Thursday, April 30, 2020   
Mississippi State University provost chairs IHL Safe Start Task Force
Mississippi Commissioner of Higher Education Alfred Rankins Jr. has announced that Mississippi State University Provost and Executive Vice President David R. Shaw will chair the 16-member Mississippi Institutions of Higher Learning's Safe Start Task Force as the state's university system considers opening campuses in a safe and effective manner. Joining Shaw on the IHL task force is MSU Vice President for Student Affairs Regina Hyatt. Rankins appointed two administrators from each of the state's eight public universities to comprise the task force. "I'm deeply encouraged to see the leadership of our university system taking concrete steps toward envisioning and defining what reopening our universities for the Fall 2020 semester would look like and formulating policies to facilitate that action," said MSU President Mark E. Keenum.
IHL commissioner creates task force for starting fall 2020 semester
Dr. Alfred Rankins Jr., commissioner of higher education for the state of Mississippi, has established a 16-member Safe Start Task Force to develop a plan for universities to start and complete the fall 2020 semester "in the safest and most effective way." "The COVID-19 pandemic has created unprecedented disruption to all facets of our society and university operations are not excluded," Rankins said. "Regardless of the challenges, our universities are committed to providing the best and safest educational experience possible for their students and the most productive and safest work environment for their employees." Mississippi State University Provost and Executive Vice President Dr. David Shaw will serve as chair of the task force. MSU President Mark E. Keenum said he has tremendous confidence in how Shaw and the university's other task force member, Vice President for Student Affairs Dr. Regina Hyatt, will contribute to the work of the IHL task force.
Safe Start Task Force to help decide when students will return to MSU
The big question for all colleges and universities right now is simple. When will it be safe to return to campus? Mississippi Institutions of Higher Learning is designating a new "safe start task force" to answer that question. At Mississippi State University, there are two people on the force: Provost and Executive Vice President Dr. David Shaw and Vice President of Student Affairs Dr. Regina Hyatt. Dr. Hyatt said there are a number of new practices the university will be looking into when students return to campus. "That includes a whole range of potential around physical distancing and other spread reduction techniques that we might take on as a campus, how we might facilitate testing for our students, faculty, and staff, as well as just general practices around our academic presentations of courses," said Dr. Hyatt.
Virtual graduations in Mississippi: Universities to honor students amid coronavirus outbreak
Colleges and universities across Mississippi will hold virtual commencement ceremonies beginning Friday to honor spring 2020 graduates. The ceremonies, planned to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, do not replace traditional graduations. Institutions have given graduates the option to participate in a traditional ceremony at a later date. Here's a roundup of how colleges and universities in Mississippi plan to honor graduates. Mississippi State University will hold a virtual commencement to recognize its spring 2020 graduates. The ceremony will be live streamed at 2 p.m. on May 1 from the university's home page. Mark Keenum, president of the university, will award degrees and address the new graduates. The university encourages graduates to share their experience by posting photos on social media with the hashtag (#MSSTATEGRAD). "I feel the deep disappointment our graduates feel," Keenum said in a letter to the university. "This is not what any of us could have envisioned for the end of the Spring 2020 semester and the completion of an important time in the lives of our graduating class. I look forward to these events as we take time to celebrate the accomplishments of our outstanding graduates."
International Association of Campus Law Enforcement Administrators Elects New Association Leaders
The International Association of Campus Law Enforcement Administrators (IACLEA) recently elected new members to its Board of Directors. Patrick Ogden was elected to serve as Association president-elect in 2020-2021, followed by a term as president in 2021-2022, and immediate past president in 2022-2023. John Ojeisekhoba was elected to serve as the vice president for finance for the 2020-2023 term. Kristen Roman was elected to serve as director-at-large for the 2020-2023 term. Jim Pollard (North Atlantic), Vance Rice (Southeast), and Michael Thompson (Southwest) were elected to serve as regional directors for the 2020-2023 term. Chief Rice joined Mississippi State University in July 2014 as Chief of Police following 25 years of service at the University of Arkansas Police Department where he rose to Captain before retiring. During his time there, he worked in or led many divisions, he also earned a Bachelor's Degree in Human Resource Management and a Master's Degree in Operations Management, both from the University of Arkansas.
Flexsteel to close Starkville facility
Flexsteel Industries is closing its Starkville and Dubuque, Iowa, manufacturing facilities. Why? The company said the closures are because of declining customer demand and changing market conditions due to the coronavirus pandemic. In late March, both facilities were temporarily shut down because of drops in demand as many of its customers shut down in the wake of the pandemic. "It has become clear that what was thought to be a short-term hit to these two already challenged businesses will now extend well into the future and will likely not return to pre-pandemic levels for some time," Jerry Dittmer, the Flexsteel president and CEO, said. The Starkville facility employs approximately 170 people and produces products for both recreational vehicle and hospitality customers.
