Wednesday, May 13, 2020   
MSU plans for in-person classroom instruction in Fall 2020 semester
Mississippi State University President Mark E. Keenum said the university is fully committed to welcoming students back to campus this fall and that plans to resume in-person classroom and laboratory instruction in the Fall 2020 semester are "on schedule and taking solid form" as the university continues development of specific new operating guidelines. With MSU Provost David Shaw's leadership position on the state task force in developing strategies for the reopening of all of the state's public universities, Keenum said MSU will benefit from the expertise of other veteran higher education administrators on the IHL task force and share that information with MSU's COVID-19 task force. Joining Shaw on the IHL task force is MSU Vice President for Student Affairs Regina Hyatt. Keenum said MSU's COVID-19 task force would develop a strategy to reopen that included guidance and input from the IHL task force, direct input from MSU stakeholders, and the shared governance model that already exists on the MSU campus with faculty, staff and students.
Quitman principal to take over at Starkville High School
Starkville High School will have a new principal starting July 1. Starkville-Oktibbeha Consolidated School District Board of Trustees hired Howard Savage to lead the high school after almost two hours of executive session during its Tuesday meeting. Savage is currently principal of Quitman High School in Clarke County, where he leads teacher mentoring, recruitment and retention, according to a press release from SOCSD. Savage started his 14-year education career as a teacher in the Hattiesburg School District, where he became lead teacher and later assistant principal at Hattiesburg High School. He has received five Administrator of the Year honors from the Mississippi Department of Education, the most recent in 2018. He will succeed Sean McDonnall, who told The Dispatch he "decided months ago to take a step back from being a head principal" but will "still be in the district serving students in other ways." He spent four years as SHS principal and was previously an assistant principal. McDonnall's new role hasn't been formally designated, he said.
Hospitality Association head: About 11 percent of state's restaurants will shutter due to pandemic
Pat Fontaine started serving food at civic club meetings, including the local Rotary Club, when he was 8 years old at the motel and restaurant his family owned in Pascagoula. He "performed about every duty that you can in a restaurant and motel setting," and the establishment had to weather a few hurricanes over the years, but Fontaine told Columbus Rotary Club in its virtual meeting Tuesday that he "could have never imagined" a crisis like the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic. "The devastation from a hurricane was quite severe and the setbacks difficult, but you could always begin your recovery efforts the next day, and that's just not the case with coronavirus," said Fontaine, who has been executive director of the Mississippi Hospitality and Restaurant Association since January 2019. The restaurant industry used to employ about 10 percent of the state's workforce but now employs "half the level it did two months ago," and it might take several years for the industry to return to the $5.1 billion in sales it used to generate, Fontaine said.
Mississippi gov tightens virus rules in 7 hard-hit counties
Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves said Tuesday that he is tightening regulations in parts of the state seeing the fastest spread of the new coronavirus. The target area is seven largely rural counties in the east central part of the state: Attala, Leake, Scott, Jasper, Neshoba, Newton and Lauderdale. Reeves said authorities are seeing a rapid increase in cases relative to their populations. While Reeves previously suggested people wear masks in public, his new executive order makes that mandatory in some situations in the seven counties. Masks must be worn by people at outdoor events such as flea markets or auctions, and by those shopping inside retail businesses such as grocery stores. The new order also requires businesses to provide masks for their employees in retail settings, and it requires the employees to wear the masks while working. Reeves announced the new restrictions for the seven counties even as he has spent the last several days lifting some statewide limits by allowing the reopening of restaurants, barbershops, hair salons and gyms; those establishments must limit customers and take other precautions.
Restrictions to tighten for 7 counties that are COVID-19 hotspots
Gov. Tate Reeves is ordering heightened restrictions for seven Mississippi counties that have been hit especially hard by the coronavirus, he announced Tuesday. Residents of Attala, Leake, Scott, Jasper, Neshoba, Newton and Lauderdale counties will be impacted by the new order, Reeves said. Reeves called it the "next phase in the fight against COVID-19." "The next phase is to take a surgical approach rather than a sledge hammer to this disease," he said. State Health Officer Dr. Thomas Dobbs said the seven counties under heightened restrictions have shown an unusually high per capita number of coronavirus cases. The Health Department has investigated nearly 2,100 COVID-19 cases in those counties and two others in eastern Mississippi, compared to about 1,900 cases in the Jackson metro area and surrounding counties, he said. The hotspots appeared to be tied to high rates of transmission between people who work at chicken processing plants, Dobbs said. He and Reeves have maintained there's no evidence of significant transmission happening in poultry processing plants. They say the disease is being spread through workers' communal living areas and vans that transport them to and from work.
Neshoba employers required to test employees under new state order
An inmate in the Neshoba County Jail has tested positive for COVID-19, Sheriff Eric Clark announced Tuesday, just as Gov. Tate Reeves issued stricter social distancing guidelines for the county to curb the rise in cases. Reeves announced on Tuesday Neshoba joined Attala, Leake, Scott, Jasper, Newton and Lauderdale counties as places at a higher risk for transmission. He signed a new executive order establishing additional social distancing restrictions. Those guidelines include requiring all businesses to screen employees each day. State Health Officer Thomas Dobbs was asked about major events that take place during the summer such as the Choctaw Indian Fair and Neshoba County Fair, both of which draw tens of thousands to the county. "We are all going to have to be prepared to change on a dime if we have to," he said. "Time will tell but people have to plan. We also have to be understanding that if things aren't going the way we think they should, we may have to be more restrictive once again, and cancel things if we have to." Dobbs said there's no reason to cancel plans now though. Longtime Neshoba County Fair manager Doug Johnson said preparations are still underway and the focus is getting the grounds ready.
