Tuesday, May 12, 2020   
CARES Act funding helps area college students pay their bills
The CARES Act, passed by Congress in March, is a $2 trillion COVID-19 relief package that provides funding for large cities, large and small businesses, as well as improved unemployment benefits. It allots more than $14 billion for higher education institutions to cover both the institutions' and the students' costs due to campuses closing and classes becoming online-only. Mississippi State University received $8.9 million, MUW received $1,094,031 and East Mississippi Community College received $1.7 million to distribute to students. Students must apply for the Free Application for Federal Student Aid in order to be considered for CARES funding. MSU Chief Communications Officer Sid Salter estimates about 75 percent of MSU students, or about 17,500, had already filled out FAFSA and the remaining 4,500 students had not before the CARES application opened. MSU's Office of Financial Aid has been "burning the midnight oil" to get CARES money to students quickly, and the amount per student depends on the expenses they can verify during the application process, Salter said.
The dirty history of soap
Judith Ridner, a professor in the Department of History at Mississippi State University, writes for The Conversation: "Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds." That's what the CDC has advised all Americans to do to prevent the spread of COVID-19 during this pandemic. It's common-sense advice. The surfactants found in soap lift germs from the skin, and water then washes them away. Soap is inexpensive and ubiquitous; it's a consumer product found in every household across the country. Yet few people know the long and dirty history of making soap, the product we all rely on to clean our skin. I'm a historian who focuses on material culture in much of my research. As I started digging into what's known about soap's use in the past, I was surprised to discover its messy origins.
Engineering Education in the Time of Covid
Like every segment of society, engineering education has undergone profound change during the Covid-19 pandemic. Shuttered campuses have turned learning virtual, with engineering faculty forced to adopt new technology for teaching and to figure out how to turn what is often a hands-on education into a remote practice. NSPE member faculty are among those adapting to the new reality. At Mississippi State University's college of engineering, Assistant Dean Robert Green, P.E., F.NSPE, says despite understandable anxiety about the pandemic and moving to a new learning environment, faculty and staff seem to be coping well and communications have been positive. The college has a "fairly robust" distance learning program at the graduate level, says Green, including distance classrooms equipped with special recording software. Those tools are now available to all engineering faculty to record lectures for the remainder of the semester. But one challenge has been internet access for students, particularly in the state's more rural areas where high-speed internet is not available.
MSU experts: no Asian hornets in Mississippi
The Asian giant hornet, also called a murder hornet, has been confirmed in the state of Washington. Mississippians likely will not see the aggressive species for some time, if at all, said Mississippi State University Extension Service entomologist Blake Layton. Periodic cicadas are one of four insects found in Mississippi that can be confused with the Asian giant hornet, Layton said. European hornets, cicada killers and Southern yellowjacket queens also are similar in appearance to this pest. A few Asian hornets can wipe out a colony of bees in a matter of hours. Asian giant hornets are not pests that Mississippi beekeepers or anyone in the Southeast should be overly concerned about right now, said Jeff Harris, MSU Extension bee specialist. "There is no evidence that we have high numbers of this pest or that they have established colonies in the U.S.," Harris said.
Customers, employees say they feel safe as barbershops, salons and gyms reopen
Getting one's nails done at Belles Nail Bar in Starkville is no longer as simple as sitting down and letting a stylist go to work. Before entering the salon, which reopened at 9 a.m. Monday after being closed since March 23 due to the coronavirus pandemic, clients must wear a protective mask, fill out a consent form and be screened for the virus. They are then subjected to what owner Aaron Weiss called a three-step sanitation process: squirting sanitizer onto their hands before signing in, washing their arms up to their elbows with warm or hot water and antibacterial soap for at least a minute and having their hands sprayed with rubbing alcohol before ever touching the surface of the table. Despite the exhaustive precautions, 60 to 70 customers flocked to Belles when it reopened Monday, and appointment times for the rest of the week are disappearing fast as Weiss works to handle the intense demand. He said the sanitation procedures are unique among salons in the area and proved to be a big reason why the salon saw such a sizable demand in its first day back. Across the Golden Triangle on Monday, the consensus among customers and employees of newly reopened businesses were they felt safe.
Ashley Furniture looking to add 300 to Mississippi factories
Already the largest furniture manufacturer in the world and the largest furniture employer in Mississippi, Ashley Furniture Industries Inc. is looking to add more than 300 full-time associates due to increased demand in sales of home furnishings. Established in 1945, Ashley is the largest furniture manufacturer in the world, approaching 35 million pieces sold annually. With over 570 acres of manufacturing and distribution capacity under roof worldwide, Ashley has locations in Ecru, Ripley and Saltillo. Ashley employs some 3,000 people in Mississippi. The company's annual revenue in 2018 was $4.7 billion, up 13.3% from the $4.2 billion a year earlier.
