Tuesday, April 28, 2020   
President Mark Keenum gives Mississippi State updates at digital Rotary meeting
The Starkville Rotary Club received an update on Mississippi State University from its president on Monday. MSU President Mark Keenum spoke to the Rotary Club through a Zoom meeting during the club's normal meeting time Monday, discussing the university's continued response to the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as its tentative plans for the fall 2020 semester. Much of Keenum's talk with the club focused on financial information.
President Mark Keenum: Mississippi State will receive $17.8M from CARES Act
The second week of March seems like it was a year ago, Mississippi State University President Mark Keenum told the Starkville Rotary Club at its virtual meeting Monday. The COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic started to force the cancellations of school, sports and other gatherings on March 11, during MSU's spring break. The university extended its break by a week but soon had to convert all classes to an online environment for the rest of the semester. "These past eight weeks or so, I can truly say, have probably been the most trying time of my life," Keenum said. "It's like the days run into weeks, and a day feels almost like a week." The federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act) allotted more than $14 billion for higher education institutions, and MSU's share is $17.8 million, Keenum said. The university has already received half, or $8.9 million, and it has to go directly to students, he said.
State row crop planting delayed by wet weather
Wet weather that won't let up has resulted in a very slow start to Mississippi row crop planting, and time is running out for corn. Erick Larson, grain crops agronomist with the Mississippi State University Extension Service, said he expects a tremendous reduction in planted acreage due to weather conditions this year. "Some growers have already returned corn seed and made drastic changes regarding their planting intentions," Larson said. "We've just not had any decent planting windows." Since early March, when corn planting typically begins, rains have come across most of the state at least once a week. "Growers will swap cropping intentions to soybeans, cotton or perhaps grain sorghum, which are all planted later than corn," Larson said. "Rainfall during the planting season may also cause further issues, including stand failure, which would necessitate replanting." Bobby Golden, rice specialist with the Mississippi Agricultural and Forestry Experiment Station at the Delta Research and Extension Center in Stoneville, said frequent rains also put the rice crop well behind schedule. USDA estimated rice was 11% planted on April 19. Golden said about 60% of the crop is usually planted by this date.
Deal with social distancing stress, don't ignore it
Dr. David Buys, Mississippi State University Extension Service health specialist, says the domino effect of multiple changes caused by the novel coronavirus pandemic may result in trauma. "Usually trauma is a major life event that leads to intense stress reactions," he said. "But we are seeing so many changes in such a short time it's a struggle to manage our feelings and thoughts without falling into anxiety and depression." Stress can lead to insomnia, which can then lead to exhaustion, which causes irritability, angry outbursts and possibly verbal or physical abuse of loved ones, said Buys. So Buys suggests keeping a positive attitude and a proactive stance.
Face covering mandate goes into effect today for Starkville businesses, patrons
Employees and customers in Starkville shops will now have to wear protective face coverings, following the approval of a resolution by the Starkville Board of Aldermen in a special called meeting Monday. Aldermen approved a resolution to mandate face coverings inside shops, along with other social distancing and safety measures already in place, due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The measure, which also extends the city's curfew, requires all employees and patrons of shops to wear a face covering starting today at 8 a.m., and running through 8 a.m. on May 11, the duration of the Safer At Home order enacted by Gov. Tate Reeves on Friday.
Employees, customers required to wear masks as Starkville businesses reopen
Some Starkville businesses are allowed to reopen with restrictions under Gov. Tate Reeves' new executive order that took effect Monday, but all employees and customers over the age of 6 are required to wear protective face masks from 8 a.m. today until 8 a.m. May 11 to curb the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus, the board of aldermen decided Monday with a 5-2 vote at a special-call meeting. The resolution requires businesses to "provide adequate supervision, including door monitors" to make sure no one enters without a mask. The city will also keep its 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew in place until May 11, a measure that Starkville Police Chief Mark Ballard said is necessary. Ward 1 Alderman Ben Carver and Ward 3 Alderman David Little were the two dissenting votes and said they opposed the mask requirement. "We're about seven to eight weeks into (the pandemic) now, and we haven't required the masks early on," Little said. "To come in now, late in the game, and apply that is a little restrictive, and I think it comes down to personal choice."
Only 4 stores choose to open at Pearl's The Outlets of Mississippi on first day of new order
Monday was the day many businesses were awaiting since the onset of COVID-19. The governor lifted restrictions Friday on retail shopping and those businesses are opening their doors... slowly. Business was not booming the first official day of retail shopping in the metro with only four shops at The Outlets of Mississippi opening. More stores plan to be back in business by the end of the week and the beginning of next week, but it was a letdown for the few who ventured out to do some shopping. "I was eager. I saw where it was supposed to open up today," said Liz Young of Morton. "Cause I've gone stir-crazy at home and I brought my mask and I said I'd stay my distance, social distance, but I wanted to do a little shopping." Northpark Mall remains closed as well as Marshalls, TJ Maxx, and others. Five stores in The Renaissance in Ridgeland opened Monday. Dogwood Festival Mall officials said the choice for a specific store to open or remain closed is up to that individual retailer.
'Everything could change.' When will Mississippi Gulf Coast casinos reopen?