Mississippi lawmakers weigh options for funding healthcare centers in state
Mississippi lawmakers returned to the Capitol on Tuesday to discuss how the state should spend more than a billion dollars in federal coronavirus relief funds. The Senate's Public Health and Welfare Committee convened a hearing and heard testimony from several healthcare leaders about how much financial assistance their industry needs. "Our goal, it sounds odd to say this, but we have a very large amount of money that's available to us," Public Health and Welfare Committee Chairman Hob Bryan, D-Amory, said. "Our goal is to get that money to where it can do the most good as quickly as possible." Dr. LouAnn Woodward, the vice chancellor for health affairs and dean of the School of Medicine for the University of Mississippi Medical Center, told legislators that the medical center projects that it will lose $100 million through the end of September and $150 million through the end of December. "That is a tremendous negative impact as we look around the country and we talk to other academic medical centers and see the information they're putting out publicly," she said.
Tate Reeves threatened to veto a bill, lawmakers plan to add small business assistance and again ask for his signature
Last week, Gov. Tate Reeves threatened to veto a bill that stripped him of sole spending authority over $1.25 billion in federal coronavirus aid. This week, lawmakers are expected to incorporate a small business assistance program into the same bill and send it to Reeves for his signature. The bill, which Reeves had opposed, ensures $1.25 billion in federal relief funds to address the coronavirus pandemic is appropriated by the Legislature rather than solely by the governor. But this week, the bill will likely be expanded to take a portion of the federal funds -- around $100 million -- to create a program to help small businesses that have been closed or negatively impacted by COVID-19. Last week Reeves threatened to veto the bill, which blocked him from having sole spending authority of the federal funds, but gave up that effort after it became likely legislators would override his veto. Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann and Speaker Philip Gunn both later pledged to work with Reeves in appropriating the federal funds, but stressed the money could not be spent until appropriated by the Legislature. Lawmakers could vote on the proposal as early as Thursday as they work this week to deal with issues related to COVID-19.
Blue Delta Jeans featured on LinkedIn's Beyond the Call' list
Blue Delta Jeans is featured on LinkedIn's Beyond the Call list, which highlights the nation's top 20 companies who are going above the call of duty in the face of the pandemic. "Blue Delta retooled its factory in a matter of days, installing partitions to protect workers who'd once worked in open spaces and testing new materials to make masks. Now, the company manufactures 10,000 masks a week, which they sell to Mississippi Emergency Management Agency (MEMA) and other local government agencies. They've been able to keep people employed and even hire a few additional staff, while providing necessary materials to keep people safe."
Louisiana casinos to reopen despite coronavirus as Mississippi waits in limbo
Casinos in Louisiana will be allowed to open this week during the coronavirus pandemic, Governor John Bel Edwards announced Monday in a press conference. WVUE-TV reports that gambling floors can open on May 15 at a 25% capacity with guidance from the state's Gaming Control Board and the Louisiana Racing Commission. Edwards laid out other rules for opening casinos in New Orleans and around the state, The Advertiser reported. Mississippi has not yet reopened casinos. Thousands of workers on the Gulf Coast are out of work and waiting for casinos in Biloxi, Gulfport, D'Iberville, and Bay St. Louis to open their doors again. Gov. Tate Reeves initially said in a press conference that he expected casinos to reopen before Memorial Day. But he backtracked, saying he did not know when casinos in the state would reopen again, after the state saw its highest-yet single-day spike on the day he had planned to announce more reopenings. Instead, he eased restrictions on restaurants and outdoor gatherings three days later.
Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee appoints new COO for state, an MSU alumnus
Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee has appointed Brandon O. Gibson as Chief Operating Officer for the State of Tennessee, the governor announced on Tuesday. Gibson replaces Butch Eley following Eley's appointment as Commissioner of Finance & Administrator. Gibson had previously been serving as Senior Advisor to the Governor. "Brandon has been a respected voice both within our administration and across our state," said Lee in a news release. "Her ability to think creatively and bring innovative ideas to fruition will be critical as state government continues to provide services to our customers in new ways during these challenging times. "We're lucky to have a public servant like Brandon in Tennessee and I'm excited for her to get started in this new role." A native of Dyersburg, Gibson earned her bachelor's degree and master's degree in agribusiness from Mississippi State University and her law degree from Southern Methodist University.
$10.3 million "Farmers to Families Food Box" contract to Hattiesburg-based company
U.S. Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith praised the award of a $10.3 million contract to the Hattiesburg-based Merchants Foodservice to package surplus foodstuffs for use by food banks, community and faith-based organizations, and other non-profits groups serving those in need. Hyde-Smith, who serves on the Senate Agriculture Committee, said the Famers to Families Food Box Program contract will help Merchants Foodservice continue operations, while also benefitting farmers and families in need. The economic ramifications of the COVID-19 pandemic have stressed foodservice companies like Merchants, which employs 900 people in 12 states. Hyde-Smith, who also serves on the Senate Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee, wrote a letter of support for the Merchants Foodservice application to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The Merchants Foodservice contract will allow the company to purchase fresh produce, dairy, and meat products for family-sized boxes for distribution to food banks.
Trump deems farmworkers 'essential' but not safety rules for them. That could threaten the food supply.
The Trump administration has deemed the millions of people who are cutting lettuce, picking cherries, packing peaches and otherwise getting food from farm to table to be "essential workers" but is doing little to keep them healthy during the pandemic. The lack of federal action has left state and industry leaders scrambling to shield their farmworkers from the coronavirus. As harvest season ramps up, farmers across several major produce states have installed more hand-washing stations, instructed workers to keep their distance and provided face masks -- but those efforts have been inconsistent and largely voluntary. Farmworkers have long lived in the shadows of the American economy, an itinerant community that includes low-income citizens, about 250,000 legal guest workers from Mexico and Central America and hundreds of thousands of undocumented immigrants who might travel from farm to farm with the changing harvest seasons. Now, labor advocates are warning that continuing to ignore this vulnerable population not only threatens lives but endangers the food supply.
