Wednesday, April 8, 2020   
MSU Offers Students Pass/Fail Option For Spring Semester
In response to the coronavirus, Mississippi State University is providing students with a pass-fail option for grades this semester. COVID-19 has moved all classes online. "We cannot allow the COVID-19 crisis to torpedo the academic progress of our students who are dealing with the interruption of their semesters through no fault of their own," said Dr. David Shaw, MSU executive vice president and provost. "They deserve informed choices about their grades. This new policy provides just that." Faculty will enter A through F letter grades by 10 a.m. on May 4, as normal. Undergraduate students can accept that letter grade or choose the pass-fail option. Here is that option, S for satisfactory will be given to letter grades A, B, C. P for passing will be given for letter grade D. U for unsatisfactory, and a letter grade of F. Students have until 10 a.m. on May 7 to make a decision.
Federal Aviation Administration awards nearly $2.6M in drone grants to universities
The Federal Aviation Administration will give nearly $2.6 million in grants to universities for research into drones. The FAA, an agency within the U.S. Department of Transportation, said the universities will comprise the agency's Air Transportation Center of Excellence for Unmanned Aircraft Systems(AUS), also known as the Alliance for System Safety of UAS through Research Excellence (ASSURE). "The research funded by these grants will provide valuable data as the Department leads the way to chart a course for the safe integration of drones into our national airspace," Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao said. The second grant, the UAS Safety Case Development, Process Improvement, and Data Collection, would develop a system to capture/categorize test objectives; analyze the data captured and facilitate reporting the data across the UAS Test sites. That grant was awarded to the University of North Dakota; New Mexico State University; University of Alaska, Fairbanks; Kansas State University; Mississippi State University; and The Ohio State University.
Starkville Board of Aldermen set city-wide curfew
A city-wide curfew has been set for Starkville. In a 6-1 decision the Board of Aldermen voted to set a curfew from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. until April 20. Mayor Lynn Spruill says she believes this will provide clarity for Starkville residents, and stop residents of neighboring cities from coming into the Starkville to hangout. "For whatever reason the word curfew resonates with people in a way that saying follow the governor's order does not," Spruill said. Police Chief Mark Ballard says you can expect to see lots of officers patrolling at night for safety reasons, and penalties for breaking curfew will be decided by a judge.
Starkville Area Arts Council offers assistance to help artists
The Starkville Area Arts Council plans to offer small stipends for participating local artists who have lost work and are not currently receiving income or salary from an employer, with priority given to Oktibbeha County-based artists. SAAC Executive Director John Bateman said with various programs and projects canceled, including the 2020 Cotton District Arts Festival, SAAC's discretionary grant pool will otherwise go unused. SAAC and DRF invite creatives in the Golden Triangle Region of any artistic discipline to participate. The artist will propose any sort of artistic content that shows their craft or serves artistic and/or educational purposes. If accepted, the artist will provide the content via prerecorded video or, if available, live stream.
La-Z-Boy in Newton County making protective masks
All across Mississippi, folks are coming together making protective masks for health care workers and those who come in close contact with people day after day. La-Z-Boy in Newton County has reopened its doors and joined the efforts of so many others. Sheriff Joedy Pennington said he requested that the plant, which was temporarily closed due to the coronavirus outbreak, open back up and begin making masks and on Monday they did just that. Senator Tyler McCaughn said he is grateful to every person involved in making it happen. "For over 50 years, La-Z-Boy has been a part of this community. They have never hesitated to come out and do what was necessary. We're thankful to have them making masks and they're looking in the future to making even more protective gear," said McCaughn.
Tupelo votes to temporarily expand alcohol go-cup zone boundaries to entire city
City leaders voted Tuesday to temporarily expand Tupelo's leisure and recreation district to the entire city, which will allow every restaurant in the city with an Alcohol Beverage Control permit to serve mixed drinks to patrons in a go-cup by curbside or drive-thru means. The Tupelo City Council voted to approve the temporary leisure and recreation district ordinance in a 4-3 vote. Under the city's normal leisure and recreation district ordinance, the boundaries are contained to the downtown area, where people are allowed to have an open container of alcohol in a go-cup during certain times of the week. Now, the geographic boundaries will expand to the entire city and the hours will last for the majority of the week. According to city officials, Tupelo is now able to have this amended ordinance because of temporary changes to the state's Alcohol Beverage Control regulations. Tupelo Mayor Jason Shelton told the Daily Journal that the intent of the temporary ordinance is to allow Tupelo restaurants to gain a new source of revenue during the economic troubles that have come with the COVID-19 pandemic.