He doesn't know when casinos across Mississippi will get the go-ahead to reopen, but Allen Godfrey said Mississippi has the advantage of knowing how to reopen casinos. "Opening a casino is something we've done on a regular basis," said Godfrey, executive director of the Mississippi Gaming Commission. "Reopening a casino is not the issue in South Mississippi as it is in a lot of places," he said. While the reopening is easy from a technical standpoint, Godfrey said, Gov. Tate Reeves will need to ease some regulations and give the Gaming Commission some direction. "And then the commission will take it from there," he said. While Reeves is allowing some businesses to open with restrictions, he told MSNBC Thursday, "We don't think that the gaming market is ready to reopen yet." Reopening won't restore Mississippi casinos to what they were when the Gaming Commission ordered them closed on March 16. The casinos may reopen with thermal temperature scans of employees and staff, masks, social distancing placement of slot machines and with buffets closed or dramatically changed. "Everything from how often we clean to how we greet our guests could and will change," said Bill Hornbuckle, chief executive officer of MGM Resorts International, parent company of Beau Rivage Resort & Casino in Biloxi. "Our casino floors will look different and our restaurants ultimately will be impacted as well," he said in a video message.
Mississippi legislators regroup in mid-May amid pandemic
The Mississippi Legislature will reconvene May 18, two months after the session was suspended because of the coronavirus pandemic, House and Senate leaders said Monday. The announcement came the same day that Republican Gov. Tate Reeves eased some restrictions on people's movements, allowing many businesses to reopen but limiting how many customers they can have in their stores. The state has surpassed 6,000 confirmed cases of the highly contagious virus, according to the Health Department. During a conference call with reporters, Republican Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann said Monday that lawmakers will take precautions when the legislative session begins again, possibly limiting the number of people in the Capitol and screening visitors for symptoms of COVID-19. Legislators were at the midpoint of their session when they suspended work, and they still face several big issues.
Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann says session to resume on May 18, business as usual plus pandemic response
Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann said he hopes it is "business as usual as much as possible" when the Legislature returns on May 18 from its coronavirus-induced recess. Both Hosemann, who presides over the Senate, and House Speaker Philip Gunn announced the return date in simultaneous news releases Monday. As the releases were sent out, Hosemann, in his first year as lieutenant governor, was speaking during a virtual meeting of the Mississippi State University Stennis Institute of Government/capitol press corps. He said the plans are to take up most of the legislation that was pending when the recess occurred in mid-March and then take up the overall state budget in June. Hosemann also said he hopes to pass a teacher pay raise when the session resumes as well as increase funding for early childhood education. Referring to the teacher pay raise and early childhood education, he said, "The things we need to do are generational. Hopefully this pandemic is temporary."
Mississippi wants more people, even asymptomatic, tested for coronavirus as it reopens economy
As Mississippi moves toward reopening its economy and more coronavirus tests become available, state officials want more Mississippians -- even those without symptoms -- to get tested for the virus. This is a dramatic shift from the onset of the pandemic, when public health officials asked that only people with multiple symptoms be tested and tests were prioritized for people who were already hospitalized. Gov. Tate Reeves and State Health Officer Dr. Thomas Dobbs made the announcement at a press conference Monday. "If you believe you have been exposed ... regardless of whether or not you have symptoms, you really need to think about getting tested," Reeves said. The governor's stay-at-home order expired Monday, replaced by a less restrictive order that has allowed some businesses to reopen. Reeves said lowering the threshold for testing will help Mississippi trace coronavirus infections -- a key part of being able to fully reopen the economy.
Will Mississippi release names of nursing homes with COVID-19 cases?
Ninety-one Mississippi nursing homes and similar long-term care centers have reported at least one coronavirus case, but state officials have so far refused to release names of the facilities. Other states including California, Florida, New York, Georgia, North Carolina, New Jersey, Kentucky and Minnesota have begun identifying nursing homes with outbreaks, at least partially. Many faced mounting pressure to do so from media outlets and groups such as the AARP, calling for more transparency. The Clarion Ledger submitted a records request to the Mississippi Department of Health for the names of nursing homes with outbreaks on April 2. It has yet to receive any of the information. AARP Mississippi State Director Kimberly L. Campbell said Monday that Mississippi officials should release the names. She pointed out nursing home residents comprise about 15% of all coronavirus deaths nationally. As of Sunday there were 679 confirmed coronavirus cases and 77 deaths in Mississippi residential care facilities, which includes nursing homes.
AG tells Jackson to rescind temporary ban on open carry of guns, calls it illegal
Mississippi Attorney General Lynn Fitch and gun rights advocates say Jackson Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba doesn't have the legal authority to ban the open carry of firearms during the coronavirus pandemic. "The mayor may have the best of intentions, but the Mississippi Supreme Court has made it clear you can't deprive a person of a constitutional right," said attorney Thomas Payne, who has successfully argued gun rights cases before the state high court. Fitch said in a letter, dated April 26, to Lumumba the city lacks statutory authority to suspend a state statute or constitutional provision. "Accordingly, I ask that you rescind the order immediately." Citing the death of two children to recent gun violence and other incidents, Lumumba on Friday said in a video he signed an executive order to temporarily ban open carry of firearms in the city, so long as there's a civil emergency related to the COVID-19 crisis. But Fitch said "cities can't usurp the authority of the state's elected Legislature and violate the constitutional rights of the people. I support the 2nd Amendment and will enforce the laws of this state."
Attorney General William Barr tells prosecutors to watch for pandemic restrictions that violate Constitution
Attorney General William Barr on Monday directed federal prosecutors to "be on the lookout" for public health measures put in place amid the coronavirus pandemic that might be running afoul of constitutional rights. In a two-page memorandum to the 93 U.S. attorneys, Barr cautioned that some state and local directives could be infringing on protected religious, speech and economic rights. "If a state or local ordinance crosses the line from an appropriate exercise of authority to stop the spread of COVID-19 into an overbearing infringement of constitutional and statutory protections, the Department of Justice may have an obligation to address that overreach in federal court," Barr wrote. The Supreme Court has long held that constitutional rights can be lawfully restricted when emergency public health measures are in place, though the precise scope of government public health power is not clearly defined. Legal experts caution that governments can be prone to overreach amid exigent circumstances.
