davis Diamond. Alcohol sales will end at the top of the seventh inning at baseball games and the top of the fifth at softball games.
NCAA needs Congress to act on name, image, likeness issue, UW-Madison Chancellor Rebecca Blank says, but she's leery
UW-Madison Chancellor Rebecca Blank said college athletics' "only alternative" in response to multiple states passing or considering laws allowing athletes to capitalize on their name, image and likeness is to seek clarity through federal legislation. That, however, gives Blank some pause. In her yearly speech to the University of Wisconsin Athletic Board last Friday, Blank made note of the California law set to go into effect in 2023 and those with earlier start dates from different states. They will make it easier for college athletes in those states to be paid for marketing opportunities, but the laws, to Blank, will create an unbalanced playing field around the country. The resolution, she said, is to ask Congress to lead the way in creating a single, national system instead of a collection of various formats competing against each other.
Feds: Gulf states to keep managing recreational red snapper
States on the Gulf of Mexico can keep setting seasons and bag limits for anglers going after red snapper in federal waters when a two-year experiment becomes permanent Thursday. The rule will take effect with publication in the Federal Register, the U.S. Commerce Department said. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries will continue to regulate commercial and recreational charter boat catches. Florida gets 44.8% of this year's total private angling quota, or more than 1.9 million pounds, NOAA Fisheries said. The agency said Alabama gets about 26.3%, or 1.1 million pounds, with 19.1% to Louisiana, a 6.2% share to Texas and 3.5% to Mississippi. Those work out to about 816,000 pounds for Louisiana, 265,000 pounds for Texas and 151,500 pounds for Mississippi.

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