Monday, May 18, 2020   
Colleges and universities anticipate enrollment changes due to COVID-19
Incoming and current college students are uncertain about the future of their education due the COVID-19 pandemic, and institutions of higher learning are likely to see enrollment numbers change as a result. Dr. John Dickerson, MSU registrar and director of the Office of Admissions, said the number of applications received from prospective freshmen and transfer students hasn't changed much since the COVID-19 crisis began. If anything, he believes enrollment may increase since ACT and SAT exams were largely unable to be administered in March or April. "We've gone to more of a holistic approach of admitting students, so we probably have admitted more students than maybe we could have otherwise because of that," Dickerson said. "Because we've been able to admit some students who don't have test scores." Meanwhile, MSU's Summer Advantage Online program -- with expanded class offerings and lowered tuition rates -- has seen new levels of success this year, Dickerson said. Nearly 7,000 students have already enrolled for summer classes, which Dickerson estimates is around 1,000 more than at this time last year.
Dreams and nightmares inspired by COVID-19
Video: Dreams and nightmares inspired by COVID-19 -- From tidal waves consuming New York City to toilet paper nightmares, reports of apocalyptic, frightening or just plain bizarre pandemic-driven dreams are everywhere. Correspondent Susan Spencer talks about anxiety-fueled dreams with Harvard psychologist Deirdre Barrett, who has collected thousands of pandemic dreams and nightmares as part of a study of our sleep-state responses to coronavirus; Mississippi State University professor Michael Nadorff; and poet Jackie Wang and artist Sandra Haynes, whose dreams have provided metaphorical stories of fear and triumph.
Scientists from Mississippi State's CVM assist with COVID-19 lab work
Five research scientists from the Mississippi State University College of Veterinary Medicine and its Department of Basic Sciences are assisting the Mississippi State Department of Health with efforts to mitigate the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Working at the MSDH Public Health Laboratory in Jackson on weekends in May to conduct COVID-19 human diagnostic testing, these scientists include CVM research associates Michelle Banes and Allen Shack; Dr. Wei Tan, director of the CVM flow cytometry facility; graduate student Liyuan Liu; and post-doctoral researcher Dr. Nogi Park, all of whom are skilled in molecular biology and currently work in areas conducting infectious disease research at CVM. Their work extends the efforts of those who are regular employees of the lab and enables them to have weekends off. These five scientists join Dr. Lifang Yan, a CVM faculty member at Mississippi Veterinary Research and Diagnostic Laboratory in Pearl, who already was assisting the MSDH.
High school students offered online classes through MSU Continuing Education
High school students in the Magnolia State can take advantage of online courses offered through Mississippi State's Center for Continuing Education to accelerate progress toward graduation, catch up with classes they need, take a course not available at their school or simply enjoy a convenient online learning option. The MSU High School Online program offers open enrollment so Mississippi public, private and homeschool students can register at any time to begin earning Carnegie credits toward graduation requirements. Complete details are available at All courses are approved by the Mississippi Department of Education and developed and taught by licensed Mississippi teachers. Amber Shultice, continuing education program coordinator, said the convenient online courses are designed to help students who plan to graduate early, lack courses they need, have transferred from out of state or have a scheduling conflict.
Extension reintroduces HappyHealthy campaign
As Mississippians continue to practice social distancing, they can learn ways to create shared food and family experiences, prepare meals at home, shop for healthy foods on a budget and be more physically active through the HappyHealthy social campaign. A free program of the Mississippi State University Extension Service, HappyHealthy offers resources on shopping, cooking and being physically active on its social media platforms and website. Learn how to plan family meals and prepare kid-approved, quick and easy recipes. Find recipes and how-to videos that demonstrate knife skills, cooking methods and proper measuring techniques, as well as what to look for when buying fresh fruits and vegetables. HappyHealthy is funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture through the Mississippi Department of Health and is administered through Extension.
MSU Extension offices using Facebook, videos to help public
The doors to Lee County Extension may be locked due to the coronavirus pandemic, but the office is open for business. Extension employees are taking turns staffing the office on Cliff Gookin Boulevard in Tupelo from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. "We're here to answer questions about everything from soil samples to 4-H, canning and gardening, and we're also here if someone needs to stop by and get a publication," said Mary Kathryn Moore, family and consumer science extension agent for Lee County. "The doors are locked but you can call and we can set those publications outside for you." Moore said people can also drop soil samples off at the office and once four or five are collected, they'll be sent off for testing. "We've gotten a lot more soil samples lately," Moore said. "A lot more people are gardening."