Both chambers of Congress to return May 4, despite pandemic recommendations
Both chambers of Congress will return to the Capitol for regular legislative session on May 4, which is 11 days before the current stay-at-home order in Washington, D.C., expires. "Senators will return to Washington D.C. one week from today. We will modify routines in ways that are smart and safe, but we will honor our constitutional duty to the American people and conduct critical business in person," Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said in a statement on Monday. A few hours later, House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer announced on a Democratic Caucus conference call that the House will also be in session next week and said votes are possible, according to his press office. Speaker Nancy Pelosi said last week as the House came in for a brief session to pass a so-called interim coronavirus relief measure that she hoped a bipartisan task force examining rule changes to allow some remote operations would have a proposal ready to vote on when the House returned again. Some Democrats also want their leadership to move quickly on another relief measure, with more aid targeted to individuals and families and states and localities.
States Expand Internet Voting Experiments Amid Pandemic, Raising Security Fears
Election officials nationwide are preparing for what may the highest election turnout in modern history in the middle of a pandemic. In response, several states will be turning to a relatively new and untested form of internet-based voting to aid the voters who may have the most trouble getting to the polls. In the latest demonstration of the technology, Delaware will allow voters with disabilities to return their ballots electronically in its primary election next month, becoming the second U.S. state to do so. The decision comes despite grave warnings from the cybersecurity community that the technology doesn't offer sufficient safeguards to protect the integrity of an election. Both the state, and the Seattle-based company administering the technology, Democracy Live, confirmed the decision, although they dispute the term "internet voting" for the cloud-based system. "In the computer security business, we worry about worst-case scenarios, and the downside risk of the Democracy Live model is really bad," said Doug Jones, a computer science professor, and election security expert at the University of Iowa. "If the voter is marking the ballot using a device, it's an online ballot-marking system, and if the physical ballot is not printed by the voter, it's online voting."
'Republicans need to get serious': 2020 vote-by-mail battle heats up
Coronavirus has campaigns rushing to put voting by mail at the center of their general election strategies -- and some Republicans worry they've already fallen behind, as President Donald Trump dismisses the method and drives doubt about mail voting among the GOP base. Multimillion dollar programs urging mail voting in November are already coming together, as both parties envision a social-distancing election featuring a spike in absentee ballots, according to interviews with more than a dozen campaign strategists, party committees and outside groups. Organizing Together, a field-focused group founded by Obama alumni, is partnering with Priorities USA, the Democratic super PAC blessed by Joe Biden's campaign, to air digital ads in battleground states educating voters on how to cast ballots by mail. The Democratic National Committee called vote-by-mail programs a top priority. One Republican consulting firm is already developing models that forecast voters' interest in (or skepticism of) voting by mail, while another GOP firm sent a memo to campaigns urging them that "now is the time to push early and absentee voting."
Wall Street's rally carries into 3rd day as economies reopen
Stocks are pumping higher in early trading on Wall Street Tuesday, and the S&P 500 is cruising toward its first three-day winning streak in a month. European stocks were also strong, as markets turned higher following a mixed Asian performance. The price of U.S. oil remained wild, though, and it swung through more extremes as storage tanks come closer to hitting their limits. With massive aid in place for the economy from central banks and governments, stocks have been building higher in recent weeks on anticipation that stay-at-home orders will gradually lift. U.S. states and nations around the world are going at their own speeds, but the removal of restrictions would allow businesses to get back into some type of gear, even if it's only first, after the global economy essentially slammed shut.
Tyson warns of U.S. meat shortage
Tyson Foods Inc. Chairman John Tyson warned in full-page newspaper advertisements Sunday that the nation is facing a meat shortage caused by the coronavirus pandemic and a rising number of idled processing plants. "The food supply chain is breaking," Tyson said in the letter, published in The New York Times, The Washington Post and the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. "Millions of pounds of meat will disappear from the supply chain," he said, resulting in fewer products available for grocery stores. Tyson also described the work the company has done to protect its workers from the virus and asked for more government assistance in doing so. Thousands of meatpacking workers, who often stand shoulder-to-shoulder doing repetitive jobs, have been sickened by the virus in recent weeks, leading to temporary or indefinite closures at plants owned by Tyson, Smithfield and JBS. Several workers have died. The federal government issued new guidance Sunday to help prevent the virus from spreading in meat processing plants. Tyson said in the ad that "government bodies at the national, state, county and city levels must unite in a comprehensive, thoughtful and productive way to allow our team members to work in safety."
Louisiana coronavirus stay-at-home order extended until May 15, with three changes
Gov. John Bel Edwards is extending the state's current stay-at-home order through May 15th, keeping bars, dine-in restaurants and barber shops closed for two additional weeks before starting a phased reopening of the economy on May 16th. The stay-at-home order will have three relatively small changes: Restaurants will be allowed to let customers eat outdoors on patios if there is no table service, malls can operate curbside retail and public-facing workers must wear masks. Those three changes will take place May 1, when the current order is set to expire. The revised stay-at-home order will be in place until May 16th, when Edwards plans to begin phase one of a gradual reopening of the state's economy. On that date, restaurants will be allowed to offer dine-in services with modifications, worship services can resume in person, salons and personal care businesses can reopen, though businesses will have to operate at a reduced 25% occupancy. Bars will remain closed during the phase that begins May 16th.