Two straight days with less than 200 coronavirus cases reported
Mississippi's total of presumptive cases of COVID-19 now stands at 9,674 after the Mississippi Health Department reported 173 newly identified cases on Monday. It is the 34th day in the last 36 (27th consecutive) that the single-day total has been more than 100 with 16 days of more than 200 and five days of 300 or more as the anticipated peak continues to elude the state. On a positive note, it is the first time since April 26 and 27 since there have been two consecutive days with less than 200 cases reported. There have been 430 total deaths reported (5 new), the vast majority of which appear to have been with older patients with underlying conditions. Cumulatively thus far, Hinds County has the most cases with 675, followed Lauderdale County with 492, Madison County with 466, Scott County with 462, DeSoto with 366, Forrest County with 315, Jackson County with 276, Rankin County with 251 and Harrison County with 198.
Gov. Tate Reeves extends coronavirus unemployment benefits with urgent reminder for workers
While urging Mississippians to return to work if they have the opportunity, Gov. Tate Reeves signed a new executive order Monday that extends unemployment benefits for workers still feeling the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. Under the new order, the governor is waiving the one-week waiting period to receive unemployment benefits for claims filed between March 8 and December 26. That waiver was set to expire on June 27 under the previous order. Also, Reeves is increasing the $40 earning allowance to $200 from May 3 until June 27. Reeves warned Mississippians that any reluctance to return to work could and lead to an end to unemployment benefits and hurt the state's economy. "You must understand that if you are currently unemployed and your employer calls you back to work, I strongly recommend you go back to work," Reeves said. "Under state law, if you choose not to go back to work you could become ineligible.
COVID-19 could force governor, legislators to turn to rainy day fund this fiscal year
The decision to extend Mississippians' tax deadline until July 15 will likely force Gov. Tate Reeves and the Legislature to dip into the rainy day fund to balance the budget for the current fiscal year that ends on June 30. It is likely too late to make budget cuts in the current fiscal year to offset the revenue shortfall that is beginning to amass as a result of the economic slowdown related to the COVID-19 pandemic -- leaving the rainy day fund as the best option to offset drops in tax collections. Reeves recently said the state's Working Cash Stabilization Fund, commonly called rainy day fund, contains $550 million. Under current law, the governor can spend $50 million in the fund without legislative approval. "If that becomes necessary, we will work with the Legislature to make that happen," Reeves said of dipping into the rainy day fund. "It is certainly a possibility."
States see contact tracing with cellphones as key to reopening economies
Governors and mayors trying to reopen their economies after nearly eight weeks of lockdown see "contact tracing" done with new technologies as a key to containing the spread of COVID-19. Contact tracing has traditionally meant methodical, shoe-leather detective work. Tracers and epidemiologists interview people with infectious diseases to find out who they had contact with in the recent past and get those people to quarantine and to report who they in turn had contact with. Eventually tracers can track who actually brought a virus into a community and who might also be infected. But today, the hope is that the shoe-leather work could be supplemented and made more accurate by the use of mobile phone apps. A few states already have deployed GPS location technology to assist in such tracking while an alternate technology using Bluetooth signals is still in development. In a series of TV interviews, mayors from New York City to Los Angeles, including both Democrats and Republicans, said they would ramp up contact tracing efforts to isolate infected individuals and allow the uninfected to go back to work.
Kamala Harris, Elizabeth Warren seen as top candidates to be Joe Biden's VP
Joe Biden and his team are extensively vetting candidates to be his running mate, but a number of Democrats already think they know who he'll end up picking: Kamala Harris. The California senator is increasingly seen as the most like choice for Biden, according to nearly two dozen Democratic operatives interviewed by The Hill. If there is a main rival to Harris, it may be Sen, Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), another former presidential candidate. A CBS News poll last week showed that 36 percent of respondents want Warren to be Biden's pick, followed by Harris with 19 percent. Biden has been looking for ways to excite progressives about his candidacy, and Warren could help him on the left. While Harris appears to be the favorite, there is still some lingering bitterness from her attack on Biden in a debate last June. During the debate, Harris hammered Biden on his position on school busing. Aides to both maintain their relationship is still on solid ground.
U.S. Officials: Beware Of China And Others Trying To Steal COVID-19 Research
As researchers around the globe race to develop a coronavirus vaccine, U.S. authorities are warning American firms to exercise extreme caution in safeguarding their research against China and others with a track record of stealing cutting-edge medical technology. "We are imploring all those research facilities and hospitals and pharmaceutical companies that are doing really great research to do everything in their power to protect it," Bill Evanina, the director of the National Counterintelligence and Security Center, said in an interview with NPR. "We don't want that company or the research hospital to be the one a year from now, two years from now, identified as having it all stolen before they finished it," said Evanina, whose center falls under the director of national intelligence. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security and Britain's National Cyber Security Center recently issued a statement saying hackers are "actively targeting organisations ... that include healthcare bodies, pharmaceutical companies, academia, medical research organisations, and local government."
Fed could spend next decade trying to rebuild economy
The Federal Reserve has poured trillions of dollars into the financial system over a matter of weeks. But soon it must do even more to confront the long-lasting economic wounds that will be left in the wake of the pandemic. Returning the U.S. to robust growth after the lockdown is lifted will mean dealing with mass unemployment, permanently shuttered companies and a buildup of mountains of debt for both households and businesses. "Even when we're beyond the immediate health crisis, this very difficult period is going to leave a legacy that will make it harder for people to get back on their feet," former Fed Chair Janet Yellen said in an interview. The current Fed chief, Jerome Powell, may shed more light on the central bank's strategy for dealing with the immediate crisis on Wednesday, when he is scheduled to speak at the Peterson Institute for International Economics. He's likely to disappoint investors looking for a detailed roadmap of the Fed's future plans for the economy. But there's no shortage of ideas for how the central could broaden its reach even more.