Face masks increasing tool for cities
The largest college towns in north Mississippi are relying on masking requirements as they steer into the prospect of easing open increased economic activity amid the ongoing threat posed by COVID-19. Gov. Tate Reeves allowed some previously closed businesses to re-open this week and municipal leaders in Oxford and Starkville have levied or expanded rules requiring the use of face coverings by workers and patrons conducting commerce in those cities. In a special Board of Aldermen meeting Tuesday afternoon, Oxford Mayor Robyn Tannehill emphasized the value she sees from widespread masking. Tupelo, the largest city in Northeast Mississippi, has not imposed any kind of masking requirement. Mayor Jason Shelton said his administration has internally deliberated such an order. In Starkville, all businesses open to the public must require employees and all customers over the age of 6 to wear face coverings. This order is in force through May 11. The order requires that businesses not allow patrons to enter without a face covering.
'It's extremely heartbreaking': After 104 years, Delta community's newspaper closes
long with everything else we knew to be a part of normal, everyday life, Bolivar County citizens have now also lost their 104-year-old community newspaper, The Bolivar Commercial. The last issue of the paper ran Wednesday and the company has now permanently shut its doors. "The virus, of course, is naturally the bad timing, but this has probably been coming for about five years now," said Diane Makamson, who was publisher of the paper and had worked at the Bolivar Commercial for 42 years. Birmingham-based company Walls Newspapers owns The Bolivar Commercial. "It is a sad thing to have to announce, and it is something I've spent years and a great deal of money trying to avoid," Lee Walls, president and CEO of Walls Newspapers said to The Bolivar Commercial. Walls added that he has personally covered the paper's financial losses for many years. Though the diminishing of newspapers always comes with societal consequences, the closure of The Bolivar Commercial coincides with a time when verified information is needed more than ever.
Delta's Double Quick in new hands after sale to S.C. buyers
The dozens of Double Quick convenience stores that are a fixture of the Mississippi Delta got new owners in a transaction that closed April 23. Don't worry. You won't have to get used to a new name, new signage, new store d├ęcor or new cashiers. Current store locations and the Double Quick corporate store workforce will remain, said Tom Gresham, Double Quick president and CEO. Double Quick and its 41 Delta stores and eight Arkansas stores are the latest acquisition of Charleston, S.C.-based Refuel. The 12-year-old seller of food and gasoline has been on a buying spree since its 2018 acquisition by Texas private equity firm First Reserve. With First Reserve, Refuel went on to acquire 30 stores from West Oil Inc. and Bishopville-Petroleum. They followed that with the $50 million construction of 10 new stores in South Carolina, according to an Associated Press report. Gresham, a former president of the Mississippi Economic Council, will wrap up a one-year term as president of the Delta Council on June 1. As an officer and shareholder of Gresham Petroleum, he said he expects the firm will find a place for him. He'll also be serving on the executive committee of Gov. Tate Reeves' Restart Mississippi, a group Reeves will consult on the timing and steps toward removing restrictions related to the coronavirus.
30 million have sought US unemployment aid since virus hit
More than 3.8 million laid-off workers applied for unemployment benefits last week as the U.S. economy slid further into a crisis that is becoming the most devastating since the 1930s. Roughly 30.3 million people have now filed for jobless aid in the six weeks since the coronavirus outbreak began forcing millions of employers to close their doors and slash their workforces. That is more people than live in the New York and Chicago metropolitan areas combined, and it's by far the worst string of layoffs on record. It adds up to more than one in six American workers. With some signs that the viral outbreak may have plateaued at least in certain areas of the country, a few governors have taken tentative steps to begin reopening their economies. But surveys show that a large majority of Americans remain wary of returning to shopping, traveling and other normal economic activity. That suggests that many industries will struggle with diminished revenue for weeks or months to come and might be unable to rehire laid-off workers.
Sen. Roger Wicker, Cindy Hyde-Smith join Gov. Tate Reeves at coronavirus briefing
Gov. Tate Reeves was joined by Mississippi Senators Roger Wicker and Cindy Hyde-Smith at a Wednesday press conference about the state's response to the spread of the coronavirus. The trio praised each other and the actions of the federal government, particularly President Donald Trump, and urged Mississippians to remain vigilant about stopping transmission of COVID-19. Wicker and Hyde-Smith did not take questions from reporters. "Let me emphasize this: Reopening the economy does not mean ignoring the virus," Wicker said. "We can and should be smart about the pandemic while getting back to work." Hyde-Smith warned that a second wave of cases could arise if Mississippi isn't careful moving forward. Reeves told reporters that business owners who decide to reopen their shops and stores should be exempt from lawsuits related to the coronavirus. Reeves said he didn't think he, as governor, had the authority to order liability protection for business owners, but he urged Mississippi lawmakers -- as well as the U.S. Congress -- to pass such a law.
Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith: 'I don't think we're going to go back to business as normal'
Mississippi's Senate delegation joined Governor Tate Reeves Wednesday to discuss the state's response to coronavirus. There was a lot of discussion about the kind of can-do-attitude Mississippians have displayed in this crisis. And there was the recognition that it's every single state jockeying for those federal resources. "As we reopen recover, we need a huge expansion of testing," said Sen. Roger Wicker. "Congress appropriated twenty-five-billion for testing last week." "We're going to be changed forever," noted Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith. "I don't think we're going to go back to business as normal and we don't need to go back to business as normal because it is there. We're still under a significant threat." Reeves says he's also working with federal partners to get more rapid testing capabilities. He also notes that the state will act quickly on distributing the federal CARES Act money.
Gov. Tate Reeves backs lawsuit protection for businesses during virus
Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves said Wednesday that he will ask state lawmakers to provide legal protection for businesses that might be sued if they reopen and customers or employees become ill with COVID-19. "I am supportive of Mississippi providing liability protection for those businesses that are getting back open," Republican Reeves said in response to questions during a news conference. "I think that would be a very good step for the state of Mississippi, and I will encourage our leaders in the Mississippi Legislature to pass legislation to do that." Reeves said he does not think he could provide liability protection through an executive order. The Legislature is scheduled to return to the Capitol on May 18 to restart its session that was put on hold in mid-March because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Mississippi Public Service Commission asks Sen. Roger Wicker to speed up broadband funding program
The Mississippi Public Service Commission on Wednesday sent a letter to the state's senior U.S. senator urging him to help speed the process of disbursing federal money intended to help improve rural internet access. The Federal Communications Commission currently plans to hold an auction in October that will begin awarding money from the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund. The commission, made up of two Republicans and one Democrat, sent the letter to U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Tupelo). The commission wants Wicker to either encourage the FCC to amend its timeline or to file a bill in the Senate to override the current FCC auction timeline and require the agency to begin awarding funds to uncontested bidders with projects ready to begin. Wicker is the chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, which has oversight of the FCC. Brandon Presley, the Northern District Public Service Commissioner, told the Daily Journal that some studies estimate that Mississippi could receive approximately $940 million in federal grant money. If the bidding process was able to start early, Presley believes this could inject needed funds into the state's economy.
Legislative leaders plan early return to Jackson to strip Gov. Tate Reeves of CARES Act spending authority
Legislative leaders spent most of the day Wednesday discussing plans to return to the Capitol as early as Monday to consider legislation that would keep Gov. Tate Reeves from having sole spending authority over the $1.25 billion coronavirus stimulus windfall from the federal government. Reeves has said the past several weeks that he would dole out the CARES Act funds himself but has added that he would work with lawmakers and that "the Legislature should have a significant role in how that money is spent." But legislative leadership worked this week to take matters into their own hands, aiming to return to the Capitol as soon as Monday to pass legislation that would strip Reeves of the spending power, several lawmakers told Mississippi Today on Wednesday. House Speaker Philip Gunn, the third-term Republican, called GOP caucus members in a conference call on Wednesday night and told them to be prepared for a Monday return to consider the legislation. Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann, the first-term Republican, called most of the state's 52 senators in several phone calls on Wednesday to discuss the governor's spending authority.
Commissioner Gipson Encourages Public to Participate in Safe Horse Auction and Deviney Trainers Challenge
Commissioner of Agriculture and Commerce Andy Gipson encourages the public to participate in the upcoming Safe Horse Auction and Deviney Trainers Challenge beginning Friday, May 1. The Challenge portion of the event will be broadcast via Facebook Live and the Auction will be held by scheduled appointments between buyers and sellers. "I want to encourage everyone looking for a horse to participate in the upcoming Safe Horse Auction. This unique event is the perfect way for those looking to buy a horse to find one that matches their specific skill level," said Commissioner Andy Gipson. "For fun entertainment while practicing social distancing, you can watch as trainers compete in the Deviney Trainers Challenge showing off their horseman skills on Facebook this Friday night." The Safe Horse Project, coordinated by Mississippi Horse Rescue, Inc., is dedicated to providing programs and events to promote responsible horse ownership and encourage growth and participation in the equine industry.
World Food Programme Executive Director David Beasley says starving nations face huge risk if virus isn't controlled
World Food Programme Executive Director David Beasley says developed nations should not overlook another key danger facing the planet in the age of coronavirus: the possible breakdown of the global food delivery system. The former South Carolina governor says closed seaports and borders, grounded airplanes and vulnerable nations trying to kickstart their own economies all factor into potentially disrupting the delivery of life-saving food. If the pandemic causes the food chain breaks down -- either in availability or the means to deliver it -- the door opens for mass famine and terror groups like ISIS to move in, he said of problems that were hard enough to stave off before the coronavirus. "We cannot pit COVID versus starvation," Beasley told The Post and Courier on Wednesday. "We've got to work these two issues together strategically. We've got to keep the economies rolling. We've got to keep the supply chain moving the best we possible can."