Coronavirus: Sweden's Anders Tegnell stands by unorthodox strategy
Sweden, unlike its Nordic neighbors Denmark and Norway -- and virtually every other country in the western world -- has resisted extensive lockdown restrictions to stem the coronavirus outbreak. Instead, it's largely kept society, including schools and restaurants open, and relied on voluntary social-distancing measures that appeal to the public's sense of self-restraint. Polls show the strategy is broadly supported by most Swedes. Scientists in Sweden and abroad have accused the country of dangerously pursuing "herd immunity" -- the idea that by building a broad base of recovered infections in society the disease will eventually stop spreading because a majority of people will not be susceptible. "Herd immunity" is usually achieved by vaccination and takes place when a large enough percentage of the population are immune. Anders Tegnell, chief epidemiologist at Sweden's Public Health Agency -- the nation's top infectious disease official and architect of Sweden's coronavirus response -- denied that "herd immunity" formed the central thrust of Sweden's containment plan, in an interview with USA TODAY. Yet he also said the country may be starting to see the impact of "herd immunity."
Southern Miss hosting free online transfer application event
Mississippi junior-college students looking to enroll at the University of Southern Mississippi for summer or fall semesters can take advantage of a free, one-day online application. Students meeting enrollment eligibility will receive an email Wednesday linking to the application. Deadline for submission is midnight. The online option, offered in compliance with COVID-19 social-distance guidelines, is not open to incoming freshmen or those previously enrolled at Southern Miss.
Clarkdale's Mary Margaret Freeman receives full-ride scholarship to Mississippi College
Paying for college has gotten a lot easier for Mary Margaret Freeman. "It's nice to have everything paid for," said the Clarkdale High School senior. "But I had to work hard to build my resume up." Freeman's full-ride scholarship to Mississippi College totaled so much money that she'll be getting a refund check of $1,000 a year. The scholarship is part of Freeman's acceptance into the school's honor program, where she will join 14 other studious and community-minded students. Freeman said the scholarship isn't based solely on academics. Even with a 4.2 GPA and an ACT score of 33, Freeman had to show work outside the classroom through volunteer work and extracurricular activities. She also received full scholarship offers from Mississippi State and Ole Miss, but when it came time to choose, she felt like Mississippi College was the right fit.
Private, homeschool students make up 13 percent at GTECHS
Between 2017 and 2019, about 13 percent of area eighth graders who applied to the Golden Triangle Early College High School on East Mississippi Community College's Mayhew campus did not come from public schools. Those students -- who included 14 from private schools and 15 from homeschool situations in Lowndes, Oktibbeha, Clay or Noxubee counties -- were accepted to the school at roughly the same rate as public school students, making up just over 12 percent of rejections from the program. But the fact that private school students are accepted at all has caused superintendents in some school districts to end their relationships with GTECHS, which allows high school students to take college level courses and graduate with an associate's degree. Both Columbus Municipal and Starkville-Oktibbeha Consolidated school districts' boards voted earlier this month not to renew a memorandum of understanding with GTECHS and EMCC to send students -- and the accompanying Mississippi Department of Education funding -- to the early college high school.
Auburn University campus to stay closed through June
The Auburn University campus will stay closed through the end of June, according to a statement issued by university officials late Monday. All Auburn employees working via remote should continue to do so through June 30. Employees who can't do their jobs remotely and aren't working on campus will have to address their individual situations with their supervisors. Employees are expected to communicate with supervisors and seek approval of any absences during which they will not be available for work. East Alabama counties saw nearly 70 new COVID-19 cases since Friday night, according to data provided by the Alabama Department of Public Health. There were 6,539 confirmed cases and 228 deaths in Alabama as of 6 p.m. Monday, according to ADPH. More than 60 of the deaths reported in Alabama are local deaths.
Auburn University extends operational modifications through June 30
Operational modifications put in place by Auburn University to slow the spread of COVID-19 have been extended through June 30, 2020, the University announced in email on Monday. The modifications include things like the cancelation of all University events and working from home for University employees that are able, the University said. The original May 9 end date for the modifications was tentative, the University said. All University events are canceled through June 30. Current employees of the University will continue to receive payment at their regular rate of pay until May 9, even if they are unable to perform normal job responsibilities, the email said. Beginning May 10, employees who have been approved to work remotely are instructed to do so until the June 30 end date.
HudsonAlpha cotton study reveals surprising similarities between wild, domesticated cotton
Plant genomics researchers at Huntsville's HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology announced the surprising results of a cotton sequencing study led by Jane Grimwood and Jeremy Schmutz, who co-direct the HudsonAlpha Genome Sequencing Center. The goal of the project was to identify differences among wild and domesticated cotton that could be used to bring back traits like resistance to disease or drought. The results led researchers to unexpected conclusions, as described in their paper in Nature Genetics. This work is supported by grants from the National Science Foundation, U.S. Department of Agriculture and Cotton Inc. In addition to the HudsonAlpha team, the publication included researchers from 12 institutions: the University of Texas at Austin; Nanjing Agricultural University in Nanjing, China; Texas A&M University in College Station, Texas; the U.S. Department of Agriculture in Raleigh, North Carolina, and Stoneville, Mississippi; Zhejiang A&F University in Lin'an, China; Clemson University in Clemson, South Carolina; Iowa State University in Ames, Iowa; the U.S. Department of Energy Joint Genome Institute in Walnut Creek, California; Mississippi State University; Alcorn State University in Lorman, Mississippi; and Cotton Inc. in Cary, North Carolina.