Dental offices hit hardest in health care industry layoffs
While health care providers are being hailed as heroes throughout the pandemic, the industry was not immune to job losses as patients canceled elective surgeries and postponed appointments to lower their risks of infecting the coronavirus that causes COVID-19. The health care industry, which grew steadily throughout the Great Recession more than a decade ago, lost 1.4 million jobs in April, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The damage was driven by job losses in dentists' offices, which saw more than half a million job losses over the month, and nearly another quarter million jobs from physician offices. The BLS reported an additional 205,000 job losses in the offices of other health care practitioners such as other outpatient care providers. Over the last two months, 53 percent of jobs in dentists' offices were lost, according to the Altarum Institute, a health care research and consulting firm. Dental offices could have a harder time rebounding because of the high-contact nature of teeth cleanings and other oral procedures, said Ani Turner, Altarum's co-director of sustainable health spending strategies.
Public Pension-Fund Losses Set Record in First Quarter
Public pension plans lost a median 13.2% in the three months ended March 31, according to Wilshire Trust Universe Comparison Service data released Tuesday, slightly more than in the fourth quarter of 2008. March's stock market plummet led to the biggest one-quarter drop in the 40 years the firm has been tracking. "It was a horrible quarter for all public funds," said Chicago Teachers' Pension Fund Investment Chief Angela Miller-May. Stocks bounced back in April, making up a significant chunk of the losses. But absent a full and speedy recovery, pension losses are poised to drive up already-burdensome retirement costs for governments. "There will be a lot of pressure to cut benefits," said Don Boyd, co-director of the State and Local Government Finance Project at the University at Albany's Rockefeller College. State and local governments "are trying to figure out how to not cut school aid too deeply, not cut Medicaid too deeply, not raise taxes," Mr. Boyd said. "Pension contributions are pretty far down the list of things they want to pay for."
Dr. Anthony Fauci warns of 'suffering and death' if US reopens too soon
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation's top infectious disease expert, is warning Congress that if the country reopens too soon during the coronavirus pandemic, it will result in "needless suffering and death." Fauci is among the health experts testifying to a Senate panel. His testimony comes as President Donald Trump is praising states that are reopening after the prolonged lock-down aimed at controlling the virus' spread. Fauci, a member of the coronavirus task force charged with shaping the response to COVID-19, which has killed tens of thousands of people in the U.S., is testifying via video conference after self-quarantining as a White House staffer tested positive for the virus. With the U.S. economy in free-fall and more than 30 million people unemployed, Trump has been pressuring states to reopen.
Senator Lamar Alexander: Testing Levels Inadequate to Open Campuses
Senator Lamar Alexander, the Tennessee Republican who chairs the Senate's education committee, on Sunday praised coronavirus testing in the U.S., citing Johns Hopkins University research that eight million tests have conducted, more per capita even than South Korea. But Alexander said current testing capacity remains inadequate for reopening large college and university campuses for in-person instruction. "It's enough to do what we need to do today to reopen, for example, but it's not enough when 35,000 kids and faculty show up at the University of Tennessee campus in August," Alexander said on NBC's Meet the Press. The Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions plans to hold a hearing today with Trump administration health experts on safely reopening schools and workplaces. Two of the four scheduled witnesses are self-quarantining amid worries about White House officials who have tested positive for COVID-19 in recent days. Those witnesses will testify via videoconference, the committee said.
Little-noticed victims of the higher education shutdowns: college towns
In another measure of the massive economic toll of the pandemic on higher education, the resulting shutdowns have been singularly devastating to the college towns in which these campuses are situated. "For a lot of those smaller businesses, whatever sector you're in --- the bookstores, the restaurants and bars -- I think they're going to have a real difficult time being able to weather through a long-term change in the populace," said Steve Patterson, the mayor of Athens, Ohio, and a board member of the International Town & Gown Association, or ITGA. The fiscal fates of colleges and college towns are closely intertwined, said Marguerite Roza, director of the Edunomics Lab at Georgetown University, a research center focused on school finance. Municipal agencies can't easily scale up or down based on population changes, Roza said. "The college town doesn't have the same scope or capacity without the college." College towns are already reporting massive losses as a result of the pandemic, according to the ITGA.
Dr. Debra Wenger named Interim Dean of UM School of Journalism and New Media
The University of Mississippi's School of Journalism and New Media has found its interim leader. On Friday, Provost and Executive Vice Chancellor Noel Wilkin announced that journalism professor Dr. Debra Wenger as the school's interim dean as of May 11. Wenger is replacing Dr. Will Norton, who stepped down from the position, effective on May 11 as well. Norton said his in announcement last month that he would be transitioning back to a faculty role for the upcoming school year. Wenger came to Ole Miss in 2009 after 17 years in broadcast journalism. Wenger worked as a reporter, producer and newsroom manager within multiple TV stations, including WFLA (Tampa, Florida), WSOC (Charlotte, North Carolina) and WMUR (Manchester, New Hampshire). She earned her Ph.D. at Kingston University in London.