Farmers are coming around on climate change
Major farm and livestock groups held a press conference in February to project a united voice on an issue they've long avoided. The coalition leaders said they wanted to join the fight against climate change rather than remain cast as villains avoiding the responsibility. The approach was a sharp departure for an industry that less than a year earlier looked more like a victim as photos circulated of nearly 20 million acres so saturated and flooded that farmers, mostly in the Midwest, couldn't get into their fields. The federal crop insurance program paid out more than $4 billion in claims. But farmers and ranchers now acknowledge that they have to change their practices. The EPA's 2018 greenhouse gas inventory says the U.S. agriculture sector accounted for nearly 10 percent of the nation's greenhouse gas emissions, up from 9 percent in 2017. Overall, the EPA found greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S. rose by 2.9 percent from 2017 to 2018 because of increased fossil fuel use. Zippy Duvall, the American Farm Bureau president who raises cattle and crops in Georgia, said at the press conference that climate issues are a growing priority for the country and for Congress and his industry should be at the table.
Pandemic Revives Calls To Ban Lawmakers From Bunking In Their Offices
For some members of Congress, an office on Capitol Hill is just, well, an office. But for others, it doubles as their apartment while they live and work in Washington, D.C. It's a practice Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif., would like to see permanently banned. She says members making their office a home away from home is troubling on several fronts, calling the practice an inappropriate use of taxpayer funds and something that can make staffers feel uncomfortable. Speier argues it's particularly important to end the practice now, out of a need for increased health and safety vigilance because of the coronavirus pandemic. And while Speier suggests looking into giving a per diem or a stipend to members to mitigate the cost of D.C. living, Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., says that's not Democrats' main goal. "I've been a member for 27 years and I have paid rent every day that I have been there," he says. "So why would I push a housing allowance when I'm already paying?" Thompson agrees with Speier that the pandemic demands more urgent action.
Dr. Anthony Fauci: Developing Vaccine by Fall Term Is 'Bridge Too Far'
Dr. Anthony Fauci, a key member of the Trump administration's coronavirus task force, told a Senate committee that the prospects of developing a vaccine by the fall to truly make college students comfortable enough to go back to campuses "is a bridge too far." But he said that doesn't mean students cannot return, depending on the amount of infections and available testing in an area. Fauci's comments came after he was asked by Senator Lamar Alexander, the Tennessee Republican who chairs the Senate's health and education committee, what he could say to give the chancellor of the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, comfort in reopening its campus for in-person instruction in the fall. What's needed to truly make students feel safe enough to go back to classes likely won't be available in time, Fauci said at the hearing. But asked later by Alexander to clarify, Fauci said he that didn't mean students couldn't go back to school. He agreed with Dr. Brett Giroir, the assistant U.S. secretary for health, who said colleges' strategies for reopening will differ depending if large numbers of infections are in the surrounding area.
UM's Sigma Nu fraternity raises over $165,000 in annual Charity Bowl
The Epsilon Xi chapter of Sigma Nu at Ole Miss holds the Charity Bowl every year -- every normal year, that is. Along with everything else in 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic altered the fraternity's major philanthropic event, changing it from their annual spring football game to a virtual fundraiser. However, despite all the unplanned obstacles and the cancellation of the Charity Bowl, Sigma Nu raised $168,000. Once the spring semester was cut short and the campus shut down following spring break, Sigma Nu's philanthropy chairmen Nathan Foxworth, Cole Barnhill and Ford Gordon were forced to adapt how they would handle their largest fundraiser of the school year. In a normal year, the Sigma Nu would play a charity football game inside Vaught-Hemingway Stadium against another fraternity who bids for the opportunity to play against them -- another fundraising outlet. During the game, there would be t-shirts for sale and other events; those proceeds go toward the fundraiser as well. Due to the pandemic, a football game was out of the question. The fundraising efforts begin in the fall, which provided the fraternity with a good head start, but once the spring semester was interrupted, their strategy had to change.
Jackson State temporarily waives GRE, GMAT and PRAXIS testing requirements
In light of recent developments with the COVID-19 pandemic, Jackson State University has temporarily suspended its GRE, GMAT and PRAXIS requirements for graduate programs with these testing requirements. This suspension is for the summer 2020 and fall 2020 academic terms. "Jackson State University has suspended GRE and GMAT testing requirements and PRAXIS requirements for the Master of Arts in Teaching (MAT) program. The suspension enables us to assist prospective applicants with a more seamless application process amid the COVID-19 crisis in which universities across the world find themselves," said Dr. Lynda Brown-Wright, provost and vice president for Academic Affairs. "We invite applicants to explore our many graduate program offerings and apply for an enriching and engaging graduate educational experience."
Jackson State's Roderick Little is new band director; Dowell Taylor set to retire
Dr. Roderick Little is the new director of bands at Jackson State University, replacing Dowell Taylor, who will retire on June 30, after 34 years of service to JSU. "Other than my family, this is amongst the highest honor that I have been bestowed. I am humbled and ready to propel our great program forward," said Little. At 34, Little is one of the youngest band directors and arrangers in the school's history. He joined the JSU music department in 2012 as an assistant band director and instructor of music. He was appointed associate director of bands in 2013 and made marching band director in 2015. Dr. Lisa Beckley-Roberts, interim chair of the Department of Music, called the change in leadership the beginning of a new era for the band and music department. "Mr. Taylor has done amazing work building the program, so we will miss him immensely. But, Dr. Little will build upon that legacy and take bands at JSU to the next level," she said. "He is very quiet because his work always speaks volumes. The entire band staff is phenomenal, and with him at the helm, I do not doubt that we will see the program reach new heights."
Mississippi College will host graduation ceremonies on August 1
Mississippi College officials have announced that graduation ceremonies will be held on August 1 at the Clinton campus. The ceremony allows family, friends, professors, and others to honor the university's Class of 2020. The worldwide COVID-19 outbreak caused MC officials to postpone the traditional Spring graduation, which was scheduled for May 8. "I believe this commencement will be even more memorable given the forced separation our senior class experienced and the resilience they have shown," MC President Dr. Blake Thompson said. "I know I speak for the entire MC family in saying we can't wait to welcome our graduating seniors home and celebrate their accomplishments." A new graduation date is also booked for MC Law School's class of 2020. Law grads will be recognized at ceremonies at 10 a.m. Friday, August 7 at First Baptist Church Jackson. Dr. Thompson announced other major steps showing Mississippi College is returning to normal and will welcome students returning to classes on campus for the Fall semester.