Colleges nationwide expect enrollment drop. Will Louisiana schools buck the trend?
Judgment day for most of Louisiana's public and private colleges and universities is Friday when deposits for the upcoming fall semester are due. Louisiana higher education officials were approaching the deadline with much trepidation given a 15% drop in fall enrollment expected nationally because of the coronavirus fallout. About 75% of their institutions' revenues come from what attending students pay. Their fretting appears for naught. With only a few days left, Louisiana institutions have bucked the national trend and report seeing an increase in enrollments fueled largely by students choosing to stay nearer home. LSU reported Monday 14% more applications for the fall, of which 18% more students than usual want to transfer from other colleges. More importantly, about 6,700 of those accepted already have sent in their deposits for the fall semester. That's 10% higher than last year at this time -- meaning the incoming class already is larger than in 2019. Tulane University says it is "on track to hit our enrollment goals for the year."
U. of Tennessee-Knoxville weighs options for fall semester
The University of Tennessee, Knoxville, will consider three options for the fall semester, because nothing is certain under the coronavirus pandemic. Here are the options a task force will present to Chancellor Donde Plowman on May 18: Keep classes fully online with no students returning to campus. Have some classes in person on campus but move back online in case of a coronavirus spike. Have a more normal-looking semester with in-person classes. While it's still too soon to make the final call, Plowman will make a decision after hearing from the task force. As Tennessee and Knox County begin different phases of reopening, no one knows whether the virus will spread more quickly or if the local curve will continue to flatten. Steve Smith, dean of libraries, and Ellen McIntyre, dean of the College of Education, Health and Human Sciences, are the co-chairs for the UT Knoxville Re-Imagining Fall task force. In addition to each campus having its own task force, there is also a task force coordinating efforts across the UT System. If in-person classes are held, they could look different this fall. Changes might need to be made to follow social distancing guidelines, which could mean limiting the number of students allowed in a classroom at one time or relying more heavily on online options, Plowman said Friday.
U. of Kentucky workers: President Capilouto, other top earners should take pay cuts to make up shortfall
More than 100 student employees and community members at the University of Kentucky have sent a letter to state and university officials asking President Eli Capilouto and other top-earning administrators to take pay cuts to make up for an expected $70 million shortfall in the university's next budget. "The University of Kentucky should follow the lead of the University of Louisville and cut salaries of the administrators at the top instead of laying off important staff and cutting promised funding to graduate students," said Zeke Perkins, a graduate instructor in English at UK. UK announced last week that across both the university and UK HealthCare more than 1,700 people would be furloughed. Most of those furloughs -- 1,500 -- were at UK HealthCare. Some health care employees may only be furloughed for a few days. Others could be furloughed for weeks, UK officials said last week.
New students in Arkansas taking virtual campus tours
Getting a feel for the college campus isn't the same this spring for those planning to attend in the fall. Campus visits and, later, student orientations are virtual this year. The restrictions of social distancing amid the covid-19 pandemic present a challenge to colleges trying to recruit students and guide those who have committed to going through the process of enrolling in fall courses. "Summer melt," the phenomenon of committed students failing to ultimately register for courses, weighs on administrators' minds. Will students take a gap year? Will they go to college closer to home? Although the experience is different in light of the pandemic, many questions in the virtual campuses experiences posed by prospective students and parents are the same. Colleges across Arkansas have web pages offering virtual campus tours, with videos talking about landmarks and 360-degree shots of campus.
Texas A&M fast-tracks COVID-19 vaccine
Exciting news on Texas A&M System's battle against the coronavirus. Dr. Jeffrey Cirillo at the Texas A&M Health Science Center is leading a group of world-renown institutions in a clinical trial that could deliver a COVID-19 treatment in six months. He can do this because he is using an existing vaccine, BCG, which has been used for decades. Texas A&M is the first U.S. institution in the clinical trial that has federal approval to test humans, and Dr. Cirillo's team is recruiting and vaccinating health care workers in College Station and Houston this week. If it works as Cirillo believes, the BCG vaccine, which boosts your immune system, could help re-open the economy more safely and buy us time while other researchers pursue a vaccine specific for COVID-19. His partners in the trail include Harvard's School of Public Health, the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, Cedars Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, and the Baylor College of Medicine in Houston.
U. of Missouri sets up portal for voluntary pay cuts
The University of Missouri will allow faculty and staff to take a voluntary pay cut in an attempt to alleviate the loss of state revenue and investment income caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. UM System President Mun Choi has already rolled out pay cuts of 10 percent for three months for himself, chancellors, cabinet-level officers and deans. And he has warned that academic units could see their budgets cut by 12.5 percent or more and for employees to be prepared for layoffs. Reports from various academic and support units on the Columbia campus in response to Gov. Mike Parson's decision to withhold $36.9 from the UM System are due Thursday, campus spokesman Christian Basi said Monday. The voluntary pay cuts won't replace those decisions, Associate Vice Chancellor for Human Resources Patty Haberberger warned in a message sent to faculty and staff. "While we appreciate the generosity and dedication of those who choose to participate, please keep in mind that these actions will not eliminate the need for other steps to reduce payroll costs during this unprecedented pandemic and the related financial uncertainty," Haberberger wrote. "Those who volunteer may still be subject to furloughs, layoffs, salary reductions or other actions."