Property managers concerned about fewer students returning in the fall
Some leasing directors in Starkville are worried on whether students will return to campus in the Fall or move to online learning. Mississippi State University administrators announced that students and faculty will return to campus for in-person classes in the fall semester. However, while still in a coronavirus pandemic some property managers are concerned that students may choose to continue to take classes online. Brandi Kirkland is the leasing and marketing director for The Social Campus. "We're really trying to make it to where our residents don't necessarily feel like we're in a pandemic," she said. "Once we're able to reopen our gym and our club house and all of the amenities, we'll make sure that they are heavily equipped with all types of cleaning tools that they need."
Homegrown COVID-19 relief group gets a boost from Starkville Utilities, TVA
Local musician Jimmy Redd decided he had to do something when restaurants in Starkville closed their dine-in services in March due to the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic. "All of a sudden, all my friends are out of work," he said. "They don't know how they're going to pay rent and utilities, and all this was before we knew about stimulus checks (or) that people were going to get more money for unemployment." To help ease people's distress, he started a Facebook page where he said he hoped members of the Starkville community would share things like individual crowdfunding campaigns. The group, Starkville Strong, became a COVID-19 relief organization managed through Oktibbeha Starkville Emergency Response Volunteer Services (OSERVS). The group provides gift cards from restaurants, grocery stores and other locally owned businesses to people who have experienced layoffs, reduced work hours or other financial struggles due to the pandemic. The Starkville Rotary Foundation provided Starkville Strong with $2,500, and the Starkville Utilities Department announced Tuesday that it will contribute another $2,500 through a partnership with the Tennessee Valley Authority.
Starkville Utilities, TVA, United Way donate $15K to help pay late utility bills
Starkville Utilities Department announced Tuesday that a partnership with Tennessee Valley Authority has brought in $7,500 to help cover Oktibbeha County residents' late utility bills, less than two weeks before the Mississippi Public Service Commission lifts its suspension on disconnections for missed and late payments. United Way of North Central Mississippi is providing an additional $7,500, for $15,000 total. TVA allocated a certain amount of money to all 154 of its member utility providers for COVID-19 relief, giving $10,000 to SUD, SUD General Manager Terry Kemp said. Of that, $2,500 will go to Starkville Strong, a COVID-19 relief group that supports local businesses and citizens who are financially struggling due to the pandemic. Starkville Strong has received another $2,500 from Starkville Rotary Foundation. The remaining $7,500 of the funds TVA allocated to SUD is being distributed to United Way's Emergency Management Fund. That money, combined with the $7,500 already in the fund, will be used to provide financial assistance to families who have needed help paying their bills since the pandemic started.
Pleasant Acres water and sewer project poised to finish
Replacing the water and sewer lines in the Pleasant Acres neighborhood was initially estimated to cost $600,000 and take 90 days of construction. It cost more than $1 million and took more than a year and a half, but the Starkville Utilities Department has all but completed the project and only has to do some finishing work, general manager Terry Kemp told the board of aldermen at its Friday work session. "All the infrastructure is in place," Kemp said. "It's accomplished and we feel real good about it." Pleasant Acres was the first of three projects the city planned in 2018 to replace water and sewer infrastructure in Starkville that dates back to the 1950s and 1960s. The projects will replace the aging metal pipes with larger PVC pipes that will increase capacity. Heavy and frequent rainfall caused extensive delays, and Kemp told The Dispatch last year the decision to install the sewer lines at a greater depth than they were originally also extended the work schedule. He said Friday that the department in the future will create more detailed plans in advance of a project like Pleasant Acres.
Two multimillion-dollar solar energy projects could come to Lowndes County
Two 200-megawatt solar energy projects that would generate and potentially store power could come to Lowndes County after supervisors unanimously approved resolutions of intent Friday morning to enter fee-in-lieu agreements with each of the two companies pitching the projects. Golden Triangle Development LINK CEO Joe Max Higgins, who is leading the recruitment effort for the projects -- codenamed "Honeybee and "Moore's Bluff" to protect the companies' identities while they decide whether to locate in Lowndes County -- said they bring the potential of $260 million in initial investment. Project Moore's Bluff would bring an investment of between $60 million and $200 million, while Project Honeybee would invest at least $60 million, according to Higgins. He said the solar farms producing renewable powers could also attract more businesses to the area. Additionally, hundreds of jobs could be created during the construction phase of the sites, Higgins said, but the operations could require fewer than five people on site. But in the long run, there could be a bigger job market, he said.