Millsaps College resuming classes this fall
Although Millsaps College students spent the last month of the 2020 spring academic term utilizing remote instruction in conjunction with the COVID-19 pandemic, the college is gearing up for an on-campus residential experience in August. The school will support remote instruction options in all classes for any students who are unable to return to campus. "We expect at least some of our students will not be able to return to campus for a variety of personal reasons, including potentially their health or the health of a family member," says Millsaps College President Dr. Rob Pearigen. "Our faculty are working tirelessly to offer a high-quality educational experience to adequately serve all of our students for the upcoming semester." In addition to committing to both on-campus and remote instruction for all classes during the upcoming semester, Pearigen has formed six planning groups to assist with the many facets of the college's on-campus COVID-19 response.
MPACT open enrollment period extended to July 15
State Treasurer David McRae has extended the open enrollment period for the Mississippi Prepaid Affordable College Tuition Plan (MPACT) to July 15, 2020. This College Savings Plan allows families to lock-in tuition rates and pre-pay their child's tuition. "We are thrilled to extend the open enrollment period to July 15, giving folks another two months to start a plan before prices increase," said McRae. "Today, the average Mississippi college student graduates with $30,000 of debt. By enrolling in the MPACT program, however, families can pay on the front end so their child can leave college with less debt and more freedom to pursue the career of their choosing."
Meridian Community College distributing grad bags this week; online graduation Monday
Meridian Community College officials are hosting graduation events beginning this week to spotlight the academic achievements of its 500-plus graduates. College personnel will be handing out grad bags to all Spring 2020 graduates from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Wednesday through Friday, according to a college news release. The bags include a program of the ceremony, a diploma cover, a graduation cap and tassel, instructions on how to participate in the online graduation and a few surprises. Honor graduates will be able to pick up any honors cords or individual recognition items. On Monday, May 18, MCC will host two online graduation ceremonies. MCC President Thomas M. Huebner Jr. will address the students. All graduate names will be announced and degrees will be conferred. During the ceremony, parents and friends can comment with congratulatory wishes, and graduates can post their pictures during the live feed.
Northeast Mississippi Community College holds drive-by pinning ceremony for nursing program graduates
Northeast Mississippi Community College's Associate Degree Nursing program held a drive-by pinning ceremony for its 83 graduates on Tuesday. Graduates drove down Cunningham Boulevard where they were handed diploma covers, graduation lamps and cords, nursing pins and awards/certificates by instructors. Camille Beals, the Associate Degree Nursing program director, said President Ricky G. Ford and the NEMCC Board of Trustees gave the program permission to confer students' degrees early, on May 6, and many students have already applied for board certification or have received authorization to be tested this month. Prospective nurses must also be fingerprinted as part of a background check to receive their licensure, which is another issue they've run into, Beals said. But the graduates are allowed to have temporary licenses for up to 120 days while requesting a card for fingerprinting from the Mississippi Board of Nursing, have it mailed to them, and get fingerprinted by local law enforcement. It then will be mailed back to the board.
Auburn University student group says 'leave it to us;' shops for seniors
Volunteer Auburn University students say they are helping those in need by giving back to the community that has given them so much. Leave It To Us, a national, free, senior-shopping service mostly comprised of college students, arrived in Auburn on April 17 and allows student volunteers to go shopping for senior citizens in the area. "I know a lot of people kind of have a lot of free time on their hands and are just looking to give back to the Auburn community because the Auburn community has given us so much," said Madison Patrick, Auburn University student and coordinator of the Leave It To Us chapter in Auburn. "Anyway that we can kind of go out and pour into our community." Patrick started the Auburn chapter of Leave It To Us after learning about the organization a few weeks ago and thought it would a great way to help out those in her community since she couldn't directly help her grandmother in Boston. Patrick wasn't alone in Auburn; there were many college students just like her wanting to give back.
U. of South Carolina could cut programs and furlough employees because of coronavirus
The University of South Carolina may consider furloughing employees or cutting programs to make up for coronavirus-induced budget shortfalls, according to an internal email sent Wednesday from Faculty Senate Chair Mark Cooper. The budget shortfall will likely be "about twice as large as we faced in 2008," Cooper said in the email, which went to other faculty senators. In 2008, the American economy was at the start of the Great Recession. "In addition to hiring freezes and across-the-board reductions, we can anticipate furloughs, with sharper cuts for high-income administrators," Cooper said in the email. "To manage the anticipated longer-term consequences of enrollment declines...we may also be forced to close or reorganize academic programs," Cooper said. One bright spot for the university is that enrollment -- where USC gets the lion's share of revenue -- has stabilized after President Robert Caslen announced in-person classes would resume in the fall, Cooper said in the email.
U. of Tennessee names new vice chancellor for research
The University of Tennessee, Knoxville, has named Deborah Crawford as the new vice chancellor for research. Crawford is currently the vice president of research, innovation and economic impact at George Mason University, located in Fairfax, Virginia. She will begin her role at UT on Aug. 1. "The value and importance of innovation have never been clearer than in recent weeks and months, and I'm pleased to have such an accomplished scientist and leader joining our team," UT Knoxville Chancellor Donde Plowman said. "Dr. Crawford brings a unique combination of experience and expertise that will help elevate the impact of our research." As vice chancellor for research, Crawford will lead UT Knoxville's research efforts and will be a member of Plowman's Cabinet. She will also oversee the university's research partnerships, including the one with Oak Ridge National Laboratory, and the Oak Ridge Institute. The vice chancellor position has not been filled on a permanent basis since 2018, when Victor McCrary briefly held the position from March 1 to July 31, 2018. After McCrary left UT, Robert Nobles and Matthew Mench filled the position as interim vice chancellors.