Two UM faculty members appointed as distinguished professors
An engineering professor and a law professor are the two newest Distinguished Professors appointed by the University of Mississippi. The two honorees are Arunachalam Rajendran, chair and professor of mechanical engineering, and Ron Rychlak, professor of law and Jamie L. Whitten Chair of Law and Government. The Distinguished Professor appointment is an honorific title started by UM in 2018 that recognizes the best faculty with sustained excellence at the university. The award was created in response to the university's strategic initiative to develop a post-professorial recognition. "The Distinguished Professor award recognizes our most outstanding faculty members," Provost Noel Wilkin said. "The accomplishments of the university are really the accomplishments of its people.
USM Alumni Association gifts membership to 2020 graduates
The Southern Miss Alumni Association announced all May 2020 graduates of The University of Southern Mississippi will receive a complimentary annual membership in the association. On March 30, the university announced plans to postpone spring commencement ceremonies due to COVID-19. Throughout the week, which would have originally been the students' last week on campus, the association will highlight graduates across its social media platforms, host giveaways and provide additional gifts to graduates. Graduates who have already purchased or been gifted a membership in the association will receive an additional one-year extension. USM Alumni Association Executive Director Jerry DeFatta said this is a way of honoring those graduates in a meaningful way. The University of Southern Mississippi has tentatively rescheduled its spring commencement ceremonies for Aug. 20 through Aug. 22.
Author discusses book on Jackson State shootings of 1970
On May 4, 1970, the Ohio National Guard fired on Kent State University students during an antiwar protest, killing four students and wounding nine others. But Kent State was not the only tragedy of the era. Eleven days later, (white) employees of the Jackson, Miss., police and the Mississippi Highway Patrol opened fire on a protest outside a women's dormitory at historically black Jackson State College (now University). Two were killed, and 12 were injured. The Jackson State incident received far less attention than the Kent State shootings. No one was punished for the shootings. And most people have never heard of them. Nancy K. Britow, a professor of history at the University of Puget Sound, hopes to change that with her new book, Steeped in the Blood of Racism: Black Power, Law and Order, and the 1970 at Jackson State College (Oxford University Press). She responded via email to questions about her book.
CREATE's Imagine the Possibilities Career Expo postponed to 2021
The 2020 Imagine the Possibilities Career Expo has been postponed to October 2021, the CREATE Foundation announced on Monday. "When we began planning for this year's Imagine the Possibilities Career Expo, we couldn't have predicted the current circumstances our world is experiencing," CREATE said in a statement. "Our continued goal is to create career awareness which exposes, prepares, and connects our students in the Toyota Wellspring and CREATE counties to career opportunities for their futures." The 2020 career expo was originally set for Wednesday, Oct. 7 at the BancorpSouth Arena in Tupelo. CREATE's reasons for postponing the in-person expo include: safety concerns regarding COVID-19 and large gatherings, school calendars and schedules potentially being impacted by new health and safety protocols and participating businesses and industries being impacted by current economic demands, making funding limited for participation in the event. CREATE will also use this time to streamline the career expo's transition from serving eighth- to 10th-grade students, a change that was announced earlier this year.
Octavia Spencer sends message to Auburn University's Class of 2020
Well wishes and 'chin up!'s from friends and family are one thing. But from an Oscar winner? That might be something else. Especially since Octavia Spencer didn't just join a celebrity hashtag parade on Twitter. She didn't just post a selfie in the Auburn University shirt she's been wearing. To make this unprecedented end to the semester a little more memorable (in a good way) for her newest fellow Auburn alumni, the Montgomery native and "Hidden Figures" star -- no stranger to helping her home state during the coronavirus crisis -- recorded a three-minute message to Auburn University's class of 2020 that the Auburn Alumni Association recently posted on YouTube.
2020 Camp War Eagle counselors look toward online orientation
Auburn University's First Year Experience Office announced in early April that all Camp War Eagle sessions would be online this summer following the cancellation of all campus events through June 30. "We officially found out April 9, but the staff did a really great job keeping us informed on what was going on and all of the possibilities for the future of Camp War Eagle," said Ginny Wilder, sophomore in nursing. "So as they were getting new information, they would always relay that to us." Counselors have been meeting weekly since January in preparation for introducing incoming freshmen to Auburn's campus -- meetings that went digital at the same time as the rest of the University. "To be honest, at first it felt a bit overwhelming seeing as navigating technology can be an issue, and relationships are more difficult to build with out incoming freshman over a screen," said Garret Martinez, sophomore in civil engineering. "However, our staff has been working tirelessly to ease all of the stresses and ensure that we have the proper training and guidance to not survive but thrive in our new virtual format."