United/Lane Furniture to hire 400 to fill range of positions
United Furniture Industries and Lane Furniture is hiring an additional 400 workers across its plants in Northeast Mississippi. United Furniture Industries, which purchased the Lane brand in 2017, is one of the largest employers in the region. United employs approximately 3,600 workers at plants, offices and distribution centers in Mississippi, North Carolina and California. Following a brief shutdown from the coronavirus pandemic, the company has resumed manufacturing and other operations under CDC and the Mississippi Department of Health guidelines. "As our retail partners begin to reopen, they look to us to provide furniture with compelling value. That is our focus and where we excel,"said UFI/Lane President Larry George. "We provide great-looking, quality product that offers intense value. As the country starts to reopen and consumers begin to shop, now more than ever, value is important"
Mississippi Department of Agriculture and Commerce changes rules on how farmers can sell meat products
In spite of the COVID-19 pandemic, farmers are given new rules on how to sell meat products from their cattle and herds. The Mississippi Department of Agriculture and Commerce set up an online portal to connect farmers and consumers with a list of what the farmers offer. "It will expire automatically in 120 days, but we're going to make it a permanent rule during that 120-day period, open up the public comment, and what this will allow is for Mississippians who want to buy local beef or pork, farm-raised livestock, they can buy a share in that animal, whatever the farmer wants to sell," said Commissioner of Agriculture and Commerce Andy Gipson.
John Rounsaville named interim director of Mississippi Development Authority
John Rounsaville has been named Mississippi Development Authority interim director by Gov. Tate Reeves. He has served in various capacities for state and national leaders, including Rep. Charles W. "Chip" Pickering, former Gov. Haley Barbour and Presidents George W. Bush and Donald J. Trump. Rounsaville from 1998 to 2003 served as Rep. Pickering's Deputy Chief of Staff, then joined Barbour's office as policy advisor from 2004 to 2006. He was then appointed by President Bush as state director for USDA Rural Development from 2006 to 2008. He was vice president of Strategic Services for Waggoner Engineering Inc., from 2008 to 2017. He is a graduate of Mississippi State University with a bachelor's and master's, as well as a Juris Doctor from University of Mississippi.
Governor appoints John Rounsaville as Interim Director of MDA
Late Friday afternoon, Governor Tate Reeves announced that John Rounsaville will serve as the Interim Director of the Mississippi Development Authority. Glenn McCullough Jr. stepped down as MDA's Executive Director back in January. Rounsaville currently serves as State Director for USDA Rural Development after he was appointed by President Donald Trump. "John has been a true servant of Mississippi for many years and been devoted to helping our state grow. I am honored that he will take on this role to build on our state's economic development successes. He will play a critical role as MDA Interim Director as we work to restart our economy and shift it into overdrive for the people of Mississippi," said Governor Tate Reeves. Earlier this week, the Mississippi Legislature passed a bill allocating $300 million for small businesses impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. $60 million will be delivered through direct payments to businesses that were forced to shut down and the remaining $240 million will be disbursed through grants which will be administered by MDA.
Analysis: Mississippi to mull many requests for relief cash
Mississippi lawmakers and Gov. Tate Reeves still have to make big decisions about spending most of the $1.25 billion that the federal government is sending the state for coronavirus relief. After ending their feud over who has power to spend the money, the Republican governor and the Legislature worked efficiently last week to create a plan to use $300 million for small business grants. "My priority from day one has been the quick release of these funds and getting back to the people who need it," Reeves said during a news conference Thursday, hours after legislators approved the grant program in a late-night session. Reeves and legislators will face long list of requests as they consider how to spend the additional federal money. Educators and others spoke at the Capitol last week about the need to expand high-speed internet service, particularly in rural areas where coverage is spotty or nonexistent.
Mississippi gaming to reopen this week
Mississippi's casinos scoured safety guidelines and prepared Saturday to put them in place before the businesses reopen doors to gamblers on Thursday. The Mississippi Gaming Commission this week released the guidelines for gaming operations to resume. Among the new rules, properties are limited to 50% occupancy and guests must be screened with questions about their health before they're allowed entry. Any answer of "yes" would prohibit them from going inside. During the screening, guests also will be asked to use hand sanitizer and encouraged to wear a mask -- provided by the casino -- while on the property. Meanwhile, Gov. Tate Reeves spent Saturday morning reading the names of thousands of graduating seniors who missed a traditional graduation because of the global pandemic. "They deserve a blessing right now," Reeves said in a tweet Saturday. "Working to get through the nearly 10,000 submitted."