Coast law enforcement is starting to ticket people who violate coronavirus orders
For the most part, South Mississippi law enforcement officials say residents are abiding by stay-at-home orders and are social distancing, adhering to curfews and refraining from gathering in groups of 10 of more. But some residents are still not taking the threat of COVID-19 serious enough and cops in cities like Moss Point and elsewhere are mostly done with warnings and are issuing citations. "Our main goal is to educate and inform," said Moss Point Police Chief Brandon Ashley. "But when you have to keep warning the same people, it's time to do something." Since curfews took effect in Moss Point and other cities on the Coast, most agencies are dealing with a limited number of citizens who still think it's OK to gather, most of whom are friends and family getting together for barbecues, crawfish boils and fish frys. As the Easter weekend approaches, authorities are reminding resident that the same regulations remain in place and authorities will be out in force to enforce the rules.
Gov. Tate Reeves Worried About Emotional Toll of Coronavirus
Governor Tate Reeves says he's worried about the emotional toll the Coronavirus statewide shutdown may have on people. He says some Mississippians have lost jobs, wondering how they'll pay their bills -- others are home alone. He stressed these two weeks are critical to lessen the number of cases. His message to all Mississippians at a news conference: "We need you to be strong. We need you to be smart. We need you to step up in this dangerous time and look out for your community. You may be at home but you are not truly alone. There are three million Mississippians in this fight with you," said Reeves. Reeves is asking people to practice social distancing but check on neighbors and friends. State Epidemiologist Dr. Paul Byers stressed people who've been tested for the coronavirus should stay home while they wait for the results.
Mississippi governor declares Confederate Heritage Month
Mississippi Republican Gov. Tate Reeves has declared April as Confederate Heritage Month. The first-year governor is following the practice of several of his Democratic and Republican predecessors, and his action is drawing criticism from the state's only African American congressman. "Unnecessary," Democratic U.S. Rep. Bennie Thompson wrote Monday on Twitter. Reeves's proclamation is not dated, so it was not immediately clear whether he signed it before late March, when the governor started spending much of his time on the state's response to the coronavirus pandemic. Critics say declarations, flags and monuments to the Confederacy and the Civil War give undue attention to a racist past. But supporters say those are a reminder of history.
State Officials Waive In-Person Requirement for Notarization of Documents
After listening to concerns brought forth by the Secretary of State's Office, Governor Tate Reeves ordered to waive the in-person requirement for notarizing documents in Mississippi for the duration of the COVID-19 emergency, subject to guidance provided by Secretary of State Michael Watson. Executive Order 1467, effective April 7, 2020, authorizes remote notarizations and the Secretary of State's temporary guidance. Notaries public can still perform notarial acts in person during the state of emergency. However, notaries public should use their best judgment on whether the notarial act is considered essential and abide by social distancing, CDC, and MSDH guidance in the conduct of any essential notarial services. No Mississippi notary can be forced to perform notary services by remote notarization.
'Troubling' data: 50% of people infected with COVID-19 and die in Mississippi are black
Mississippi's leading epidemiologist announced Tuesday that about half of all people who have contracted coronavirus and died from the disease in the state were black. An official at the Mississippi Department of Health previously revealed that African Americans are being disproportionately affected by the coronavirus, but did not provide additional details. During a Tuesday news conference, State Epidemiologist Dr. Paul Byers said 50% or "maybe a little more" of the 1,915 cases of coronavirus confirmed in Mississippi have been contracted by African Americans. About half of the 59 people who have died of the disease have been black, he said. Comparatively, African Americans make up about 38 percent of Mississippi's population. "This is troubling, obviously," Byers said. Byers indicated the disparity is likely linked to a higher rate of underlying health conditions, such as diabetes, obesity and heart disease, among African Americans in Mississippi. COVID-19 has proved to be particularly dangerous -- and deadly -- for people with compromised immune systems and the elderly.
Coronavirus is a 'gendered crisis' in Mississippi as the pandemic rocks woman-dominated professions
Rachel Stokes McCarty, a cashier at a Dollar General in Jackson, and thousands of women like her represent the frontlines of the COVID-19 crisis in Mississippi. McCarty wears white disposable gloves and a warm smile for hours everyday at the store, where she greets anxious shoppers. She loves her job and the opportunity to brighten a stranger's day, but as the the number of cases climb, McCarty said she would stay home if she could. "If I didn't have bills, or think I would lose my position or my job, I wouldn't (be here)," she said. "I worked too hard to get to where I'm at. This job is everything to me." Women dominate workforces of some of the hardest hit industries. These include the health care workers directly tackling the virus, the retail store employees bagging items as folks hoard supplies and food service workers losing their jobs all together.