With Campuses Closed, College Tours Move Online
Virtual coffees with college students for high school juniors. Zoom sessions between applicants and admissions officers. Student guides offering welcoming messages in video selfies and scenic views of university campuses captured by drones. This is what spring college tour season looks like across America, where universities are going to great lengths to show off lecture halls, green space, libraries and laboratories that have all been emptied out by the pandemic, albeit online. Carefully planned road trips with parents have been suddenly scrapped, leaving many students to wonder how they will experience campuses's true vibes on the internet. Prospective students are benefiting from some universities that are making individual counselors, financial aid officers and professors available for one-on-one Zoom meetings. But disappointment is setting in for some students who had been relying on campus visits to get a true feel for the place.
Job and internship market discourages students
Many college students typically have secured summer internships or postgraduation jobs by the time the academic year comes to a close. Those who haven't gotten internships or found permanent work are usually scanning opportunities posted on job boards or listed through their college career centers. Things look very different this spring. The coronavirus pandemic has forced many employers, whose offices are shuttered and whose revenues are trending downward, to rescind or shorten previously offered internships and jobs. With the country facing economic uncertainty and businesses deeply worried about their bottom line, employers are reconsidering investments in future talent, said Shawn VanDerziel, executive director of the National Association of College Employers, or NACE, a professional organization for college career services officials and recruiters. The healthy job market that existed just months ago is gone, and this has heightened the anxieties of college seniors worried about postgraduate employment, said Sharon Hansen, director of career and postgraduate development at Ursinus College, a private liberal arts college in Collegeville, Pa.
Private polling offers another warning sign about college admissions season
As the traditional May 1 college decision day approaches, admissions leaders have been expressing concern that a significant number of students who've paid deposits promising to attend certain campuses will opt against enrolling because of the coronavirus pandemic. Such decisions could upend the models colleges and universities use to build their freshman classes -- and to balance their budgets. Today, newly released data from polling of U.S. high school seniors suggest admissions officers may have good reason to be worried. About 12 percent of such students who have already made deposits no longer plan to attend a four-year college full-time, according to the polling. The findings are being shared today by the consulting firm Art & Science Group, which polled 1,171 high school seniors from April 21-24. Admissions officers always expect some students who told a college they planned to attend not to enroll. The phenomenon has a name: summer melt. Different surveys show summer melt affecting between 10 percent and 20 percent of students. But the new data specifically about students who have already deposited is particularly concerning coming at this point in this particular year, said Nanci Tessier, senior vice president at Art & Science.
President Trump's Speech to Bring 1,000 West Point Cadets Back to Campus
For President Trump, who adores the pomp and precision of military ceremonies, this was the year he would finally get one of the special perks of being president -- delivering the commencement address at West Point, the only service academy where he has not spoken. But the graduation was postponed because of the coronavirus, the cadets were sent home and officials at the school were not sure when it would be held or even whether it was a good idea to hold it. The Naval Academy, for its part, decided it was too risky to recall its nearly 1,000 graduating midshipmen to Annapolis, Md., for a commencement. Those graduates will have a virtual event. But the Air Force Academy, in contrast to the other schools, sent home its underclassmen, locked down its seniors on campus, moved up graduation, mandated social distancing -- and went ahead with plans for Vice President Mike Pence to be its speaker. And so last Friday, the day before Mr. Pence was to speak at the Air Force ceremony in Colorado, Mr. Trump, never one to be upstaged, abruptly announced that he would, in fact, be speaking at West Point. That was news to everyone, including officials at West Point, according to three people involved with or briefed on the event.
U. of Utah prepares for its first virtual graduation
Ordinarily, commencement ceremonies at the University of Utah are loud, joyful celebrations in the Jon M. Huntsman Center with speakers appearing larger than life on the arena's center-hung, four-sided video screens. This year, the COVID-19 pandemic has pushed the event to the small screen as the University of Utah will conduct its first virtual commencement at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, when in-person rites were originally scheduled. The commencement ceremonies will feature keynote speaker John Warnock, Adobe Inc. co-founder who earned three degrees from the U., and student speaker Miranda Stewart, who is graduating with majors in sociology and international studies. As the speakers have prepared for the event, they have rehearsed by speaking to video cameras, a far different experience than addressing a basketball arena full of graduates, academics, and proud family and friends.
Citing 'zero lethal threat' to students, Purdue works to reopen college for fall 2020
Nothing beats the campus experience at Purdue University, not even the coronavirus. That's what officials at the Indiana university are hoping anyway, with President Mitch Daniels floating plans to reopen campus for in-person classes in the fall while saying the COVID-19 virus "poses close to zero lethal threat" to young people. Purdue was among the first wave of colleges to announce a shift from in-person classes in early March, leaving students, faculty and staff to adapt quickly to an online setting by transitioning course material and operating online video platforms like Zoom for classes and meetings. Now, as some states move to reopen nonessential businesses and boost the economy, Purdue and Daniels are at the forefront of efforts to put students back on campus for the fall.
Will college campuses reopen in the fall? If they do, expect changes: 'All of this is in uncharted waters'
Crowded lecture halls and shared dormitories have come to define the college experience, but those campus activities might be on the chopping block next year even if students can return. Whether campuses can fully reopen in the fall remains the central -- and elusive -- question. While some Illinois schools say they hope to make a determination in June or July, the outcome will largely hinge on how public health experts evaluate the threat of the coronavirus. The decision will also depend on when Gov. J.B. Pritzker lifts the state's stay-at-home order. On Thursday, he extended the order for a second time, so it won't expire until at least the end of May. Timothy Killeen, president of the University of Illinois System, said he hopes the school's decision to cover tuition increases for new in-state undergraduates at its campuses in Urbana-Champaign, Chicago and Springfield will encourage students to attend.