U. of Louisiana System announces plans to resume in-person instruction this fall
The University of Louisiana System plans to resume in-person instruction in the fall semester, the nine-campus university system announced Monday afternoon. A system committee will meet later this month to review guidelines to assist its universities in transitioning back to campus activities, the news release said. The guidelines will address re-populating the campuses based on testing requirements, increased hygiene and social distancing protocols. The announcement came within an hour of Gov. John Bel Edwards finishing a news conference in which he laid out Phase One of lifting Louisiana's stay-at-home order during the coronavirus pandemic. The LSU System braced for such a re-opening when it released its own Phase One plan on April 30. The plan said LSU would return a 25% maximum of the school's employees starting May 18, if Edwards indeed followed through with his own plans to slowly amend his stay-at-home order. The UL System's plan for a return to in-person instruction comes at a time where institutions of higher learning are all weighing resuming campus activities versus the ebbing status of the coronavirus that once surged exponentially across the country.
Outbreak keeps international students in Arkansas from going home
The global covid-19 pandemic has kept at least a few international students in Arkansas from returning home for the summer, college officials said. "We have no way of knowing how many students have left for their home country, but we are aware of a handful (less than 20) students living on campus who wanted to leave but couldn't because of closed borders," Amy Unruh, director of communications for the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville's Graduate School and International Education, said in an email. For these students, UA has extended housing contracts or helped find them off-campus housing, Unruh said. UA's spring semester ended last week. UA, the state's largest university, also enrolls the greatest number of international students among colleges in the state. A total of 1,493 international students from 109 countries enrolled at UA this past fall, according to university data.
Arkansas professor accused of not disclosing ties to Chinese government
University of Arkansas Electrical Engineering Professor Simon S. Ang was arrested Friday and is being held on a federal wire fraud charge, according to Charlie Robbins with the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Western District of Arkansas. The criminal complaint unsealed Monday accused Ang of failing to disclose "close ties" with the Chinese government and Chinese companies when he was supposed to do so in order to receive grant money from NASA. "These materially false representations to NASA and the University of Arkansas resulted in numerous wires to be sent and received that facilitated Ang's scheme to defraud," according to a press release sent by Robbins. According to the complaint, since 2013 Ang's work received $5 million in federal grant money. The U.S. Attorney's Office said the investigation started when a university employee examined a hard drive in the library's lost-and-found bin, trying to find out who owned the device.
U. of Missouri furloughs hundreds to cut expenses
The University of Missouri has furloughed 579 employees, including 26 who will not work for 12 weeks, as it seeks to cut costs during the COVID-19 pandemic. The job actions, posted in aggregate Friday by the university, do not break down where any of the employees work or if the furloughs are short-term, defined as one week, or long-term, defined by the UM System rules as at least two weeks. There is also no indication of how much money the furloughs will save. The number reported Friday covers the campus, which has a total non-student employment of 11,003, and MU Health Care, which had an employee headcount of 7,405 before it began layoffs and furloughs. The university is struggling with significant budget cuts from the state and a likely reduction in enrollment for the fall. University divisions were told to cut 12.5 percent from their budgets as the UM System works to cover a $180 million shortfall in its $2.4 billion budget for non-health care operations.
U. of Missouri hosts virtual forums in search for vice chancellor of diversity
Starting Tuesday, finalists to be the University of Missouri's next vice chancellor for inclusion, diversity and equity will appear in virtual candidate presentations and open forums. The first is Maurice Gipson, vice chancellor for diversity and community engagement at Arkansas State University. His forum will be from 9 to 10 a.m. Tuesday. Gipson's CV and cover letter can be viewed on the search webpage. The names of the other two finalists will not be released until between 24 and 48 hours before their forums, MU spokesman Christian Basi said. The next forums are next Monday and May 20. Forums will be held via a Zoom webinar hosted by search committee co-chairs Pat Okker, dean of the College of Arts and Science, and Michael Middleton, MU professor emeritus and former MU deputy chancellor and interim UM system president. The role is that of MU's chief diversity officer. The position was created in response to student demands after 2015 campus protests.
New Title IX regulation sets location-based boundaries for sexual harassment enforcement
The legal responsibility for colleges and universities to protect students from such sexual assaults while studying abroad may now be diminished under new regulations issued by the Department of Education last week. The new rules clearly state institutions are not obligated to investigate reports of sexual misconduct in their study abroad programs or provide support to those who report misconduct outside the U.S. Universities and colleges had been encouraged to investigate sexual assaults and support victims abroad under Title IX, the law prohibiting sex discrimination at federally funded institutions. Advocates for sexual assault survivors consider the rule change "absurd" and say it "undermines the purpose" of Title IX. They worry the new rule reduces the geographic scope of the law, by limiting colleges' responsibility to incidents that occur only within domestic, campus-affiliated activities, and letting the institutions off the hook whether or not sexual misconduct takes place within programs run or sponsored by the colleges.