Telemedicine key to US health care even after pandemic ends
Since the public health emergency and the relaxation of rules, the use of telehealth services has exploded across the country, according to the American Telemedicine Association, which represents hospitals, technology companies and others. Doctors, advocacy groups and some lawmakers say that restrictions on widespread use of telemedicine should be lifted permanently once the COVID-19 crisis eases, and are calling on Congress to change laws so they would allow its more unrestricted use. n Congress, lawmakers who have been pushing to expand the use of telemedicine are reviewing how the widespread use of technologies to obtain health care can be sustained once the COVID-19 emergency eases. Sen. Brian Schatz, author of a bipartisan proposal backed by 15 Democrats and 17 Republicans, to expand the use of telehealth, continues to be interested in widespread use of technologies to provide health care, a spokesman for the Hawaii Democrat said. Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith, a Mississippi Republican who has backed the Schatz bill, also is seeking to sustain the expanded use of telehealth, an aide said.
Conservative Americans see coronavirus hope in progressive Sweden
Conservatives have developed a fascination with Sweden's hands-off approach to the coronavirus -- an unexpected twist for a country that once served as a Republican punchline for Bernie Sanders jokes. On the surface, Sweden's approach to containing the coronavirus pandemic is a libertarian dream: Restaurants remain open, as long as they adhere to social-distancing rules. Schools are in session. Salons are in business. And by some metrics, Sweden has fared roughly as well as many of its European neighbors, all of which have instituted much stricter lockdown measures. The combination has made Sweden an object of curiosity -- and a possible model -- for conservatives and libertarians pushing states to relax the strident social-distancing guidelines that have shuttered much of the American economy. But Swedes are quick to point out that their model relies on elements that are antithetical to American conservative philosophy -- namely a high degree of trust in government -- in addition to natural factors such as a less-dense population.
Antiviral Drug Remdesivir Shows Promise For Treating Coronavirus In NIH Study
Preliminary results of a major study of the antiviral drug remdesivir show it can help hospitalized patients with COVID-19 recover faster. Dr. Anthony Fauci hailed the findings, released Wednesday, as "quite good news." "The data shows that remdesivir has a clear-cut, significant, positive effect in diminishing the time to recovery," Fauci said during a meeting with President Trump and Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards. "This is highly significant." The study was sponsored by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, which Fauci leads and which is part of the National Institutes of Health. Fauci said it was the first "truly high powered" randomized placebo-controlled trial of remdesivir, noting that it involved more than 1,000 hospitalized patients at sites in numerous countries. Another randomized controlled trial in China, with results that were also announced Wednesday, was far smaller. The preliminary results showed that patients who received remdesivir recovered 31% faster --- the median time to recovery was 11 days rather than 15 days. The results also suggest a slightly lower mortality rate for the group receiving remdesivir, but until the complete data are analyzed, it's not certain if that effect is significant.
U. of Mississippi remains 'committed' to resuming in-person fall classes
The University of Mississippi provided an update on Wednesday pertaining to the possibility of opening its campuses back up for in-person instruction this fall. In-person instruction on all of the Ole Miss campuses is currently canceled through all summer sessions, and programming on all campuses has been canceled through Aug. 1 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Several universities across the country have announced over the past week their intentions reopen their campuses and resume in-person classes. None of Mississippi's public universities have announced firm plans to do so. The Institutions of Higher Learning announced on Tuesday the formation of the Safe Start Task Force for the state's university system. The task force will craft a system-level plan for starting and completing the fall 2020 semester in the safest and most effective way. Mississippi State University Provost and Executive Vice President Dr. David Shaw will serve as chair of the task force.
'It all got ripped away': Communities, families turn to 'adopt a senior' campaigns as COVID-19 turns year upside down
As the spring semester of her senior year wore on, Khya Gaines, valedictorian of the Vicksburg High School class of 2020, began focusing her attention on making memories with her classmates: senior prom, field day and graduation. But those moments were quickly snatched away when Mississippi schools closed for the remainder of the year as COVID-19 cases have continued to spread across the state. "I was more upset than sad," Gaines said. "During the school year, it was all about people completing the year and at the end of the year, it was actually gonna be the time we had fun together and (was going to be) more relaxing." Gaines is one of nearly 29,000 high school seniors in the state's public schools this year who are missing out on much anticipated rites of passage like senior trips and walking the stage for an in-person graduation ceremony. Gov. Tate Reeves made the decision earlier this month to close school buildings for the remainder of the school year, halting all of those senior year moments.