Dr. Anthony Fauci sends a message to UT, Chancellor Donde Plowman
The University of Tennessee, Knoxville, and Chancellor Donde Plowman got a shout-out during Tuesday's Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee hearing. Dr. Anthony Fauci, a member of the White House coronavirus task force and an infectious disease expert, along with several other health officials, testified remotely on Tuesday. Tennessee Sen. Lamar Alexander, chair of the committee, asked about what returning to school could look like in the fall. "Let's look down the road three months," Alexander said. "There will be about 5,000 campuses across the country trying to welcome 20 million college students,100,000 public schools welcoming 50 million students. "What would you say to the chancellor of the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, or the principal of a public school about how persuade parents and students to return to school in August?" "I would be very realistic with the chancellor and tell him that when we're thinking in terms...," Fauci started, before being corrected by Alexander. "It's a her in this case," Alexander said, referencing Plowman. "I'm sorry, sir," Fauci said to Alexander, both laughing off the mix-up. Then, Fauci got serious about answering the question. Having a treatment or vaccine ready by fall "would be something that would be a bit of a bridge too far," Fauci said.
U. of Kentucky's $7 million field hospital for coronavirus patients, never used, to be taken down
Roughly a month after the state's largest hospital system scrambled to construct a 400-bed field hospital to treat an overflow of COVID-19 patients, university officials have announced the facility will close without ever having been used. "Our decision was based on our continued evaluation of the trajectory of the virus," UK spokesman Jay Blanton said Tuesday. "Initial modeling a few months ago projected a spike in the virus. Thanks to the social distancing and public health efforts at the state level, we have not experienced that spike," he said, adding that most models now "continue to show a flattening of the curve." Though at least 6,677 Kentuckians have been infected with the new coronavirus, and 311 people have died, Gov. Andy Beshear has said the state's infection rate has remained steadily plateaued over the last few weeks, meaning the infection curve upward has been successfully blunted. Hospitals across the state, as a result, never saw the projected surge in coronavirus patients.
Lawsuit against LSU advances; Gruver family claims discipline varies in Greek system
A federal appeals court said Tuesday the parents of an LSU freshman who died in a hazing ritual 2½ years ago can pursue claims that the university disciplines its fraternities and sororities differently and that male students who enter Greek life face a greater risk of injury than females. LSU claimed sovereign immunity and sought to nullify a lawsuit filed by Stephen and Rae Ann Gruver, whose son Max died weeks after he enrolled at LSU in 2017. The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans ruled that because LSU accepts federal funding, it had waived immunity from lawsuits that allege discrimination on the basis of sex. The Gruvers' lawsuit claimed LSU violated portions of Title IX, a federal law that forbids intentional sex discrimination by educational institutions that receive federal funds. A three-judge panel at the 5th Circuit said every appeals court that has taken up an anti-discrimination case has found that accepting federal funds makes universities subject to Title IX lawsuits.
LSU among schools that may restrict 3, 4-person dorm rooms as students return after coronavirus
Louisiana's largest universities are deciding whether three- to four-person dormitory rooms will be available for students if in-person instruction resumes in the fall semester. The planning measure is one of many higher education officials are considering in an aim to make a full return to on-campus activities while the state gradually re-opens during the coronavirus pandemic. A residential life official at LSU's Baton Rouge campus said that, while no final decision has been made, the university is considering whether it will temporarily withhold three- to four-student rooms in the fall semester. In such a move, three- to four-student rooms would be converted into one- to two-student living spaces, which, according to official websites, are rented at moderately more expensive rates. The conversion would also shrink on-campus dorm capacity, and, since first-year students are required to live on campus at LSU, Tulane and the UL System, the institutions are determining whether there will be any overflow.
U. of Florida student jailed after threatening mass shooting at Virginia Tech
A University of Florida student is in jail after threatening a violent massacre at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University. He was previously under a UF code of conduct investigation for harassment, "endangering behavior" and sexual harassment. James Kelly, a 36-year-old business finance student living in Bowling Green, Florida, was arrested by the Bowling Green Police Department Monday for written threats to kill, do bodily injury or conduct a mass shooting or act of terrorism, according to an arrest report from the department. According to the report, Kelly drafted a manifesto to an Alligator reporter instructing them to change an article written about him or "I will gladly blame you for the needless deaths of all future VT students." In the letter, Kelly states that he's a "prophet from God" and is determined to "become a terrorist and die for this cause." He presents an ultimatum to society, listing demands such as releasing the 2007 Virginia Tech shooter's manifesto, ending women's right to vote and limiting the enrollment of Chinese people at Ivy League universities.
Vanderbilt reduces coronavirus peak hospitalization projection from thousands to 300
Vanderbilt University researchers now predict the coronavirus outbreak in Tennessee will plateau at its current level of about 300 hospitalizations -- a massive decrease from a prior estimates of thousands -- according to a revised model of the virus. The shift, researchers say, is the result of statewide social distancing lowering the transmission rate of the virus faster than predicted in even their most optimistic scenarios. By staying at home to starve the virus, Tennesseans made a month of progress in less than a week, halting the outbreak before it could grow, they said. Despite this achievement, the virus is not defeated. Due to the incubation period of the virus, the Vanderbilt model does not yet reflect the impact of reopening businesses in Nashville and across the state. It is possible the outbreak could rebound as more Tennesseans leave their homes to dine and shop. John Graves, a Vanderbilt associate professor behind the modeling, said Wednesday the original projections were hampered by limited data about the number of people who were hospitalized at any given time and the length of those hospital stays. "We can only model based on the data that we have at the time, and the data we had in our initial report was consistent with an epidemic that was exponentially increasing," Graves said. "Tennessee was successful in slamming the breaks on that transmission and getting it to basically a simmer."
U. of Missouri accepting proposals to outsource custodial and landscaping duties
The University of Missouri is accepting proposals to outsource custodial and landscaping jobs. "Right now we are exploring all options in cutting costs to the university, and that includes outsourcing," MU spokesperson Christian Basi said. MU already contracts landscaping staff at Mizzou North and custodial staff at several locations on campus. MU directly employs about 250 custodians and 31 landscapers. Basi said because the details of the proposals will vary, he is unable to speculate on how many jobs will be affected.