What to expect when Mississippi casinos reopen Thursday amid coronavirus pandemic
Casinos can reopen Thursday, but it will be a different game for patrons. The Mississippi Gaming Commission set guidelines Friday for casinos to reopen at their discretion beginning Thursday at 8 a.m. Guidelines limit guests in casinos to 50% capacity, guests are asked to use hand sanitizer and encouraged to wear a mask. Before entering a casino, guests will be greeted with a checklist asking not to enter if they have any COVID-19 symptoms. Once inside, waiting areas/lines will be marked to observe 6 feet social distancing standards Those not adhering to physical distancing and any other requirements will be asked to leave. There will be no entertainment or special event gatherings. No promotions/table game tournaments will be permitted that require customers to cluster.
Coast casinos will look different when they open due to COVID-19
There's a lot of work to be done between now and when Mississippi casinos can start reopening on Thursday, May 21. But those who miss the crab legs, the spinning of the slot machines and the hospitality at their favorite casinos may even have to wait a little longer. Just as all the casinos didn't open on Day One of sports betting, they may not all be ready to return on Thursday. It's one thing to get a reopening date after the coronavirus shutdown. It's another for the Mississippi Gaming Commission to approve the new opening protocols, said David Strow, spokesman with IP Casino's parent company Boyd Gaming. The 12 casinos in South Mississippi and the 14 others in the state won't look or feel like they did when they closed on March 16. Starting at the front door, there won't be valet service at most casinos. Hand sanitizer stations will be at every access point. Restaurants that are open will have tables spaced 6 feet apart. Gone are the days when people will help themselves at the buffets. Staff will make their plates. Spas and gyms will open.
Governor, first lady to meet with Trumps
Gov. Tate Reeves and first lady Elee will meet with President Donald Trump and first lady Melania. The governor made the announcement Monday on social media. Reeves said he will not hold his regular 2:30 p.m. COVID-19 briefing because his meeting with the Trumps is happening during that time. Over the weekend, Reeves held virtual commencement ceremonies live on Facebook and congratulated thousands of Mississippi graduates from the class of 2020. The governor said he will continue recognizing the graduates on his Facebook page beginning at 5 p.m. Tuesday. More than 10,000 graduating seniors or their parents submitted a form asking the governor to recognize them. There were so many that the governor was forced to spread the online commencement over a few days.
Analysis: Could legislative contempt for Gov. Tate Reeves create lasting bipartisanship at the Capitol?
Republican Speaker of the House Philip Gunn called House Democratic Leader Rep. Robert Johnson last Friday with a rare invitation: He wanted Democrats to work with Republican leadership on crafting a major policy initiative. Gunn told Johnson that another fight with Gov. Tate Reeves looked possible over what would become a $300 million relief package for small businesses affected by the coronavirus pandemic, and he wanted Democrats at the table early in case a veto override became necessary later. "I'm not gonna lie, I laughed. I thought to myself, 'This will last one or two meetings, and it'll fizzle out and fall apart,'" Johnson told Mississippi Today. "I told the speaker, 'If we're going to do this, it has to be real.' And it was. They proved me wrong. Every step of the way, every point that we thought was important that (House Republicans) hadn't considered, they considered them."
USDA is key for food aid, but may lack speed in crisis
The COVID-19 pandemic has underlined weaknesses in the U.S. food supply chain as the highly integrated network based on just-in-time delivery clogged up amid a collapse in consumer demand, the closing of key plants, and the slaughtering of livestock and dumping of products by farmers who had no place to send them. To many, the U.S. food supply chain seemed to break in April, when thousands of suddenly unemployed people lined up at food pantries while dairy farmers poured out rivers of milk, produce growers plowed under crops and livestock farmers destroyed animals as commercial buyers had closed or slowed their operations because of COVID-19 restrictions. "It's been quite a scramble," Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue told former secretaries Dan Glickman and Ann Veneman during a May 12 forum on food. "These unprecedented times have put the supply chain to the test. We've had some hits and we've suffered some cuts and bruises along the way."
Vaccine is possible by end of year, Johns Hopkins expert says
A vaccine for the novel coronavirus is possible by the end of the year, but he wouldn't "bank on it," the director of the Center for Health Security of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health said Sunday. "We should hold out some level of hope that if everything goes in the right direction, we could possibly be seeing a vaccine by the end of the year," Dr. Tom Inglesby said on NBC's "Meet the Press." Inglesby said ordinarily it is not realistic to expect a vaccine to be created quickly, but he said the circumstances in this case are unique and might lead to faster development. "Given that there are now 110 vaccine projects going on around the world that all the major vaccine companies in the world are working on this in some way, and given that Tony Fauci and Moncef Slaoui are now leading figures in the U.S. in this project and they both believe it's possible, I think it is possible," Inglesby said. "But everything would have to break in the right way. And there are many ways that it might not work. So, I don't think we should bank on it."