How Do You Make a Virtual Commencement Worth Watching? Add Celebrity Cameos and a Marching Band
It wasn't the commencement they'd planned for. On April 26, University of Pittsburgh graduates heard congratulations from their peers, university leaders, government officials, and famous alumni -- all from their own homes. Colleges across the United States have been forced to cancel or postpone in-person commencement ceremonies during the coronavirus pandemic. But it's nearly impossible to tell when those events might be rescheduled, so officials at Pitt and other colleges have decided to honor their graduates online. For Kathy Humphrey, Pitt's senior vice chancellor for engagement, that meant breaking with what a traditional commencement looks like. After weeks of focus groups with soon-to-be graduates, Humphrey and her team came up with an agenda for the university's online celebration. It included messages from peers and promises of surprise guests. "I know this is exactly the way you thought your graduation would be," the billionaire entrepreneur and Pittsburgh native Mark Cuban told graduates. "OK, well maybe not, but let me tell you this: Where there is change, there is incredible opportunity."
After 274 Years, Princeton Will Have Its First Black Valedictorian
Princeton University has announced its first black valedictorian in its 274-year history. Nicholas Johnson, who was named valedictorian of Princeton's Class of 2020, called the achievement especially significant, given the school's struggle in recent years to confront its troubled history with slavery. He said he was stunned when he learned last week that he was the university's first black valedictorian. "Being Princeton's first black valedictorian is very empowering, especially given its historical ties to the institution of slavery," Mr. Johnson, 22, said. He added that he felt the university, as a primarily white institution, had "very much been a leader amongst its peer institutions" and "very critical and cognizant about its ties to slavery." "They've taken very deliberate steps to reconcile things," he said. With Princeton's in-person graduation ceremony canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic, it will hold a virtual one on May 31. The school plans on having an in-person ceremony for the Class of 2020 next spring, in May 2021.
Northwestern furloughs staff, cuts executive pay, taps endowment as it eyes 'significant shortfall' due to pandemic
Northwestern University on Monday announced a series of new cost-saving steps spurred by the coronavirus pandemic that include furloughing about 250 workers, suspending contributions to employee retirement plans and spending more of its endowment. In a message to the campus community, Northwestern leaders outlined the additional measures and projected the school will experience $90 million budget shortfall this year. "Even if we resume on-campus activity in the fall, as we hope to do by phases, we are likely to see a significant shortfall in the 2021 fiscal year as well, perhaps as great as or greater than what we are experiencing this year," said the message, which was signed by President Morton Schapiro. As part of its plan, NU is also cutting leadership pay between 10 and 20%. In addition to dipping deeper into its endowment, NU will suspend 5% automatic contributions and 5% matched contributions to retirement plans for faculty and staff and furlough staff who can't complete their work remotely. The school's athletics department is also included in the cuts
Emory student sues university for refund over COVID-19 coursework
An Emory University student has filed a class action lawsuit against the school, saying the virtual learning it has provided since the coronavirus pandemic has been an inadequate substitute for the tens of thousands of dollars students paid in tuition this semester. The lawsuit, filed Friday in federal court in Atlanta, is calling for the university to refund students an estimated $5 million and pay additional legal fees. The plaintiff is Willa DeMasi, a Massachusetts native who just completed her first year at Emory. Emory, Georgia's largest private university, is the latest school in recent weeks to be sued on such grounds. Hagens Berman Sobol Shapiro LLP, the law firm representing DeMasi, has filed many of the lawsuits, including those against the University of Southern California, along with Boston, Brown, Duke, George Washington and Vanderbilt universities. Peter McDonough, the former general counsel for Princeton University, said Monday that the lawsuits raise the question of the value of the education against the student's expectations. He compared it to a lawsuit filed more than a decade ago by a law school student who paid tuition at Loyola University New Orleans but couldn't take courses there after Hurricane Katrina. The student, though, was allowed to take free classes at Southern Methodist University law school in Dallas, Texas. A New Orleans federal court judge dismissed the case.
What might college in Colorado look like this fall? Mix of in-person and online, single dorm rooms, spread-out desks
Dorms without roommates. Classes held in hotel conference rooms with desks spaced out. Small numbers of students grouped together, taking the same blocks of courses to avoid mingling with too many people. These are some of the ideas leaders at Colorado's major colleges and universities are considering as they try to grasp what the fall semester will look like in the midst of an ongoing pandemic. The new coronavirus prompted a swift transition to online learning for Colorado campuses in March. Now, as the academic year comes to a surreal close, college leaders are left staring into an abyss of unknowns -- depleting finances, rapidly changing public health guidelines, and questions about how many students actually will show up -- as they try to prepare for the start of the fall semester. In a letter to the Colorado State University community, President Joyce McConnell said CSU fully intends to be back on campus and operational for the fall semester, but she acknowledged a worst-case scenario could mean remote learning through January if the pandemic worsens.
Education Department's new $120 million in grants for short-term career programs
While emergency grants for colleges and their students from the CARES Act have gotten much attention in the past few weeks, that funding isn't the only stream of new federal money headed for higher education. The U.S. Department of Education also is planning to distribute $127.5 million as part of its Reimagining Workforce Preparation grant program. But the department so far has released scant information about what sort of programs the grants should be used to fund, and through what sort of institutions. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos in the announcement emphasized that the competition will be an opportunity for states to think creatively and strategically about what their workforce needs will be and how they should best support small businesses and entrepreneurs. Which entities will be eligible for the grants, however, has yet to be announced. And the department said eligible applicants "may include state economic development or workforce agencies." The department estimates it will choose eight to nine grantees, prioritizing states with the highest coronavirus burden.