U. of Missouri sets schedule for virtual commencement
The University of Missouri on Tuesday released details of a 24-hour virtual commencement that will begin at 2 p.m. Friday. MU will award 6,630 degrees to 6,013 students as the spring semester, which moved to online instruction in mid-March, concludes with online activities. Some students will receive more than one degree. More than 800 students who enrolled for online learning, from 44 states and Washington, D.C., and six countries, also will graduate this weekend, the university stated in a news release. The online commencement will begin at 2 p.m. Friday with a video welcome from campus leaders from the administration and student body. The university will award including 4,595 bachelor's degrees, 1,200 master's degrees, 366 doctorates, 81 law degrees, 66 education specialist degrees, 114 veterinary medicine degrees and 104 medical degrees.
First finalist to lead Missouri's diversity mission emphasizes knowing students
Connecting with students face-to-face is key to understanding their experiences, especially with underrepresented minority students, a finalist for the job of the University of Missouri's chief diversity officer said Tuesday. Maurice Gipson, vice chancellor for diversity and community engagement at Arkansas State University in Jonesboro, was the first of three finalists to interview with the campus community, albeit virtually. Gipson shared his background in education and the "innate understanding" his experience as a first-generation college student has given him. Describing himself as "very student-centric," Gipson said that once a week, from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., he sat in Arkansas State's student union to talk with students about their experiences. "I'm telling you, I have learned more about the student experience -- and just in that amount of time -- than ... in my entire career," he said. Gipson titled his presentation "Going from Good to Great." "(MU is) doing phenomenal things, but to me, it's a continuum," he said. "So you're always trying to attain the status of greatness."
NASA researcher did not disclose ties to China, DOJ says
The FBI arrested an Arkansas professor who failed to disclose ties to the Chinese government and Chinese companies before securing funding for a NASA research project, the Justice Department announced Wednesday. Simon Saw-Teong Ang, 63, was arrested Friday and charged with wire fraud. The Justice Department alleges that the electrical engineering professor and researcher at the University of Arkansas-Fayetteville has committed fraud against NASA and the university since 1988 "by failing to disclose that he held other positions at a Chinese university and Chinese companies." Ang faces up to 20 years in prison if convicted. His ties came to light after a university employee tried to find the owner of a hard drive that was placed in lost-and-found at a campus library, according to court documents obtained by CNN. The employee found an email exchange between Ang and a visiting researcher from Xidian University in Xi'an, China. In the September 2018 email discussion, Ang said that the current political climate was making his situation at the university difficult.
Living expenses are larger barrier for students than tuition, report finds
Sticker prices at most, if not all, colleges and universities in the country have increased since the mid-1990s, and some have increased dramatically. But financial aid assistance for low- and middle-income students generally has kept pace with these rising costs, according to a new report from the American Enterprise Institute. The report, "Evidence Against the Free-College Agenda: An Analysis of Prices, Financial Aid and Affordability at Public Universities," argues that free tuition programs at four-year institutions wouldn't be helpful to the neediest students. Instead, policy makers should be looking at living expenses. "The push for free college, a lot of it seems to be premised on the view that public universities' prices have spiraled out of control," said Jason Delisle, the author of the report and a resident fellow at AEI. Those arguing for free college tuition tend to focus on the sticker price, according to Delisle, and not the net price for students after aid. Sometimes, he said, they focus on one specific piece of the puzzle, like state appropriations.
House Dems propose billions for states and colleges, but Republicans oppose bill
Though it was immediately trashed by the Senate's Republican majority as dead on arrival, House Democrats on Tuesday proposed a mammoth fourth stimulus package that would provide the possibility of more money for colleges and universities, specify that undocumented students are eligible for emergency grants, and expand relief for student loan borrowers beyond what was contained in the CARES Act. Lobbyists representing colleges and universities were studying the massive, 1,800-page HEROES Act last evening. But as part of the $3 trillion package, House Democrats proposed giving states the $500 billion in aid governors have asked for to deal with the financial fallout of the pandemic. Colleges and universities had supported the aid in the hopes of softening state funding cuts to higher education as they try to fill billions of dollars in budget shortfall.
65% of college students would attend class in fall without vaccine
Nearly two thirds of college students say they would attend in-person classes if colleges reopen in the fall, even if there is no coronavirus vaccine or cure, according to a new College Reaction poll. The findings suggest that even when faced with the prospect of packed-in lecture halls without a vaccine, most students want to get back to their classes and have an actual college experience, not a virtual one. That could be good news for the financial survival of colleges and universities, but a huge challenge from a public health perspective, since there's sure to be a continued need for some level of social distancing to keep virus caseloads from spiking again. The desire to attend classes in person comes as students report that the virtual education experience is full of pitfalls: 45% say they attend class less often and more than 70% say they're distracted by their phone, computer and things going on at home.
Another pandemic-related threat to universities: falling numbers of graduate students
Until recently, graduate students had generally remained a bright spot in higher education, continuing to show up at colleges and universities and helping institutions balance their books even as undergraduate enrollment dramatically declined. But even before the pandemic, there were signs that the once-reliable flow of graduate students and the money they bring with them was beginning to slow. And now, when that money may be needed most, school leaders and researchers fear that these numbers could plummet. That can only worsen the predicted financial crunch for colleges and universities, as fewer undergraduates are expected on campus this fall, and schools face budget cuts and endowment losses. The biggest question is whether students from abroad will risk coming to the United States. While that's a problem at all levels of higher education, it has much more of an impact on graduate programs, where international students make up 13 percent of the enrollment, compared to less than 3 percent of undergrads.