Most Americans on food stamps must shop at stores, risking coronavirus exposure
Most of the 42 million Americans who receive food stamps aren't allowed to use them to shop for groceries online -- and some lawmakers and state governments are rushing to change that as the newly jobless flood onto the rolls of the nutrition assistance program. Only six states allow online purchases with benefits from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as food stamps. Of those, Alabama and Nebraska launched online shopping only in recent weeks as the coronavirus pandemic erupted. The situation highlights how low-income people are at increased risk of exposure to the coronavirus. Food stamp recipients include many people who are especially vulnerable, such as the elderly and people with disabilities. Now, nonprofit groups are lobbying Congress and the Agriculture Department to relax rules and encourage a rapid expansion of online shopping and delivery options.
Virus exposure risk scares transport workers, threatens supply chain
Transportation workers say a lack of available protective equipment and confusing, conflicting guidelines from the federal government have put them at increased risk of contracting the coronavirus. Dozens or more of the workers have died from the COVID-19 disease caused by the virus. Protective gear has been in short supply since the pandemic began spreading in earnest in the United States. But while the focus justifiably has been on protecting health care workers, transportation workers say they are finding themselves in increasing peril. And in some cases that threat poses a dire risk to supply chains, meaning the delivery of food, essential goods and medical supplies could be at risk. On Saturday, the Owner-Operators Independent Drivers Association, a trade association representing independent truck drivers, sent a letter to President Donald Trump headed "Mayday." The letter pleaded for access to protective gear and access to testing.
Mississippi truckers keep supply chain going in pandemic
Mississippi-based truckers are braving coronavirus to deliver much-needed supplies across the country. "They are working extra long hours," said Judson Cavanaugh, director of operations for Capital City Trucking in Richland. "We would be stalled out with no supplies if they were to stop. "They are the driving force of America." Forty-three year trucker Harold Parker, 63, doesn't expect to get home to Pensacola for a long time. He works for Total Transportation in Richland. He said the road has changed since coronavirus. "I'm seeing less respect from shippers and receivers," he said. "Less available hot food for truckers. I'm seeing truck drivers scared to death. We've got to stick together. We've got to get people fed." Total Transportation delivers dry foods to 48 states. "I'm going to work until I can't work anymore," Parker said.
U.S. Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith Announces $17.2 Million in COVID-19 Funding for Miss. Health Centers
U.S. Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-Miss.) Tuesday announced that 19 community health centers in Mississippi will receive more than $17.25 million to support their efforts to provide care during the COVID-19 pandemic. The health center funding stems from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act) enacted on March 27. This historic legislation provides $1.32 billion in supplemental funding to community health centers. "Mississippi community health centers are on the front lines of testing and treating patients for COVID-19. As this disease affects more Mississippians, the pressure on these centers will only increase," Hyde-Smith said. "These grants represent an initial distribution of federal funding to support their work in these challenging times." The CARES Act, as well as earlier COVID-19 response legislation, also adds support for community health centers to expand access to telemedicine services.
President Trump weighs more stimulus checks for Americans. What else could be in next coronavirus aid package?
Americans have yet to receive their $1,200 stimulus checks from the federal government, but another round of cash payments could be coming their way. Talks are under way between the Trump administration and Congress on another recovery package to blunt the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic. A second round of cash payments to Americans is part of the discussions. "We could very well do a second round," President Donald Trump said at a White House news conference on Monday. "It is absolutely under serious consideration." Congress already has approved three stimulus bills to juice the economy amid the coronavirus crisis. The largest is a $2.2 trillion economic recovery package that provides one-time payments of up to $1,200 to millions of Americans, as well as loans, grants and tax breaks for businesses reeling from the economic fallout caused by the pandemic. Republican congressional leaders had questioned the need for an additional stimulus package but have acknowledged that further needs will likely arise.
Government and Businesses Turn Attention to Eventual Reopening of $22 Trillion U.S. Economy
Government officials and business leaders are turning their attention to a looming challenge in the fight against the new coronavirus pandemic: Reopening a $22 trillion U.S. economy that has been shut down like never before. With some preliminary signs that infections from the virus are slowing, the whole nation is hopeful to get back to business as soon as possible. But a host of questions arise: Under what conditions should people be allowed back to work and stay-at-home orders be lifted? How will people at work be monitored for reinfection or antibodies to prevent a resurgence of the deadly virus? Does it all happen at once or is it staggered? Who is in charge of the effort? A sharp reduction in new infections is a critical first step, but health experts say other steps will be needed to prevent another devastating outbreak that shuts the economy down all over again. That includes building testing and surveillance systems -- and a readiness to reintroduce some social distancing and other mitigations on smaller scale if necessary -- to give businesses and individuals confidence that they can return to work without risking infection.