The W and United Way partner to help recent graduates
The coronavirus pandemic continues to directly and indirectly affect the lives of so many individuals, including recent graduates of Mississippi University for Women who are transitioning from college life into the real world. The W has partnered with the United Way of Lowndes and Noxubee to battle the ripple effects created by the global health emergency. Funds are now being collected for a particularly vulnerable population -- graduating seniors who are international students. Dwight Doughty, coordinator for international student services and admissions at The W, explained there are currently one million F and M visa students studying in the United States. "Each college and university is facing the challenge of offering assistance during this unprecedented time. Our international students are an essential part of our university and community," he said. "The W and United Way's partnership will help assure that our scholars remain sheltered and healthy throughout the summer transition. Together, we can make a difference in the lives of those in need."
Monday Profile: 20-year-old among youngest to graduate from MUW's undergrad nursing program
When Christina Clark graduated from Mississippi University for Women in a virtual commencement ceremony on May 9, she was the youngest person with a Bachelor of Science degree in nursing this year -- and possibly ever -- to do so. The Columbus resident only just turned 20 and already has her certified nursing assistant license and a job working at Trinity Health Care, where she's been working for about a year. All she has to do now, she said, is take the National Council Licensure Examination to get her nursing license and become a registered nurse, instead of CNA. "It feels great," Clark said of her accomplishments. "I like to be able to show other people that just because you're young doesn't mean you can't achieve dreams that you want to." Clark's dream started when she was a child watching her grandmother, who had chronic health issues, interact with nurses in the hospital.
UMMC could see $150 million in losses this year due to the coronavirus pandemic
The University of Mississippi Medical Center is projecting revenue losses of $150 million by December. UMMC Vice Chancellor for Health Affairs Dr. LouAnn Woodward told members of the Senate Public Health and Welfare Committee Tuesday that the hospital is estimating losses of $100 million by September and $150 million by the end of December. The Mississippi Legislature is deciding how to spend the $1.25 billion the state received in federal CARES Act funding. Late Wednesday night, lawmakers approved $300 million of the money for small businesses impacted by COVID-19. They are expected to return May 26 to begin deciding how to spend the remainder of the money. Woodward, who is also dean of the UMMC's School of Medicine, said the hospital's revenue loss estimate is a moving target and could change depending on how much it is reimbursed by the federal government. Woodward said the hospital is seeing an uptick in patients without insurance due to job loss.
National Park Service awards JSU nearly $500K grant for Mount Olive Cemetery
The National Park Service awarded Jackson State a $496,023 grant to preserve the historic Mount Olive Cemetery. More than three years ago, Dr. Heather Wilcox, director for Community Engagement at the Center for University-Based Development, began the process of securing the grant for the historic Mount Olive Cemetery that is located on the back of Jackson State's campus. "I wrote the grant because this historic site needed some tender loving care," Wilcox said. "This grant will allow JSU to preserve the site and make it a more welcoming place to come learn about its historical significance." Mount Olive Cemetery has served as the final resting place for African-Americans for more than 200 years. The legacy of Mount Olive includes those burial sites of Jim Hill and Ida Revels-Redmond.
Rapper overcomes odds to earn master's from JSU; was declared dead 3 times
Local rapper Kirk Williams earned his degree from Jackson State University at age 36 this year. Williams, a father of two, grew up in Jackson. By age 14, he was a drug dealer, homeless and was declared dead three times after being shot while protecting his sister. He earned his Master of Arts in Urban and Regional Planning, finishing with a 3.9 GPA. He says he was lucky to avoid a felony. "To come from an environment where 98 percent of people have felonies around you, there is always a concern about being able to register for school and apply for financial aid," Williams said. He says being shot was a "wake-up call about the world in which we live in." When he turned 23, he started working toward his GED. After four failed tries, he earned it on his fifth attempt. In 2016, he earned his bachelor's degree from JSU and now has a master's.
East Mississippi Community College noncredit Workforce classes resume online
East Mississippi Community College Certified Medical Coding student Sharon Ybarra is among those taking noncredit Workforce and Community Services division courses that have transitioned to an online learning format because of the novel coronavirus. East Mississippi Community College's Workforce and Community Services division has transitioned two noncredit medical programs to online instruction and is registering students for other noncredit programs that will be offered this summer and fall. Services are also available for those in need of finishing their high school education. "Our instructors had never taught online courses before and it has been a learning experience for them," Workforce Community Outreach Program Director Sha'Carla Petty said. "I am impressed with how they have embraced it." Classes are now being taught via online discussion boards, video conferencing and PowerPoint presentations, among other things.