Mississippi School for Mathematics and Science hosting online enrichment camps this summer
Mississippi School for Mathematics and Science is launching its first online enrichment camp this summer. The school, which is located on the Mississippi University for Women campus, typically hosts two residential camps each summer. The camps are for rising 7th and 8th-grade students and rising 9th and 10th-grade students. However, because of the coronavirus pandemic, things have changed this year. Full STEAM Ahead: MSMS Online Enrichment Camp will be held from July 6 to July 17. By moving the camps online, the camps are no longer limited to just Mississippi residents, the schools announced. The camps allow students to delve into STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) and fine arts concepts through interactive, hands-on lessons, virtual meetings and discussion boards from the comfort of their own home.
U. of Alabama planning to reopen for fall: 'We fully expect to have on-campus instruction'
The University of Alabama system intends to return to on-campus instruction for the upcoming fall semester barring any more extenuating circumstances or health risks, said Finis E. St. John IV, chancellor of The University of Alabama System. "We are expecting to have a fall semester at all of our universities," St. John told in an interview on Wednesday. "We are expecting it to be on the regular schedule. We understand that things could happen that make it impossible, but that's what we are planning for at this time." The announcement comes after almost two months of remote instruction for the University of Alabama students at the system's three campuses. How classes will be conducted safely is still up in the air, the chancellor said. "Now, what will be the parameters of that?" St. John said. "Will it be smaller classes where you alternate between in-person and online? Will you have the option to be in-person or online? All of these things are being decided by the task force and guided by the safety of the students."
U. of Alabama System suffers millions in losses, considering pay cuts and furloughs
The state may be taking small steps to reopen, but the impact on Alabama's largest higher education system could be long-lasting. The University of Alabama system -- UA, University of Alabama at Birmingham, and University of Alabama in Huntsville -- is suffering millions of dollars in losses despite initial cuts. System Chancellor Finis E. St. John IV said he expects more cuts to come for the system's campuses. "We hope not to impose layoffs and furloughs, but I do expect that there may be some of that," he said in an interview with on Wednesday. "We are considering reducing some benefits for some employees. We are considering whether we need to reduce salaries. All of those things are under consideration." The chancellor said he expects the University of Alabama at Birmingham to make announcements regarding financial changes soon. Such cuts would come after the Birmingham-based UAB medical system announced losses amounting to $70 million a month because of the suspension of elective surgeries.
Auburn University Housing resuming move-outs on May 1
Auburn University Housing announced on April 28 that it will continue weekend move-out days starting May 1 following Gov. Kay Ivey's message that Alabama's stay-at-home order will expire on April 30. Students with belongings in residence halls may enter buildings again on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. each day through June 28, according to University Housing. "We are working with our Property Management staff to clean the residence halls between weekends, so please know that we are not able to accommodate requests outside of these dates," University Housing said. Residents are advised to coordinate move-out times with roommates if others in a unit also need to return to campus because of the Centers for Disease Control's social distancing guidelines. The University asks that no more than two people are to accompany visitors for move-outs, and that visitors should spend no longer than two hours per move-out day in buildings.
LSU Foundation to lay off employees
LSU confirmed Wednesday night that its fund-raising arm will lay off many of its 140 employees Thursday morning, in part another casualty of the coronavirus pandemic. LSU Foundation spokeswoman Sara Whittaker would not say how many jobs will be lost until leadership had a chance to meet personally with each person getting a pink slip. "It's a meaningful cut, a significant number of positions," she told The Advocate and Times-Picayune. Part of the reason is a shift in a five-year-old strategy from soliciting longer-term donations, such as people leaving money to LSU in their will, to a shorter-term effort to raise immediate cash for scholarships, capital projects and flexible dollars that deans can use to pay for pressing needs. For instance, many departments used the money to get faculty up to speed to teach students online. Coupled with the strategy change is the impact COVID-19 had on the foundation's budget, she said.
LSU hopes to start phased return to campus around May 15 after coronavirus order expires
A day after Gov. John Bel Edwards extended Louisiana's coronavirus stay-at-home order, LSU has announced it hopes to return to campus around May 15. The new order is set to expire on May 15. Interim LSU president Tom Galligan says the phased return would be "deliberate" and the university would be sure to follow state and federal guidelines. The full return could take "weeks or even months," he wrote. Some faculty and staff members will return to campus now, however, due to the governor's new order. Those members are part of research initiatives, Galligan said. "Meanwhile, the Governor's order did relax a few restrictions, giving us the opportunity to allow certain research initiatives to continue or restart based upon the plans previously submitted," Galligan wrote. "This will bring a handful of faculty and staff members back to campus now. "
UGA planning for in-person classes this fall, summer gradual reopening
The University of Georgia and other state public colleges are planning to resume in-person classes this fall semester, according to UGA President Jere Morehead who Wednesday announced a "phased, gradual reopening over the summer." "We are anticipating a resumption of in-person instruction for the Fall Semester beginning in August 2020 for all USG institutions," wrote Morehead, who has been working with four other University System of Georgia presidents to formulate a plan to resume operations. "Chancellor Wrigley has accepted our recommendation to form working groups across all 26 USG institutions to consider a staggered, phased-in approach that is appropriate for the unique needs of each campus in the coming weeks," Morehead wrote in a letter to UGA faculty, staff and students. Morehead has established nine working groups to work on the transition, including groups for workplace and health safety, instruction, research, public service and outreach, student life, enrollment management, athletics, communications and fiscal impact.