What to Know in Washington: Trump's Plan to Reopen the Economy
The White House is developing plans to get the U.S. economy back in action that depend on testing far more Americans for the coronavirus than has been possible to date, according to people familiar with the matter. The effort would likely begin in smaller cities and towns in states that haven't yet been heavily hit by the virus. Cities such as New York, Detroit, New Orleans and other places the president has described as "hot spots" would remain shuttered. The planning is in its early stages. But with encouraging signs that the outbreak has plateaued in New York after an aggressive but economically costly social-distancing campaign, President Donald Trump and his top economic advisers are once again boldly talking about returning Americans to work. "We're looking at the concept where we open sections of the country and we're also looking at the concept where you open up everything," Trump told Sean Hannity of Fox News last night.
US intelligence warned in November that coronavirus spreading in China could be 'cataclysmic event': report
U.S. intelligence officials warned last November that the coronavirus spreading in China's Wuhan region could become a "cataclysmic event," ABC News reported Wednesday. The military's National Center for Medical Intelligence documented concerns about the initial stages of the pandemic in an intelligence report, two officials familiar with the document told ABC News, which added that the document highlighted how the virus was disrupting life and business and threatened the population in the area. Intelligence was reportedly obtained through wire and computer intercepts along with satellite images showing the new disease was not under control in China. The coronavirus first appeared in the President's Daily Brief of intelligence matters in early January, according to ABC News. Those who worked on presidential briefings in Republican and Democratic administrations said the initial concerns would have gone through weeks of vetting and analysis before appearing in the daily brief.
Lawmakers Ignore Social Distancing And Meet During The Coronavirus Epidemic
Michigan's lawmakers returned to the Capitol Tuesday as the state recorded its highest daily number of COVID-19 related deaths in 24 hours. The legislature convened despite the warnings from Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and public health officials who've called for limited gatherings to slow the spread of the coronavirus. Republicans contended it was absolutely necessary to meet in Lansing in order to extend the Governor's emergency powers. Democrat's argued the session was a "political stunt." These debates are happening among state lawmakers across the country. Many state legislative sessions were abruptly cut short because of social distancing and stay-at-home orders. That means unfinished business, as necessary as passing state budgets, has been left on the table.
Research Institutions Ask for $26 Billion
Three national associations representing colleges and universities urged Congress on Tuesday to appropriate $26 billion in emergency funding for research universities, medical schools and teaching hospitals affected by the coronavirus epidemic. In part, the money is needed to keep paying for graduate students, researchers and others who have had to stop their federally funded work during the pandemic. "Much of our nation's research workforce is effectively idled due to closed laboratories and severely limited research activities. While some are repurposing their efforts to aid in the fight against COVID-19 or attempting to analyze existing data and making other attempts at telework, for many more their federally supported research is delayed or will be set back because they are unable to access their laboratories and research facilities," the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities, the Association of American Universities, the Association of American Medical Colleges, and the American Council on Education wrote in a letter to congressional leaders. In addition, the research institutions are facing the costs of ramping down their facilities, including disposing of hazardous wastes, the letter said. They will also incur more costs when they are able to resume operations.
UMMC makes ventilators with basic hardware store supplies
As states across the country beg for ventilators to help patients suffering with respiratory issues from COVID-19, the University of Mississippi Medical Center is building its own makeshift ventilators with supplies found at a hardware store. Dr. Charles Robertson, a UMMC pediatric anesthesiologist and the mastermind behind the idea, said he set out to make the "absolute simplest ventilator we can build with parts available in any city, you don't need specials tools to put together and can be done quickly as the need arises." Made with "primarily a garden hose, a lamp timer and electronic valve," the ventilator, named the Robertson Ventilator, for less than $100, can be assembled in approximately 20 to 30 minutes, meaning a dedicated team of four to five could produce nearly 100 in a day if needed, he said. Dr. Richard Summers, associate vice chancellor for research for UMMC, addressed the shortage of conventional ventilators, saying, "as a contingency plan, we were looking for our state to be independent."