U. of Florida researchers develop at-home COVID-19 test
The solution to COVID-19 testing shortages can now be found in a strip of paper, according to two University of Florida researchers. Piyush Jain, a UF chemical engineering professor, and Long Nguyen, a 28-year-old UF chemical engineering graduate student, say they have developed a COVID-19 test that can be administered at home. Using saliva and a paper strip, the test tells users if they are infected with the virus in about an hour, Jain said. The pair hopes to make the test available before the end of the summer, and they are currently talking to manufacturers, Jain said. He said they aim to make it accessible worldwide and cost $1 to $2. Jain and Nguyen, his graduate assistant, originally began creating the testing system to detect genetic diseases like HIV, prostate cancer and hepatitis C, he said. They started eight months before the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a public health emergency of international concern.
U. of South Carolina only holding online classes after Thanksgiving because of COVID-19 concerns
The University of South Carolina announced it's making significant changes to the fall semester schedule because of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. In an effort to reduce the spread of COVID-19, USC President Bob Caslen released a statement saying the university's canceling fall break and suspending all face-to-face classes after Thanksgiving. Caslen said these changes, and more, were made from recommendations by the Future Planning Group and with "the full support of the Office of the Provost and our public health experts." The decision to return to only a virtual classroom after Thanksgiving was made because the university's models show a spike in cases of COVID-19 at the beginning of December, which is also the start of traditional flu season, Caslen said. There will be two remote class days on Nov. 30 and Dec. 1, followed by reading days before final exams are held from Dec. 7-14. Those tests will also be held remotely, according to the statement.
Chancellor John Sharp: Plan being formed for Texas A&M System schools to reopen this fall
Texas A&M System Chancellor John Sharp said during this week's Board of Regents meeting that he and others are working to present a plan to reopen System universities for the fall by the end of this month. "Our enrollment projections so far are looking good, but we have to continue to monitor the spread of the disease," he said. "Fall 2020 won't look like fall 2019. But it can't look like this spring and summer without serious consequences. We have to be smart about how we reopen safely, and we think we have guidelines to suggest to you later this month." "We can't wait until August to develop plans to reopen," Sharp said. "We have to prepare simultaneously for different scenarios." Additionally, the Texas A&M System's 11 universities and eight state agencies would have lost $116 million through Aug. 31 without federal aid, according to financial documents presented at Thursday's meeting. The projections were made as of May 1.
Layoffs, furloughs continue at U. of Missouri
University of Missouri Health Care eliminated 29 more positions this week at its hospitals and clinics, in addition to 32 laid off May 1 as a response to financial hardships caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. There were also 320 additional furloughs across campus since the 579 announced last week. "We knew these numbers were going to grow," said MU spokesman Christian Basi of the furloughs. "It's possible they will continue to grow over the next several months." MU officials have asked division financial officials to prepare for cuts of 12.5 percent in the coming fiscal year to cover a budget shortfall of up to $180 million. A committee has been formed to examine university programs for elimination or revision. UM System President and interim Chancellor Mun Choi has continued to project an optimistic view of likely enrollment in the fall semester. In a talk Thursday to the Columbia Chamber of Commerce, Choi cited registration numbers that are ahead of last year's figures.
No students. No graduation. 'Total devastation' in college towns during coronavirus pandemic
When Clemson University students turn 21, they celebrate at Tiger Town Tavern by buying one of the downtown bar's iconic "I'm Legal!" T-shirts. On fall game days, football fans and alumni pack around the pool tables and onto the outdoor patio, leaving a line of people out the door. And on just about every other day, regulars have a Tiger orange barstool where they sit every time they come in for beer and bar food. But for two months, Tiger Town Tavern sat empty -- after being in continual operation since 1977, right up until South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster's executive order closed dining rooms on March 13 in response to the coronavirus pandemic. The bar reopened its outdoor patio for customers after the governor eased restrictions on May 4. It was allowed to reopen for indoor dining on May 11, but can only operate at 50% capacity, according to McMaster's emergency order. "It's a real bummer, but you know it's for the greater good, because I can tell you right now ... social distancing in a bar is impossible," part-owner Cameron Farish said as he sat on one of those orange barstools, arms crossed and shoulders hunched.