New UK study backs up Kentucky policy: Healthy at Home has saved 2,000 lives in state so far
A new study out of the University of Kentucky backs up Kentucky's stay at home policy with dramatic numbers, estimating that without "Healthy at Home," Kentucky would have had 10 times more COVID-19 cases and 2,000 more deaths as of April 25. But what's really interesting is that the study was authored by professors at the UK Institute for the Study of Free Enterprise, which is funded by the Koch Foundation and home to the same free market philosophy that advocates reopening the economy without delay. "What we do is we look at data and follow it where it goes," said Aaron Yelowitz, an economics professor who co-authored the study along with the Institute's director Charles Courtemanche, UofL professor Joshua Pinkston, and graduate students Anh Le and Joseph Garuccio. "If the data told us something different, we would have written a different paper, but the data very clearly spoke to the fact that social distancing and the stay at home orders really do matter."
Vanderbilt University facing class-action lawsuit over handling of tuition, fees amid COVID-19
A Vanderbilt University student is suing the Nashville institution to get back the tuition, fees and housing costs he feels should be refunded after he left campus amid the COVID-19 shut down. The freshman student, unnamed in the suit filed Tuesday in federal court, moved back to Illinois mid-March when the school's chancellor closed residence halls and encouraged students to prepare for online learning. When he reached out to the school for information on how to obtain a refund for any of the fees he'd paid, he was told that "all students who left campus by March 22 will receive adjustments for housing and meals," according to the suit. The student, referred to in the suit as John Doe, said he left most of his belongings behind in his dorm room and has no ability to retrieve them. The suit was filed as a class action in lieu of the possibility of each of the thousands of Vanderbilt students -- the university reported more than 13,000 students across all levels of learning this year -- filing separately.
When will college students return to campus? Schools begin to plan
Since the coronavirus emptied colleges in March, millions of students have been stuck in limbo as universities grapple with what the fall semester would look like -- or if it would happen. That's left some students, holed up in childhood bedrooms and taking online courses, unsure whether to ink apartment leases, reserve dorms or sign up for science labs or other classes. Now, as pressure builds for decisions, colleges in Kentucky, Indiana, Illinois and elsewhere are increasingly mapping out fall plans, many aiming to return students to campus with social distancing measures and other adjustments -- all contingent on the COVID-19 pandemic sufficiently receding. While a growing number of schools nationally announce intentions, few have ironed out specifics about how exactly the semester will look and function. At the University of Kentucky, for example, the campus "is focused on returning to -- a reinvented or reimagined -- normal operation, which includes a return to a residential campus experience for our students this fall" with the caveat it's still "a very fluid and dynamic situation" that may require adjustments, spokesman Jay Blanton said.
No major changes in Texas A&M University's pandemic operations, president says
Texas A&M University has no plans to reopen the campus beyond what is already taking place, the university's president announced in a letter to the campus community on Wednesday. The announcement comes after Texas Gov. Greg Abbott announced the Thursday expiration of a statewide shelter-in-place order and a phased reopening of certain businesses at limited capacity, to start Friday. "Specifically, the orders do not reduce most guidance for social distancing, gatherings of 10 or more people, personal hygiene or best practice regarding monitoring your personal health. Furthermore, social gatherings and events are still not permitted," President Michael K. Young wrote in the letter. Spring commencement ceremonies are postponed, summer classes will be online and research operations are limited.
Texas A&M wants to run human coronavirus tests in its animal labs
Texas A&M University System officials say they have the largest public laboratory capacity in the state to analyze tests for the new coronavirus. Only one problem: The labs are designed to serve animals, and university system officials say the federal government won't let them use the facilities for human tests. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services generally requires people with human lab experience to oversee human testing. To ramp up coronavirus testing in Texas, the A&M System is seeking a waiver for its Veterinary Medical Diagnostic Laboratory -- but officials say their requests have been denied. A&M System Chancellor John Sharp said the "federal red tape" is preventing Texas from making full use of the lab, which he said has years of experience testing animals using the same method used to test for the coronavirus. "Red tape is one thing, but red tape in the middle of a pandemic is pretty ridiculous," Sharp said in an interview. "This ain't the time to follow the rules, this is the time to follow common sense and open up facilities that they know are some of the best in the country."