UMMC doctor's DIY face mask video goes viral
Doctors are often the ones at the front lines of the coronavirus outbreak -- risking their lives to save ours. Mother of four and Associate Professor of General Surgery at the University of Mississippi Medical Center, Dr. Laura Vick, is using her love for sewing to help others. When Dr. Vick realized there was a high demand for masks, she spent every free moment she had making extra masks all while giving advice to thousands of others. "So, in the video, I just talk a lot about why the masks are so important and exactly where we will be wearing the masks," she explains. "I created several prototypes that you will see me talk about in the video and the reason why we like the tie masks. Once I made the video... it just blew up!"
USM team creates respirator mask to aid nationwide deficit
Medical professionals in the Pine Belt who are treating patients with COVID-19 gained access to 250 respirator masks and counting over the weekend, thanks to a University of Southern Mississippi mathematics professor. Dr. Anna Wan, director of USM's 3-D printing lab, called the Eagle Maker Hub, has friends in Los Angeles and New York City -- hotbeds for the novel coronavirus -- who asked her to come up with an idea to aid the mask deficit. Between her expertise as a digital fabrication specialist and access to a dozen high-end 3-D printers, Wan had the tools she needed to create a solution. "I posted on Facebook last Saturday that I was printing this mask prototype to test, and I'll see how it does in the morning, and the next morning, Hattiesburg Mayor Toby Barker messaged me asking if I could create these for our local healthcare workers," Wan said. Less than two weeks and three prototypes later, through a partnership with the Mississippi Polymer Institute and USM's School of Mathematics and Natural Sciences, and cooperation of other USM faculty, staff, and students, Wan's Eagle Maker team delivered the first set of masks to Forrest General Hospital.
UGA creating medical face shields for local use
The University of Georgia has delivered the first batch of medical face shields produced on campus to local medical professionals, who may be facing tight supplies of protective equipment because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The university plans to deliver 200 face shields each to Piedmont Athens Regional Medical Center and St. Mary's Health Care System. The shields, which help protect health care providers from droplets, aerosols and other contaminants while treating patients, are being produced through a collaboration that includes the UGA College of Engineering, UGA Libraries and the Instrument Design and Fabrication Shop, a unit of UGA's Office of Research. "We're pleased to be able to help the community in this time of crisis," said Donald Leo, dean of the College of Engineering. "Our staff and students have really taken the urgency of the situation to heart and they've stepped forward to support our community and its medical professionals."
U. of Florida moves late summer term classes online
Classes at the University of Florida will remain online through the summer, a decision officials say was done over the uncertainty of how COVID-19 infection will evolve in the coming months. UF Provost Joe Glover emailed faculty about the decision Monday. The new plan moves UF's summer B courses online, and pushes the term's start date back one week, to July 6. The university moved its summer A and C terms, which both begin May 11, online last month. "We don't know how things are going to look down the line," said UF spokesman Steve Orlando. "Based on that info, it seemed like the most prudent thing to do." Orlando said the courses also will be graded on a pass/fail basis, similar to the spring semester. No decision has been made yet for the fall term.
U. of South Carolina launches relief fund for students affected by coronavirus
The University of South Carolina has set up a relief fund for students who have been affected by the coronavirus. Fundraising efforts have generated $118,390 toward the $200,000 goal, according to the relief effort's website, as of Tuesday afternoon. The money will primarily go toward students who are experiencing financial hardship because of school being closed or the student being laid off, according to the relief fund's website. The money will go toward buying laptops, software, expenses to travel home, paying off federal loans and more, according to the site. So far, 382 students have applied for funding. Some of the donations were made in memory of COVID-19 victims and in honor of the health care workers who are fighting the virus on the front lines. Others were given in honor of a friend, family member or a graduating class of USC, according to the site.
Texas A&M experts offer virus insights during online forum
Three Texas A&M University policy experts hosted an online forum Tuesday evening and discussed a variety of topics related to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Scowcroft Institute of International Affairs at the Bush School of Government and Public Service hosted the virtual discussion, during which the trio of academics stressed the continued importance of social distancing and noted that about 20 vaccine candidates are under examination -- though testing and distribution of an eventual successful vaccine is almost certainly more than a year away. The panelists also provided numerical updates and reflections on the multifaceted governmental responses in the United States and beyond, among other topics. Gerald Parker, director of the Pandemic and Biosecurity Policy Program within the Bush School of Government and Public Service, said that even an 18-month time frame on discovery and eventual distribution of a vaccine would be scientifically "remarkable."