Fewer Students Apply for College Financial Aid, a Sign Coronavirus May Disrupt Enrollment
College administrators expect more students to need financial aid for the coming school year---but fewer are applying for it. Applications for federal aid from high-school seniors dropped below year-ago levels in mid-March, as the coronavirus pandemic hit and many schools across the U.S. switched to remote learning. Since then, they have continued to slide, according to an analysis of federal data from the nonprofit National College Attainment Network. By April 24, they were tracking 2.8% behind last year, with 55,582 fewer high-school seniors submitting applications. The decline is troubling to colleges and high-school counselors because it indicates some teens may have erased college entirely from their fall plans, assuming it is out of reach during the health and resultant economic crisis. Without submitting the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or Fafsa, students are cut off from federal Pell grants and student loans, as well as from most state scholarships and institutional aid. They may be giving up before they even begin to try piecing together college financing, or could be wary of taking on thousands of dollars in debt now.
Philip Gunn vindicated by IRS on prohibiting lawmakers serving while 'double dipping' PERS
Frank Corder writes for Y'all Politics: Retired public employees, namely teachers, were said to be "a game changer" in the Mississippi Legislature, at least that is what the left was pushing in their narrative. It was said to "scare Philip Gunn to death." Those voices were wrong. Last Thursday, the IRS provided a response to PERS whereby they declined to rule on the request that emanated from political efforts in 2019 to allow retired teachers to serve as legislators while still getting their full PERS benefits. ... Now, in the face of this IRS non-ruling, PERS likely has no choice other than to backtrack on their change of the rule. Otherwise, they risk imperiling the entire system and the thousands of Mississippians drawing on their retirement and the thousands more paying into the system every payday.

Former MSU AD Larry Templeton, ESPN's Jeramy Michiaels speak on impact of television in college sports, potential for football in the fall
Whether college football is played this fall is quite literally a billion-dollar question. With television contracts and ticket sales combining to produce the vast majority of athletic departments' budgets nationwide, a year without football could prove disastrous to those schools and sports teams that thrive on the money produced from the gridiron. Speaking with the Starkville Rotary Club via Zoom on Monday, former Mississippi State Athletic Director Larry Templeton and ESPN's Director of College Networks Programming Jeramy Michiaels offered their insight into the weaving of college sports and television networks, and, of course, whether football could return to some degree given the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. "I think if you're going to have fans or you're not going to have fans, it's going to be a huge impact, and it's going to be an entirely different atmosphere than what we're accustomed to," Templeton said in reference to playing in empty stadiums. "I know (SEC commissioner Greg Sankey) and the athletic directors have spent a lot of time having those conversations. I don't know that anybody has made any decisions yet."
Jaw-dropper: Why Mississippi State coach Mike Leach surprised elementary school teachers on Zoom
Amber Sims couldn't believe what she saw on her iPad screen Monday morning. Rather, not what she saw but who she saw. This week's Henderson Ward Stewart Elementary School faculty meeting started the same as always since the coronavirus pandemic began to affect everyday life in Mississippi two months ago. Principal Julie Fancher welcomed Sims, who is the school's music teacher, and the rest of the staff to a virtual Zoom call. Then things took an unusual twist. Fancher introduced Mississippi State head football coach Mike Leach to the video chat. "I seriously think my jaw just dropped," Sims told the Clarion Ledger. "I was like, 'What? Oh my goodness. Mike Leach is on our Zoom call.'" Monday was about more than just maroon and white, though. It was about a man who makes $5 million per year to coach Southeastern Conference football taking the time to address an assemblage of 100-plus teachers and administrators on the importance of their jobs.
Analysis: Breaking down Mississippi State's offensive line depth heading into the summer
With spring commencement at Mississippi State now officially passed, summer has arrived in Starkville. And while the MSU football team has yet to endure its usual regimen of spring practices due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, there remains a growing optimism a 2020 football season will be played -- though an exact start date and the logistics behind such an occurrence remain unknown. Over the next week-plus, we're going to dive into the Bulldogs' depth chart heading into the summer and what it might look like once competition is allowed to begin. Following last week's three-part look at the defense and Monday's foray into the receiving corps, let's stick with offense and the MSU offensive line.
Rematch? Mississippi State could play UConn in women's basketball this fall
It's been three years since Morgan William and Mississippi State snapped UConn's 111-game winning streak with a 66-64 buzzer-beating victory in the semifinals of the 2017 Final Four. The two women's basketball powerhouses are slated to go head-to-head once more. Mississippi State and UConn make up two of the four teams scheduled to play in the 2020 Hall of Fame Women's Challenge on November 28-29. The other two teams in the bracket are Maine and Quinnipiac. MSU will play the former on the first day of action at Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Connecticut, while UConn will play the latter. The winners will meet the next day to determine a champion. "I'm really excited to be a part of the Basketball Hall of Fame Women's Challenge," MSU head coach Nikki McCray-Penson said in a statement. "I was a part of this event when I was at South Carolina, and I'm excited for the opportunity to be around basketball greatness and see that again."