Interim Chancellor and System President Mun Choi: Missouri department chairs to decide who will be cut
The chairs of University of Missouri departments will decide who will be laid off, based on needs, Interim Chancellor and System President Mun Choi said Wednesday. Choi made the remarks during the Spring Virtual General Faculty Meeting, conducted as an online video conference and attended by around 400. Some faculty members may decide it's the right time to retire, Choi said. He later added that faculty buyouts aren't planned. "We can't afford it," he said. The campus is preparing for a 12.5 percent cut in its academic operations. Faculty Council Chairman Clark Peters asked whether non-tenure-track faculty would take the brunt of the layoffs. "Many of our most valuable faculty members are NTT," Choi said, using the acronym. "NTT faculty members also give more flexibility to department chairs based on their needs." "My great hope is that we open for the fall," Choi said. "National surveys show students want to return in the fall. We want to make sure it's a safe environment for them."
Financial, research challenges dominate U. of Missouri faculty meeting
Any layoff decisions will take into account how faculty members advance the University of Missouri's goals rather than whether someone is tenure-track or nontenure-track, MU Provost Latha Ramchand said Wednesday during the spring general faculty meeting. Although they were not listed during the meeting, those goals have included developing the research mission, high-quality teaching, intellectual property and economic growth through small businesses and entrepreneurism. The bulk of the meeting was a Q&A with Ramchand and UM System President and MU Interim Chancellor Mun Choi. MU Faculty Council chair Clark Peters moderated the meeting, presenting over 20 questions that faculty members submitted via an online form or email. MU Chief Financial Officer Rhonda Gibler also weighed in on financial questions. Gibler said that in general, if an additional salary cut is made after a voluntary cut, the additional cut will be taken from the faculty or staff member's original salary. She said she would send out a further response to faculty about this matter.
Colleges have released a flurry of statements saying that they will reopen campuses in the fall. Will that plan bear out?
In the last few days, a number of colleges have announced they will be reopening in the fall. Or, maybe, they "plan" to reopen. "Intend" to reopen. The list now includes American University, Baylor University and Haverford College, as well as many others. The numerous announcements have often included caveats, such as "if it is deemed safe" or "depending on guidance from state and federal authorities." Some in higher ed have questioned the value of these statements (doesn't every institution "hope" to reopen in the fall?) as well as how closely a college's intentions will hew to reality. With colleges predicting severe revenue losses from the fall semester, and current students threatening tuition strikes and lawsuits if their fees aren't discounted for online learning, the decision to announce a fall reopening may in some ways be a numbers game for colleges. Students have been more wary than usual about committing to a college, and over 400 institutions have pushed back their traditional deposit deadlines. Jim Keller, a higher education lawyer at the law firm Saul Ewing Arnstein & Lehr, said if colleges choose to reopen, they may see potential disability accommodations claims from staff or students with underlying conditions. Those claims would not be likely to succeed as long as colleges take reasonable effort to accommodate people, he said.
Colleges Are Urged to Reassess Admissions Policies Because of 'Extraordinary Hardships' Covid-19 Poses
Colleges should reassess their standardized-testing policies because of the "extraordinary hardships" the novel coronavirus will pose to the next round of applicants, especially low-income students. That's what the National Association for College Admission Counseling, or NACAC, urged institutions to do in a forceful written statement on Wednesday. Many longstanding admissions practices, the statement said, "take on different meaning in the alternate reality in which we find ourselves." NACAC -- whose members include more than 15,000 admissions officers, high-school counselors, and independent educational consultants -- expressed deep concerns about testing companies' proposals for at-home administration of the ACT and SAT later this year, as well as the revamped Advanced Placement exams that high-school students will take online in May. If high schools do not reopen this fall, the association said, requiring online college-entrance exams would "further jeopardize educational equity and raise legitimate questions about the fairness of admission practices in this cycle."
College students are filing lawsuits and organizing strikes against universities
College campuses are historically ripe spaces for grassroots student activism. For decades, students have organized labor strikes, political protests, and demonstrations to showcase their dissatisfaction with school administrators and current events alike. More recently, student groups from institutions like the University of Chicago, The New School, and Vassar College have been exerting pressure on administrators to issue room and board refunds, make academic concessions, freeze tuition for the upcoming school year, or offer reductions to compensate for online education. Many are threatening to boycott classes or withhold tuition money, and some graduate students -- who are primarily employed by their respective universities -- are petitioning for extended research funding or considering a rent and labor strike. Meanwhile, a handful of students are independently filing class-action lawsuits to demand fair compensation for their shortened academic year.
What are some of the key decision points colleges face?
The novel coronavirus pandemic converted many college and university leaders into fans of scenario planning. It's easy to see why. The fast-shifting landscape and massive changes to core campus operations beg for a mechanism that allows board members, presidents, top administrators and deans to prepare for vastly different futures. Many have attested to scenario planning's usefulness, whether they outline three or 15 different scenarios for the future. But at some point, leaders need to switch from planning to making decisions about which scenarios to follow. Making choices tied to one decision point doesn't preclude future choices changing as more information comes available. In such an unsettled time, the scenarios are always changing, experts stressed. The decision points are, too. In conversations over the last week, leaders and the consultants they work with outlined some of the most important decision points they're watching.