Oklahoma State veterinary lab linchpin in state's coronavirus testing approach
Akhilesh Ramachandran emailed Oklahoma's public health laboratory just days after the novel coronavirus hit the state in March. As a manager of a veterinary school diagnostic lab, he knew lots about rapid, high-volume testing for viruses -- in animals. He offered his facility as a "backup" for human testing, he said, figuring officials "might say, 'You guys do 100 samples, and we'll do the rest.'" But within weeks, the Oklahoma State University lab -- which typically tests for diseases such as rabies in dogs and respiratory ailments in Oklahoma's large cattle industry -- was running more human coronavirus tests than any other lab in the state. It had recruited a raft of volunteers and hired additional staff to work until 3 a.m. processing thousands of tests a week -- nearly a quarter of the state total, and four times more than the decaying state public health lab. Lab personnel, all animal specialists, speak of their new task as a public service mission. But it also highlights the preparedness of many animal health labs, which -- unlike public health labs -- have been buttressed by federal grants to be bulwarks against outbreaks that could cripple livestock and poultry industries.
California State University plans to cancel most in-person classes and go online this fall, chancellor says
California State University, the nation's largest four-year college system, plans to cancel most in-person classes in the fall and instead offer instruction primarily online, Chancellor Timothy White announced Tuesday. The vast majority of classes across the 23-campus Cal State system will be taught online, White said, with some limited exceptions that allow for in-person activity. "Our university, when open without restrictions and fully in person ... is a place where over 500,000 people come together in close and vibrant proximity," White said at a meeting of Cal State's Board of Trustees. "That approach sadly just isn't in the cards now." The decision to continue remotely reflects how schools throughout the country are grappling with reopening challenges inflicted by the coronavirus crisis -- and what campuses will look like when they do decide to reopen. University of California officials are examining the parameters of what it would take to open their campuses and are expected to announce plans in June or July. UC spokeswoman Claire Doan reiterated Tuesday that campuses were exploring a "mixed approach with some instruction delivered in classroom and lab settings, while other classes will be primarily online."
How Coronavirus Will Disrupt Future Colleges and Universities
In 2017, Scott Galloway anticipated Amazon's $13.7 billion purchase of Whole Foods a month before it was announced. Last year, he called WeWork on its "seriously loco" $47 billion valuation a month before the company's IPO imploded. Now, Galloway, a Silicon Valley runaway who teaches marketing at NYU Stern School of Business, believes the pandemic has greased the wheels for big tech's entree into higher education. The post-pandemic future, he says, will entail partnerships between the largest tech companies in the world and elite universities. MIT@Google. iStanford. HarvardxFacebook. According to Galloway, these partnerships will allow universities to expand enrollment dramatically by offering hybrid online-offline degrees, the affordability and value of which will seismically alter the landscape of higher education. At the same time, more people than ever will have access to a solid education, albeit one that is delivered mostly over the internet. The partnerships he envisions will make life easier for hundreds of millions of people while sapping humanity of a face-to face system of learning that has evolved over centuries.
One option for delivering instruction if campuses open this fall: HyFlex
Around the country, and the world, college and university leadership teams are immersed in high-stakes discussions about whether and how to physically open their campuses to students this fall in a way that is both physically safe and educationally sound. For some institutions, those decisions could be make or break, the difference between survival and closure. Many others still face significant pressures to open: from students (and their parents) who chose to spend their hard-earned dollars on a residential college experience and may take a pass if faced with a virtual one; politicians who want their states and prominent institutions to open up; alumni who are desperate for football Saturdays. Yet the countervailing pressures are significant, too. Today we explore the pros and cons of one possible approach to doing so: a course model known as HyFlex in which each course is built to give students a choice to attend either in person or online.
Record-low science funding could slow research for coronavirus cure
The coronavirus pandemic "comes at a time when the U.S. federal government's investments in science are at the lowest levels in many years," Abby Joseph Cohen and Michael Hao Wu of Goldman Sachs Research write in a recent note to clients. "The federal government now plays a much smaller role in advancing science than it did in the past. The consequence of this trend is particularly damaging for basic research, which depends on the government as its main source of funding." In fiscal year 2019, federal R&D spending was 0.6% of U.S. GDP and 2.8% of total federal outlays, the lowest in more than 60 years, Cohen and Wu note. In fiscal year 2019, federal R&D spending was down 14% from its 2011 levels. "The Trump administration has repeatedly tried to cut funding from federal research and public health agencies. Its FY 2021 budget released on February 10 proposed funding cuts of 18.6% for the CDC, 7.5% for NIAID, and 7.2% for NIH."
Chinese, Iranian Hacking May Be Hampering Search for Coronavirus Vaccine, Officials Say
Chinese and Iranian hackers are aggressively targeting American universities, pharmaceutical and other health-care firms in a way that could be hampering their efforts to find a vaccine to counter the coronavirus pandemic, U.S. officials said. Since at least Jan. 3, the two countries have waged cyberattacks against a range of American firms and institutions that are working to find a vaccine for Covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, officials said. The attacks have raised the prospect among some officials that the aggression could be viewed by the Trump administration as a direct attack on U.S. public health and tantamount to an act of war, they said, because the attacks may have hindered vaccine research in some cases. Such an interpretation would represent an escalation of how the U.S. government views cyberattacks against the country. The issue has sounded alarms across the government. Universities and research institutions have long been of interest to Chinese state-sponsored hackers intent on pilfering biomedical advances and gaining access to classified defense projects and other sensitive information. Due to their collaborative nature, they are widely viewed as weak points for hackers to target.
Gubernatorial powers changed little since adoption of the state's 1890 constitution
Syndicated columnist Sid Salter writes: So a Mississippi governor and the state's Legislature disagree over constitutional powers and responsibilities when it comes to how the state utilizes and expends the $1.25 billion in funds from the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. For those familiar with the state's history, is that development particularly shocking or surprising? And is the political spat something that particularly traces to the individuals involved -- Gov. Tate Reeves, Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann, and Speaker of the House Philip Gunn -- or are they merely the latest set of actors in a political passion play that Mississippians have witnessed many times before? The 1890 Mississippi Constitution created a "weak governor, strong Legislature" system of government. Nearly a century after the 1890 Constitution was adopted, Mississippi's governor was granted the increased powers of gubernatorial succession and the authority to propose an executive budget. But overall, the 1890 constitution still vests the lion's share of raw political power in the state Legislature. Therefore, the legislative leadership since 1890 has wielded enormous power.