President Gordon Gee Looks To Future of WVU, Higher Education
Higher education is undergoing a dramatic change in the wake of COVID-19, West Virginia University President Gordon Gee said. The university last month closed its campus and moved to online learning because of the response to the pandemic. "Universities now need to look into the future in a much different way," he said on Tuesday. "What we thought would be happening 10 years from now is going to happen tomorrow." Gee said West Virginia's stay-at-home order and social distancing guidelines have made traditional college classes impossible. Those orders and guidelines may be lifted or eased in the future, but it has shown multiple weaknesses in the current college format, he said. Gee said some experts predict many of the nation's smaller colleges will vanish due to the coronavirus closures, but Gee said it is an opportunity for all higher education institutions to find their niche.
Senators Urge Congress to Activate Food Assistance Program for Students
To help college students access food and nutrition during the COVID-19 pandemic, Senators Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Kamala Harris (D-CA), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Chris Murphy (D-CT) and 14 of their colleagues called for the activation of the Disaster Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (D-SNAP), in a letter sent to Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell and minority leader Chuck Schumer, said a press statement. The senators' statement comes after the U.S. Department of Agriculture denied multiple states' request to waive the college student eligibility rules for the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP. Many argue that SNAP's requirements for students, such as working at least 20 hours per week or having dependent children under age 12, are too stringent -- especially in the face of the country's rising unemployment due to the pandemic.
College Campuses Must Reopen in the Fall. Here's How We Do It.
Christina Paxson, the president and a professor of economics and public policy at Brown University, writes in The New York Times: The extent of the crisis in higher education will become evident in September. The basic business model for most colleges and universities is simple -- tuition comes due twice a year at the beginning of each semester. Most colleges and universities are tuition dependent. Remaining closed in the fall means losing as much as half of our revenue. ... The reopening of college and university campuses in the fall should be a national priority. Institutions should develop public health plans now that build on three basic elements of controlling the spread of infection: test, trace and separate. ... I am cautiously optimistic that campuses can reopen in the fall, but only if careful planning is done now.
Help others cope with pandemic fear and anxiety
Syndicated columnist Bill Crawford of Meridian writes: As the COVID-19 virus ravages our economy and health systems, it also exacts a heavy emotional toll through fear, despair, anxiety, depression, and frustration. Pew Research Center reported, "Health experts are concerned about the potential mental health effects of the coronavirus outbreak in the United States, and mental health hotlines report a substantial uptick in calls since the outbreak began." ... While many of us will battle to cope with stressful emotions, each of us should intentionally reach out to others to help them cope. ... During this stressful time, family, friends, and church members can play a more proactive role to head off tragedy. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says, "Helping others cope with their stress can also make your community stronger."
Using big data and AI to find fraud
State Auditor Shad White writes: The Office of the State Auditor is using new technology to look at more government transactions for fraud than ever before. The techniques we are using today were not available ten or, in some cases, even five years ago. Criminals should be more worried about the Auditor's office than ever. To understand the power of this technology, let's compare it to farming. If you were a farmer who wanted to test the quality of your soil, you might take a sample of dirt from one corner of your field, then drive across the field and take another small sample, then perhaps another, and then send those samples to be tested. This is sort of how traditional auditing works. It's too onerous for auditors to examine how every penny was spent. Instead, we take samples. We do so to make sure those sampled expenditures do not contain signs of fraud.
Pandemic offers resilient Mississippi a chance to embrace a brighter future
Hu Meena, president and CEO of C Spire, writes in the Mississippi Business Journal: My favorite streaming video program during the COVID-19 virus stay-at-home lockdown has not been about tigers and their crazy trainer, Joe Exotic, from the wildly popular Netflix docuseries. Nor has it been about Scottie Pippin and the other guy who played professional basketball with him on the Chicago Bulls. The one I've enjoyed the most is a series entitled The Chosen about the time of Jesus' earthly ministry which has brought that profound era to life for me in new and compelling ways. The last few years of His life here on earth literally changed the world forever. In a scene from one of the early episodes, disciple Simon Peter states how different an activity or task prescribed by Jesus is compared to the way it had always been done. The character playing Jesus replies, "Get used to different." While that phrase is not mentioned in the Bible, it resonated with me because everything is so different now compared to two months ago and, I believe, will remain different for a long time. If so, fine. Let's not pine away for the past. Let's learn from this change, embrace different and move Mississippi forward.

Congress, the NCAA and Athlete Compensation Is a Battle Far From Over
Amid the items on a giant bookshelf in Cory Booker's high-ceilinged office is an unmistakable brown object absent from many other places on Capitol Hill. The football isn't from any noteworthy game during Booker's career as a Stanford tight end. It holds no sentimental value or special worth. Its purpose is quite simple. "I like to throw it around in here sometimes," smiles the New Jersey Democratic senator. Sports and politics? These days, the two entities are colliding more than ever, extending well beyond the walls of Booker's seventh-floor office, seeping into congressional committee rooms and marbled hallways, finding their way even to the elegant rooms of the White House. For months, the NCAA amateurism model has been in the crosshairs of the country's most powerful elected body. This week marks a sentinel moment in the debate. The NCAA board of governors is expected to adopt recommendations from an NIL working group that pave the way for athletes to earn compensation through their name, image and likeness.