Graduations, Campus Classes Canceled by Coronavirus Shock College-Town Economy
The coronavirus pandemic has turned vibrant college towns across the U.S. into vacant ones. This weekend was supposed to be one of the busiest of the year for businesses in Blacksburg, Va., as parents, grandparents and well-wishers converged on the town to celebrate the 2020 graduates of Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University. Instead, the city of 45,000 remains in quiet repose, pining for its students to return. It has been a long two months for Blacksburg and other communities like it, as the pandemic robbed them of their main source of economic vitality. What is happening in Blacksburg is playing out in cities from Ithaca, N.Y., to Pullman, Wash., where the pandemic hasn't only shut down many businesses but also emptied out college campuses. The losses are especially painful in places that have leaned on universities to lure well-paying jobs and industry to communities that might otherwise lack both. "We've always had the luxury of being insulated from the normal ebbs and flow of the economy," said Mike Soriano, a Virginia Tech grad who owns four Blacksburg restaurants, including Champs Downtown Sports Bar & Cafe. The university moved its spring and summer terms to online classes. "And with the uncertainty of the fall, it's made things difficult to project," he added.
It's not so much when colleges reopen -- it's also how
With all the focus on when colleges reopen, how they will do so has gotten less attention. As college administrators across the country continue announcing plans to reopen their institutions this fall, two important questions have been largely lost in the debates over those decisions. What will it take for colleges to reopen responsibly as long as there is no vaccine or treatment for COVID-19 -- and how realistic is it that colleges can put measures in place by fall? Testing, contact tracing and isolation and quarantining of ill individuals are among the steps public health experts say will have to be taken. But myriad other measures will also have to adopted. A 20-page document from the American College Health Association outlines considerations for colleges to take into account, from local public health challenges to containment and surveillance capabilities of campuses to the need to space out students in residence and dining halls. The ideal, the guidance states, would be to have one resident per room and per bathroom, which is not how most college dormitories are currently set up.
Congress Gave Colleges A $14 Billion Lifeline. Here's Where It's Going
College dorms are closed; athletic events are canceled; classes have moved online. Like so many sectors of the U.S. economy, higher education is taking a hit from the coronavirus pandemic. In March, Congress set aside more than $14 billion to help colleges and universities weather the outbreak. Here's where most of that money has gone, and why many colleges are holding out for more. The largest bucket -- that $12.5 billion -- was designed to be the main vehicle for getting funds directly to colleges and students. The U.S. Department of Education allocated this money to colleges using a formula that favors institutions serving full-time, low-income students. And there's another wrinkle: Three weeks after the CARES Act was signed into law, the Education Department issued guidance that said only students who are eligible for federal student aid programs can qualify for these emergency grants. That means, according to the department, international students and undocumented students -- including those who are protected under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program -- are not eligible for any emergency aid.
More State Cuts as Congress Splits on Local Aid
As Democrats in the House were preparing to pass a $3 trillion coronavirus relief bill on Friday that had already been rejected by the Republican Senate, news from Michigan illustrated the stakes for higher education in whether Congress will be able to reach an agreement on sending aid to states. A state senate revenue forecast said Michigan, bludgeoned by the coronavirus epidemic, will have to cut $2.6 billion from its current budget, which runs through September, The Detroit News reported. It will also have $3.3 billion less to spend in next year's budget. Daniel Hurley, CEO of the Michigan Association of State Universities, told Inside Higher Ed in an interview that he's concerned colleges will have their funding slashed in a state that already ranks 44th nationally in per-capita higher education funding. News of the coming state cuts to colleges, Hurley said, "is simultaneously unsurprising, yet surreal because of its magnitude." Michigan became the latest state to announce it will have to make major budget cuts as it feels the effects of shuttered businesses, rising unemployment and additional health-care costs during the pandemic. "I think all eyes are on Congress," Hurley said, to rescue the states.
When worlds collide reality can change
Syndicated columnist Bill Crawford of Meridian writes: As our worlds collide over the coronavirus, the surreal 1933 novel of that name by Philip Wylie and Edwin Balmer comes to mind. The novel "When Worlds Collide" portrayed the surreal phenomenon of another world crashing into earth. Old earth did not survive, but a new earth did. What will be the outcome of our collision? No microcosm captures our dilemma better than the collision of President Donald Trump's world and that of his top health advisor Dr. Anthony Fauci. Trump's political world has abandoned caution, with the President and allies calling for America to fully re-open NOW! Fauci's science oriented world continues to urge caution with Fauci and other experts saying wait on further research, preparation, and testing before easing into re-opening. We see resonances of this play out here in Mississippi as some totally ignore the cautious behavior recommended by Gov. Tate Reeves and his health advisors while others, particularly the elderly and those with impaired immune systems, hunker down fearfully at home convinced the deadly killer will strike when they emerge. As our worlds fully collide as much re-opens in the coming days, what will be the outcome?