NCAA moving forward with name, image and likeness legislation
The NCAA is embracing change. Wednesday, college sports' governing body announced that its board of governors will move toward players being able to benefit off their name, image and likenesses in the forms of endorsements and promotions. In this model, athletes would be allowed to identify by their sport and school, but the use of trademarks and conference and school logos would not be permitted. The board also noted a university should not pay players for their name, image or likeness at any point. Locally, Mississippi State Athletic Director John Cohen issued the following statement to The Dispatch on the subject: "We recognize and appreciate the important efforts by the NCAA's Federal and State Legislative Working Group in its report today on the topic of name, image and likeness for student-athletes. We will continue to support the best interests of our student-athletes, and the working group's report offers another step in the direction to evaluate name, image and likeness opportunities. We look forward to working to understand and continuing to engage in discussions related to how the proposals will be fairly implemented and executed nationally, while also ensuring the best possible experience and protection for student-athletes."
NCAA Wants to Allow Athletes to Cash In... to a Point
The National Collegiate Athletic Association on Wednesday rolled out its first concrete proposals on how it plans to allow college athletes to cash in on marketing opportunities generated by their collegiate sports prowess. But the debate will likely focus on how the NCAA also wants to limit the opportunities star athletes can generate. The NCAA proposal would allow college athletes to retain agents and profit from their name, image and likeness as long as the association agrees that proposed deals represent fair market value. The new proposal will test the appetite of states, players and federal lawmakers to continue a prolonged fight over the future of college sports. Some of those entities are likely to push for athletes to have a less restrictive path to profiting from their success while in college. The NCAA proposals are the ultimate test of one of the stickiest questions in the compensation debate: Is value generated from the name on the front of the jersey or the name on the back?
Construction projects go forward while sports are on hold at Arkansas
The sports shutdown that ended the seasons for 14 of the University of Arkansas' 19 teams last month hasn't stopped the Razorbacks' construction plans. Work is ongoing to construct two new sport-specific facilities on campus -- the $27 million J.B. Hunt Family Baseball Performance Center and the Frank O'Mara High Performance Track Center, which is expected to cost between $8 million and $10 million. Both buildings are expected to open sometime next year and will house new locker rooms, training areas and coaches' office space, among other features. The 45,000-square-foot baseball center is being built on the southwest side of Baum-Walker Stadium and will include new right-field seating options for Arkansas' home baseball games. The 22,000-square-foot track center is being built on the south side of the Razorbacks' outdoor track stadium, McDonnell Field, to create a horseshoe configuration at the venue. The UA is also in Phase I of renovating the Tyson Indoor Track Center, part of an estimated $19 million overhaul that eventually will remake the interior look of the building.
Steve Shaw talks faking injuries, Iron Bowl review, says Gus Malzahn likes 'to have fun with us'
Steve Shaw admits Auburn coach Gus Malzahn like to have fun with the NCAA Playing Rules Oversight Panel and rules committee. Of course, that's the best way for either side to describe it. Shaw, the NCAA national coordinator of officials, joined Lee Shirvanian and me Wednesday on the "Opening Kickoff" on WNSP-FM 105.5 to talk about rules pertaining to replay, faking injuries and more. In Auburn's 48-45 win over Alabama last season, Anders Carlson hit a 52-yarder to end the first half after instant replay determined there was still one second -- after time ran out -- on the clock. The stoppage of play allowed the Tigers' to set up for the field goal. The new rule now states if time is to be put back on the clock at the end of a half due to a replay stoppage, the half is over, unless there are fewer than three seconds remaining. With the new rule, Gus Malzahn's Tigers wouldn't have gotten a chance at the kick. "It was a fairness perspective," Shaw explained. When asked if the rule was a direct result of the play in question, he said the rule was actually approved three years ago by the rules committee and continued to be discussed since.
NCAA sued by 7 women for failure to protect in alleged sexual assaults
Seven women, including three female athletes, are suing the NCAA, alleging that the organization failed to protect them from alleged sexual assaults by male college athletes, despite having an obligation to do so. The women allege that they were sexually assaulted by male athletes at three institutions: Michigan State, Nebraska and one unnamed Division I college from the America East Conference, according to the lawsuit filed Wednesday in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Michigan. The lawsuit accuses the NCAA of negligence, fraud and breach of contract. It argues that the NCAA, as a regulatory body for college athletics, had a duty to the women "to supervise, regulate, monitor and provide reasonable and appropriate rules to minimize the risk of injury or danger to student-athletes and by student-athletes."

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