Former Ole Miss Assistant David Saunders Sues The NCAA
Former Ole Miss football assistant coach David Saunders has filed a lawsuit against the NCAA. Saunders was found guilty of NCAA rules violations in 2017. The NCAA ruling the penalties occurred while at Ole Miss and Louisiana-Lafayette. The lawsuit claims that the NCAA violated the Due Process Clause of the Mississippi Constitution, and Saunders' attorney, Jim Waide, said the show causes placed on Saunders have "banned him from coaching for a total of 16 years."
UF's Dan Mullen more hopeful than optimistic about season
Like everyone else out there, Florida's Dan Mullen has no way of knowing right now whether there will be college football in the fall. There's simply no way to accurately predict. But he can say this: he's hopeful. A whole lot hopeful, as a matter of fact. "I don't know (if I'm) optimistic. I think more hopeful," Mullen said Monday on a Zoom interview with the media. "That's probably a better word. Because right now we have such trying times, there's so much we're still learning, that we don't know about, that it's hard to project where we'll be in four months. But I'm certainly hopeful. Hopeful that we find a vaccine and a cure. Hopeful that people are working hard to limit the spread of everything going on. Hopeful that people are trying as best they can to follow the regulations and making the most out of each day that's going on. And hopeful we get back to whatever our new normal is going to be, and that includes having a football season this fall. I would say I'm much more hopeful than optimistic." or now, the new normal for Mullen is staying at home, working from home.
Ross Bjork: July 1 return needed to start college football season on time
Texas A&M football players would need to return to training around July 1 for the season to begin as scheduled, Aggie athletic director Ross Bjork said in a video Monday. Bjork opened up his weekly town hall video with a question from an A&M fan asking when normal operations might resume after spring sports and practices were canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic. "You need six to eight weeks to really prepare, and that includes training camp and fall practice lead up to the first game," Bjork said in the video, citing information from coaches and team medical professionals. "Could you do it with four? Perhaps, but that will probably take some virtual training before that happens. We really need to be back on campus, we believe, by July 1. Anything past that, you are going to have to accelerate things or do some things virtually to get ready." Earlier this spring, head coach Jimbo Fisher confirmed with The Eagle a July timetable, similar to that presented by Bjork, to open the season Sept. 5 vs. Abilene Christian.
Gamecocks hire new running backs coach, USC board approves other athletic contracts
The coaching carousel kept spinning through the coronavirus shutdown, and South Carolina had to catch up. The Gamecocks hired Des Kitchings to coach their running backs on Friday, USC's Board of Trustees agreeing to a one-year, $300,000 contract. Kitchings fills the hole created by the departure of former offensive coordinator/wide receivers coach Bryan McClendon for a similar position at Oregon. USC also amended the contracts of men's basketball assistant coaches Perry Clark ($265,000) and Chuck Martin ($300,000); women's basketball associate head coach Lisa Boyer ($300,000); softball coach Beverly Smith ($201,430); track & field coach Curtis Frye ($201,572 plus $50,000 media compensation); and men's golf coach Bill McDonald ($170,037). All were given one-year extensions with no salary increases. USC also has a contract with South Carolina's emergency medical division allowing the Volleyball Competition Facility to be used for overflow emergency medical housing, if the need ever arises.
Meet the Auburn grad and behind-the-scenes star who saved the NFL Draft
Michelle McKenna could barely sleep Wednesday night. Between the excessive amounts of caffeine coursing through her body from long days of preparation and the mounting stress from one of the most ambitious broadcast endeavors ever, sleep was ancillary for McKenna, the NFL's Chief Information Officer. Over the next three days, 255 NFL hopefuls would see their dreams become reality as the NFL conducted the most unconventional and complex draft in league history as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. At the center of it all was McKenna. While the spotlight shined on the league's newest crop of rookies, the behind-the-scenes star of the production was the relatively little-known Auburn graduate-turned-NFL IT boss working from her North Palm Beach home office. McKenna has been overseeing the NFL's computer systems for nearly eight years, but nothing compared to the undertaking of the last three weeks.
2 charged for attempting to steal beer from Tennessee's Neyland Stadium
Two people are charged with attempting to steal more than $600 worth of beer after breaking into Neyland Stadium on the University of Tennessee campus over the weekend, according to arrest warrants. Police were dispatched shortly before 11 p.m. Saturday after as many as five people were spotted on security cameras inside the football stadium. Officers arrived to catch three people inside the perimeter fencing near Gate 22. Two of the suspects were carrying 24 beers apiece. Beers at Neyland Stadium are sold for $12-13 each. The total beers between them were valued at $624, the warrants read. Rachel N. Barber, 20 of Nashville, and Spencer Ranencio Ngumuya, 19, of Osceola, Indiana, both admitted to crawling under the fencing to gain access to the locked stadium, and then deciding to steal the beers once they spotted them inside a walk-in cooler, the warrants state. Both were arrested on burglary charges.
Texas Tech to cut $6.7 million from athletics budget
The Texas Tech athletics department will reduce its operating budget for the 2020-21 school year by at least $6.7 million, with about one-fourth of the savings to come from athletics director Kirby Hocutt and his coaches forgoing bonuses to which they'd otherwise be entitled. The cutbacks come in response to the sports-world shutdown related to the coronavirus pandemic and follows actions other universities big and small have taken over the past month to deal with a business slowdown. Hocutt cautioned the $6.7 million cutback is based on the assumption of a normal 12-game regular season in football, which is not a given with no clear-cut time frame for a return to play. Hocutt said more drastic measures, including pay cuts and restructuring debt service, will be considerations if the shutdown carries into football season.

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