Brandon McBride excels off track, buys grocery cards for 8 families in need
Between long training runs, lifting weights and a heavy workload of online college courses, Brandon McBride finished The Go-Giver: A Little Story about a Powerful Business Idea. In the book about a young professional striving for success, authors Bob Burg and John David Mann stress that one should make giving rather than getting their top priority in business and life, and success will follow. "It talks about the cycle of giving and receiving ... and different things to live by," said McBride, whose girlfriend wondered in a recent conversation how she could help people in need during the COVID-19 pandemic. "The story really inspired me and I took it as a sign. I knew in my heart and after what my girlfriend said that I had to do something and we went from there." McBride, 25, reached out to a social worker in his hometown of Windsor, Ont., who suggested they purchase grocery cards and sent addresses for eight families. Recruited by Mississippi State University, McBride won two NCAA 800 titles as a sophomore in 2014 and also represented Canada at the Commonwealth Games that year. The 2016 Olympian often reminds himself what it meant for him as a child to see someone who was positive and in the spotlight, so to speak, give their time to uplift youth.
MHSAA holds fast to June 1 restart date
The Mississippi High School Activities Association is holding firm to a June 1 restart date. The MHSAA executive committee held a conference call on Monday to examine whether it should extend its suspension of team activities in light of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. On April 15, the committee voted to cancel the remainder of spring seasons and prohibit workouts and competition until at least June 1. The committee will reconvene May 21 to reassess the situation. If the June 1 date is pushed back, that would endanger summer leagues and possibly the start of the 2020 football season.
U. of Florida preparing as if football season will kick off as scheduled
No one knows yet whether there will be a college football season in 2020. But just about everyone has a pretty good idea what the financial impact will be if there isn't one. It would be devastating, potentially crippling, for schools across the country. At the University of Florida, football is the financial engine that drives the athletic department and its overall 21 sports teams. In the 2019 fiscal year, football generated a profit of $47,950,819, while men's basketball was the only other sport with a profit, bringing in $2,455,291. The 19 other programs finished the year $33,528,175 in the red. So, a season without football could deliver a dire financial blow to UF. But, for now, the University Athletic Association isn't plotting strategy and bracing for a potential financial crisis in the fall, and possibly beyond. "Obviously, there is a lot of speculation out there," UF athletic director Scott Stricklin said. "If Sept. 5 comes and we're expected to be hosting people, we need to be prepared to do that. We can always adjust (to not having fans)."
Budget crunch could impact how college teams opt to travel
When college sports teams finally return to play, they might not be traveling quite as far as they did for road games before the pandemic. The cancellation of the NCAA Tournament has produced a budget crunch that leaves colleges everywhere looking for cost-saving measures. One simple step is to cut back on travel. That's easier for some schools than others. Chattanooga announced last month that any 2020-21 away games that hadn't already been scheduled must be played within 150 miles of its campus in southeastern Tennessee. The teams also need to return to campus the day of the game to avoid any lodging costs. "They understand it was a one-year situation," Chattanooga athletic director Mark Wharton said of his coaches' reaction. "I made it clear that after we get through all this and we feel fairly healthy for '21-22, we'd go back within reason and go to the model we were at before." While other schools haven't specified a maximum distance for road games, they are trying to make their trips as short as possible. This doesn't apply to football because those schedules generally are put together years in advance.
As economic hurdles loom, MLB owners will propose plan to players' union to salvage season
Major League Baseball's desperate effort to launch its 2020 season is approaching a critical milestone, with the owners preparing to present a proposal to the players' union Tuesday that outlines a tentative midsummer start and features adaptable scheduling and rule changes designed to maximize a dwindling window of calendar. But while much of that plotting and best-case projecting remains dependent upon the unknowable trajectory of the novel coronavirus pandemic -- which has delayed Opening Day by more than six weeks and counting -- the sides also must navigate the equally sticky territory of economics. That arena contains fewer hypotheticals than the one based in epidemiology but at least as much potential to ruin baseball's hopeful return. It is at the very least a bad sign that the union is already rejecting MLB's economic proposal before even receiving it. Any such path forward, however, requires a handful of assumptions, none of which can be regarded as certain.
Dr. Anthony Fauci: NFL season could be 'feasible' by fall, but COVID-19 makes it 'impossible' right now
Imagine an NFL star -- Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes, Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady -- testing positive for COVID-19 the night before his team is scheduled to play a game. What would such a player, and potentially his teammates, need to do next? NBC's Peter King posed the question this weekend to Dr. Anthony Fauci. Canceling or postponing a game, Fauci said, could be required steps. Depending if one or more members of a team test positive, a two-week team quarantine may be necessary, too. "Absolutely," said Fauci, director of the NIH's National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. "It would be malpractice in medicine to put him on the field, absolutely." Fauci said it's too early to predict whether NFL teams can safely commence their seasons four months from now, as scheduled. The country's response to the disease, increased availability to testing and potential immunity from exposure all are expected to evolve between now and then. But Fauci said the NFL must be willing not only to sideline a player who tests positive for COVID-19 but also take more drastic measures if more than one player does so.

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