Professor pay is flat -- again
Faculty members may be working harder than ever, but their pay has "barely budged" in four years, according to the American Association of University Professors' annual Faculty Compensation Survey. Average salaries for full-time professors increased by 2.8 percent this year over last, but consumer prices grew 2.3 percent over the same period, the AAUP notes in a preliminary report on the data: "Following the Great Recession of the late 2000s, nominal salary growth remained below consumer price growth until 2015-16 and has remained flat ever since." By institution type, average salaries for full-time professors at doctoral institutions this year increased 2.8 percent, before adjusting for inflation. Average salaries at master's and associate's institutions increased 1.2 percent and 1 percent respectively, meaning that they decreased by about 1 percent when adjusted for inflation. Salaries at baccalaureate institutions increased by 2.3 percent on average, matching the annual inflation rate. Next year will be no better, it's all but certain: already colleges and universities have announced hiring freezes and, in some cases, pay cuts to address the financial impact of the COVID-19 disruption. But the AAUP's data, collected before that disruption, will serve as important benchmarks when institutions look at faculty pay in reassessing their budgets.
The Pandemic Is Already Hitting Sectors Unevenly, Never Mind the Hitches in Federal Relief
College leaders spent the past month sending students home from campuses and overseeing a frantic pivot to remote learning. Now, before they've even taken a breath, new uncertainties loom: Can they reopen in the fall? Will students return? In what ways will colleges have to change? Will they survive at all? The effects of the Covid-19 pandemic are already hitting unevenly across higher education. Institutions that are tuition-dependent, with few other sources of revenue, face the most pressure. Small private colleges aren't the only institutions at risk. Mildred Garcia, president of the state-college association, said she expected more mergers among public colleges to "definitely be on the table" with the tightening of state support. The financial picture is confounding to just about everyone. Most state legislatures haven't set their budgets for next year, so public colleges don't know what to expect -- although they know it will be bad.
Campus Zero: Before the coronavirus shuttered universities nationwide, it turned Seattle's college leaders into early responders.
Amy Morrison was at home when she got a call that made her heart sink. It was Saturday, February 29. Morrison watched on her TV as county and state public-health officials provided an alarming series of updates about the spread of the new coronavirus: A man from Kirkland, Wash., the Seattle suburb where Morrison and her family lived, had died after being infected. His was the first recorded death from the virus in the United States. Two people from a Kirkland nursing facility had tested positive, and many more had symptoms. Another 50 people who'd been at the facility would need to be tested. Workers from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention were on their way to the region. Morrison, president of Lake Washington Institute of Technology, a local community college, was horrified. The coronavirus had gained a foothold in the United States, and her community was the first hot spot, ground zero for the much-feared "community spread" that public-health experts warned could devastate the country. Morrison had steered the college through crises before. But this threat was unlike any that contemporary college leaders had ever faced: a soon-to-be pandemic, one that would ruthlessly exploit the close-knit character of college campuses if leaders didn't take quick action.
Universities store student items left in dorms over the summer
When students who'd evacuated their dorm rooms at Virginia Commonwealth University discovered personal belongings they'd left behind were being packed and removed from their rooms to accommodate non-COVID-19 hospital patients, it was through a video on social media. The video posted on Facebook by a moving company employee on March 25 showed movers going into the rooms and preparing to clear them. The response from surprised students was immediate. "I want an answer as to why y'all are literally stealing my stuff right now," one student tweeted at the university. After being told to leave campus and retrieve belongings by March 22 in the wake of the coronavirus public health crisis, the students were angered to learn that strangers would be going through and packing up their stuff. As colleges are being asked to provide residence hall space for patients, health-care workers, or first responders, students who live in campus residence halls are being told belongings will be boxed, moved and stored at private off-campus facilities. Affected students say notifications about these processes has been inadequate, and plans do not account for the needs of students who live far from their campus or in other states or those unable to afford the cost of having their belongings shipped to them.
Choosing pass/fail grades may help college students now, but could cost them later
Almost as soon as students fled their universities and colleges ahead of the coronavirus lockdowns, petitions started flying back. In the midst of such disruption -- with hastily prepared classes delivered remotely, and without professors' office hours, libraries or advisors -- students were demanding the option to pass or fail their courses this semester, instead of getting letter grades. Many universities and colleges agreed. It could become a lesson in being careful what you wish for. That's because the already very low rate at which academic credit transfers from one institution to another is likely to be even lower for courses graded, simply, "pass," forcing transfer students to sit through, and pay for, the same courses again. Many competitive professional or graduate programs may not accept those courses as part of their admission requirements at all. "When we were implementing our pass/fail here for this semester, I heard from terrified students who were pre-health, pre-med, who were saying, 'Oh my God, please don't do this -- I won't get into schools,' " said Sarah Kelly, senior vice president for enrollment management and student affairs at Loyola University New Orleans, which is allowing students to opt for pass/fail grades as late as three days before the end of the semester.