Analysis: Breaking down Mississippi State's quarterback room 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 past week-plus, we've dived 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 a foray into the offense, it's time we round out the series with a look at the quarterback room. In an offense predicated on the aerial attack, there's perhaps no position more crucial to Mike Leach's success at MSU than under center -- or, rather, in the shotgun.
UConn, Mississippi State to play in Hall of Fame tourney
UConn and Mississippi State are scheduled to play in November's Hall of Fame Women's Challenge basketball tournament in Connecticut. The Huskies are scheduled to take on instate rival Quinnipiac in the tournament's first round while the Bulldogs open the tournament against Maine. The winners will face off the next day in the championship game and the losers will meet in a third-place game. The tournament is hosted by the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame and held at the Mohegan Sun Arena, about 30 miles from UConn's campus in Storrs.
Mississippi State competing in Basketball Hall of Fame Challenge
New Mississippi State coach Nikki McCray-Penson faces a potential test early in the season as the Bulldogs were selected as one of four teams to participate in the 2020 Hall of Fame Women's Basketball Challenge. MSU meets Maine on Nov. 28 at the Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Connecticut and will face either UConn or Quinnipiac the following day to close out the event. Game times and television coverage will be announced at a later date. The Bulldogs are 4-1 against the field going 3-0 against Maine and 1-1 versus UConn. State last met the Huskies in the 2017 Final Four in which Morgan William buried a jumper at the buzzer in overtime to end UConn's 111-game winning streak.
LSU football staff back on campus, working with players online: 'It's good to be back'
Leave it to the ever-optimistic Ed Orgeron to find the positives in the middle of a pandemic. LSU's national championship-winning football coach was on 104.5 WNXX-FM's "Off the Bench" morning drive show Tuesday, reveling in the joys of getting the band (read: coaching staff) back together and finding ways to be more active than before in recruiting. Orgeron said his staff was able to return to work in the LSU football complex last week, following strict protocols laid out by Shelly Mullenix, LSU's senior associate athletic director for athletic training. "We have to take our temperatures and wear masks," Orgeron said. "It's good to be back to work. I've been by myself (in the office) for eight weeks. This is my team and my family. We count on each other." It is still undetermined when players will be able to get back on campus. The same goes for recruits being allowed to visit, though the uncertainty hasn't stopped the LSU staff from making headway on both fronts.
Coronavirus could drastically change football season for South Carolina, Clemson fans
Ryan Hilinski takes the snap, spies Shi Smith racing past the Coastal Carolina secondary and drops a perfect pass into his hands. The Williams-Brice Stadium crowd roars its approval as South Carolina opens its season on Sept. 5 with a touchdown. If the roar is more of a loud shout, and fans have to walk to the next section over to high-five their buddies, well, that's just what will have to be done. "This was not in the playbook," USC athletics director Ray Tanner said last week. "We're trying to figure out the best way to handle it." Tanner and his staff have been doing what every college athletics department has been doing since the coronavirus outbreak scuttled spring sports and cast the fall football season into a deeper hole than fourth-and-45. While South Carolina and Clemson have each announced their plans to have a normal fall semester from a university perspective, the athletics components are still in doubt. Questions and more questions have no definite answers. All USC and Clemson can do is continue to run models about how things could look once the season arrives. "I'm comfortable saying that regardless of what direction we move, we're going to take a significant hit financially," Tanner said.
Memphis coach Ryan Silverfield not in favor of playing in empty stadiums
If it was up to Memphis football coach Ryan Silverfield, he'd prefer not to play games this season at an empty Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium. "Would I be in favor it? No way," Silverfield said during a virtual meeting with the Rotary Club of Memphis. "It's the fans that make the game. We're so lucky we have such an amazing fanbase here and many of you attend our games at the Liberty Bowl. I want that Liberty Bowl packed, let's fill it with 60,000 every game." However, he acknowledged that it's also out of his control. As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, the NCAA and government officials are weighing all possible options to determine what's safe for all parties. Silverfield said that as he meets often with athletic director Laird Veatch and university president M. David Rudd, they too are considering the scenarios not just for their football team but what's best to keep fans safe. For now, there's remains no consensus on what could happen to college football.
NCAA won't mandate uniform return to college sports, Mark Emmert says
The NCAA won't mandate or oversee a uniform return to college sports, NCAA president Mark Emmert said Tuesday, leaving decisions on start dates to state officials and university presidents. College athletics came to a halt in mid-March, when the NCAA canceled the men's and women's basketball tournaments along with all remaining winter and spring championships, because of the evolving threat of the coronavirus pandemic. There is still no timetable for a return, and Emmert said it isn't the NCAA's role to determine one in this instance. "Normally, there's an agreed-upon start date for every sport, every season," Emmert told ESPN, "but under these circumstances, now that's all been derailed by the pandemic. It won't be the conferences that can do that either. It will be the local and state health officials that say whether or not you can open and play football with fans."
'If the Students Don't Come Back, We're Dead in the Water': Loss of Sports Spells Trouble Far Beyond Athletic Departments
As college leaders make plans for the fall semester, one part of campus life that hangs in the balance -- and holds outsize importance for some students and alumni -- is the slate of fall sports. On Friday, Mark Emmert, president of the National Collegiate Athletic Association, said holding games hinged largely on whether normal campus life would resume. The prospects of that happening are, at best, iffy. The financial implications of such disruption are likely to be enormous, and -- for big-time programs -- compounded by the cancellation of the March Madness basketball tournament, the NCAA's biggest revenue driver. Athletic departments are already announcing multimillion-dollar shortfalls and job cuts. But beyond losses shouldered by athletic departments are broader, communitywide effects. Local economies depend, in part, on college-football game days. On smaller campuses, football and other sports draw students, driving enrollment and tuition revenue. And a canceled, shortened, or postponed college-football season could adversely affect enrollment and fund-raising hauls -- though such effects could pale in comparison with the coronavirus's broader impact on campus life.

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