Kennard, Vickers: COVID-19 is robbing us of opportunities to honor departed giants
Syndicated columnist Sid Salter writes: One of the real casualties of the COVID-19 pandemic has been our abilities to properly honor the lives of our friends and loved ones. Funerals are indeed on the list of activities limited by social distancing requirements and the rule of 10. Funerals, so say the epidemiologists, are killing us. Under the rule of 10, many funeral homes are limiting families to graveside services only and even then, large families are forced to decide which six or seven members get to attend the services. It's heartbreaking for the families and for friends who want to help share their grief alike. I realized those hard truths this week, when the Lord called two legendary Mississippians home -- and the coronavirus outbreak blocked what would have been large and meaningful ceremonies honoring both of their productive and substantial lives. The first was Oktibbeha County retired farmer and mechanic Thomas Boswell Kennard, who died March 30 at his Oktoc community home. Kennard was 101 years old. A lifelong Mississippi State University Bulldog partisan, Mr. Boswell spent his 100th birthday at Dudy Noble Field -- throwing out the first pitch under his own steam against Texas A&M before returning to his family space in the Left Field Lounge. ... The second was legendary East Central Community College educator and writer Ovid Vickers of Decatur, who died March 31 at Winston Medical Center in Louisville following a brief illness. Vickers was one of the more unique individuals I ever had the privilege to know. He was a revered Mississippi folklorist, essayist, poet and teacher, but those descriptions don't fully sum up the man. When Ovid Vickers entered the room, he absorbed all the air in the room. All eyes were on him and all ears attuned to what he'd say next in that high, lilting Georgia drawl.

Mississippi State issues statement on Mike Leach's deleted tweet
Mike Leach's twitter saga continued Tuesday as Mississippi State Athletic Director John Cohen issued a statement on the subject. "No matter the context, for many Americans the image of a noose is never appropriate and that's particularly true in the South and in Mississippi," Cohen said in a news release. "Mississippi State University was disappointed in the use of such an image in a tweet by Coach Mike Leach. He removed the tweet and issued a public apology." Cohen also noted that Leach will meet with student, alumni and community groups as a chance to expand his cultural awareness of Mississippi. As part of this plan, Leach is slated to take a guided visit to the Museum of Mississippi History and Mississippi Civil Rights Museum in Jackson when restrictions from the COVID-19 crisis allow. "The university is confident that  Coach Leach is moving quickly and sincerely past this unintended misstep and will provide the leadership for our student athletes and excitement for our football program that our fans deserve and that our students and alumni will be proud to support," Cohen added.
Mississippi State AD 'disappointed' in Leach's noose tweet
Mississippi State coach Mike Leach is expected to participate in "listening sessions" with student and community groups and tour the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum after he tweeted an image of a noose last week. Mississippi State athletic director John Cohen released a statement Tuesday that said, "No matter the context, for many Americans the image of a noose is never appropriate and that's particularly true in the South and in Mississippi. Mississippi State University was disappointed in the use of such an image in a tweet by Coach Mike Leach." Leach, who was hired away from Washington State in January, apologized on social media last week for posting a tweet that drew criticism from Bulldogs players and an assistant professor at the school before it was deleted. The image Leach tweeted depicted an elderly woman knitting, with the caption: "After 2 weeks of quarantine with her husband, Gertrude decided to knit him a scarf...", but the picture showed her knitting a noose with the hangman's knot already tied.
Mississippi State coach Chris Lemonis sounds off on extra eligibility, scholarship limits, MLB draft in wake of coronavirus outbreak
Mississippi State baseball coach Chris Lemonis is getting antsy. Now four weeks since the college baseball season was shut down due to the outbreak of COVID-19, Lemonis quipped his family is as ready for him to leave the house as he is. That said, the down time has given him and his staff ample opportunity to keep tabs on the Bulldogs as they grapple with the longer term effects the coronavirus has had on the team. "The message has been to stay positive, stay on top of their academics -- I know that's probably not what they want to hear -- and then we're just trying to keep them educated," Lemonis said of his squad. "I think the biggest mental stress is the fear of the unknown for these guys -- draft, team, season. They're used to being around a very strong group of guys so that's a piece that they've been struggling with a little bit."
Vic Schaefer going home, but he leaves State far better than he found it 8 years ago
Mississippi sports columnist Rick Cleveland writes: Home. That's the main reason why Vic Schaefer left Mississippi State for Texas. To go home, to the place of his birth, Austin, Texas. Schaefer was born in a hospital just a short walk from the UT campus. He was raised there and in Houston. He is a Texan, and most Texans I know are just plain jingoistic about Texas. "It was evident to me this was an incredible opportunity," Schaefer told Texas reporters, "and it was a chance to come home." Home. "The ache for home lives in all of us," poet Maya Angelou once wrote. It surely lives in Schaefer, who leaves a program he built into a national power. ... This is not say "home" was the only reason Schaefer left Starkville.
Former Mississippi State, Ole Miss and Southern Miss players cash in as NFL free agents
The NFL free agency carousel has been swirling for about a month, and players with Mississippi ties have been among the most notable names. From multi-year contracts and franchise tags to second chances and first promotions, some of Mississippi's most notable college and high school alums have helped set the market this spring. Here's a look at some of the Mississippi football players who have had big pay days in the NFL this offseason. Two former Mississippi State stars, Dak Prescott and Chris Jones, received franchise tags from their teams. Put simply, a franchise tag allows teams to hold onto players who aren't under contract for one year longer while they try to negotiate a longer-term deal. While on the franchise tag, a player is either paid the average salary of the five highest-paid players at his position for that year or 120% of his previous year's contract, whichever value is higher. For Prescott, that means a $33 million deal with the Dallas Cowboys.
Texas A&M's Ross Bjork, Gary Blair yet to discuss future of women's basketball program
Former Texas A&M assistant coach Vic Schaefer taking over as the Texas women's head basketball coach has some Aggies wondering what happens when veteran A&M coach Gary Blair decides to head to the golf course permanently. "We know we need to have a plan, and we'll do that in the appropriate time," A&M athletic director Ross Bjork said Tuesday in a Zoom teleconference. The 74-year-old Blair just finished his 17th season at A&M and has one more left on his contract. He received a three-year extension in April 2017 through the 2020-21 season that pays him approximately $1 million annually. Many thought Blair eventually would be replaced by Schaefer, who was an assistant for 15 seasons under Blair along with being an Aggie graduate (class of 1984). But the 59-year-old Schaefer had a good enough run at Mississippi State to earn him a lucrative deal from Texas. He went 221-62 in eight seasons with the Bulldogs highlighted by back-to-back national runner-up finishes in 2017 and '18.
UGA president: AD Greg McGarity's contract status on hold until on 'other side' of pandemic
University of Georgia president Jere Morehead and athletic director Greg McGarity both said in mid-February they expected to hammer out a path forward in the ensuing weeks that would determine if McGarity would stay on when his contract ended at the end of June. Morehead essentially left the decision then to McGarity, who is finishing up his 10th year overseeing Bulldog athletics. The timeline to make that decision was interrupted by the novel coronavirus epidemic that has upended all aspects of daily life including the sports world. Morehead on Tuesday indicated a determination on if McGarity returns for the 2020-21 academic year could now be months away. McGarity and athletic directors everywhere have faced a new set of issues over the last month since the NCAA pulled the plug on its lucrative basketball tournaments and all championships through the end of the athletic year. McGarity, like most athletic department employees, is working from home but also still comes into the office to take part in remote meetings. The university has gone to online only instruction through the end of summer classes.
Vanderbilt baseball coach Tim Corbin: 'Make the right decisions and respect this virus'
Vanderbilt baseball coach Tim Corbin issued his own version of a public service announcement about the coronavirus pandemic via Twitter. The video was only about a minute long, but he said a lot. "Please make the right decisions and respect this virus," he said. "Self isolating may be hard, but it's also a great opportunity for us to slow down, reflect, meditate and be with our loved ones. We must choose to be selfless and not selfish." Corbin coached the defending national champion Commodores, who were on pace to contend for another trip to the College World Series when the season was canceled. Since then, his players left campus, and he's been social-distancing like others. Corbin didn't mention baseball in his video to the public. He instead urged people to stay at home and weather the pandemic.
Oklahoma State puts brakes on Mike Gundy's hope of May 1 return
Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy said Tuesday that his goal is to return to the football building on May 1 because he hopes that tests for COVID-19 will be available in a few weeks to clear both employees and players -- a proposed timetable the university and its athletic director quickly disputed. Gundy, speaking to more than a dozen reporters on a teleconference, said that although it would depend on whether there will be enough tests available in three or four weeks that he could get his assistant coaches and support personnel tested for the virus, it was his full intention that his team "start on May 1." Following Gundy's comments, the university issued a statement saying, essentially, that the decision about when to bring the football team back together wouldn't be up to the coach. "We will adhere to the advice of public health experts who are making informed decisions in the best interest of the citizens of our nation and state based on sound scientific data,'' the university statement said.

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