Mississippi trailing most states in making elections safer
Bobby Harrison writes for Mississippi Today: In no state has more blood been shed for the right to vote than Mississippi, where people have died in the quest to end Jim Crow-era laws that denied the vote to African American citizens. Hopefully, Mississippians no longer have to put their lives on the line to vote. But under current state laws, voting could again be dangerous if COVID-19 is still a threat in November when Mississippians go to the polls to elect a president, U.S. senator and other officeholders. Mississippi has some of the nation's most restrictive voting laws. And Mississippi is one of only six states, according to Represent Us, a national non-profit promoting mail-in voting, to not have taken steps to make it safer to vote if the coronavirus is still a factor in November.
Election Day in Mississippi: Secretary of State outlines steps
Mississippi Secretary of State Michael Watson writes: During these unprecedented times, I am grateful for all of the essential workers and volunteers who are providing access to food, health care, and supplies. The COVID-19 global pandemic has forced us to provide vital services and take care of those in need using very limited resources. As expected, Mississippians have risen to the challenge. While we hope to have this in our rearview mirror before the upcoming elections, I realize we must act now. Your right to vote should not be among the pandemic's victims. Here at the Secretary of State's Office, we do not believe voters should have to choose between casting a ballot and risking their own health. Therefore, we have put together a plan to safeguard the integrity and legitimacy of our elections while protecting our citizens. Crises often provoke extreme reactions, and as your chief elections officer, I assure you that while facing these issues with an open mind, we will not let this pandemic be used as an open door for expanded government control or fraud.

'I think it's where he should finish out his days': Why Ron Polk returned to Mississippi State
The timetable for Ron Polk's return to Mississippi State is far from exact. For years, Polk and MSU Athletic Director John Cohen had traded calls, messages and handshakes that the pair wanted a homecoming for the longtime Bulldog baseball coach, but nothing officially was done. Timing was a piece of the puzzle. Polk had an understanding with administrators at UAB that he would remain a volunteer assistant for the Blazers' baseball team as long as his former assistant at MSU, Brian Shoop, remained the head coach in Birmingham. On May 10, Shoop announced his retirement, bringing his 39-year career to a close. Within days, Polk's next move came into focus as he and Cohen bandied about a possible position within the MSU athletic department. Wednesday, Polk's hiring was made official after media reports surfaced earlier in the day that he'd been appointed a special assistant to the athletic director. After 12 years away from the stadium that bears his name and the school in which he built a historic winner, Polk will finally make his long-awaited return.
Doctor with Starkville ties will lead NFL's comeback
A Mississippi State graduate will be on the front lines as NFL teams can begin reopening their facilities this week. League medical officer Dr. Allen Sills, a 1982 Starkville High School graduate, developed the protocols that all 32 teams must follow as they gradually get back to work. "While these protocols have been carefully developed and reflect best practices," Commissioner Roger Goodell said in a statement, "they can also be adapted and supplemented to ensure compliance with any state and local public health requirements." All NFL team facilities have been closed since late March due to the coronavirus pandemic. Sills will conduct a mandatory training program for each team's infection control officers on Monday night. Teams were required to submit reopening plans last week. A Nashville-based neurosurgeon who has specialized in the treatment of athletes, Sills graduated summa cum laude from Mississippi State with a degree in engineering in 1996 and attended medical school at Johns Hopkins.
Sources: NCAA D-I Council Voting to Lift Moratorium on On-Campus Activities Starting June 1
Officials can cross a major hurdle Wednesday in football's return. The NCAA Division I Council, a 40-member decision-making body made up of key college athletics figures, could lift a nation-wide moratorium on on-campus summer activities, multiple sources told Sports Illustrated, creating a pathway for schools to welcome back their athletes as soon as June 1. The ban, triggered in March amid the coronavirus outbreak, expires May 31. Council members have three options. They can keep campuses shutdown completely by extending the ban, an unlikely ruling, according to people knowledgeable about the discussions; they can open campuses for voluntary training (without coaching interaction); or they can grant required training (with staff interaction). Members are in somewhat agreement on allowing voluntary access, but they plan to get feedback from coaches and administrators over the coming days.
Major football colleges prepare for fall season
The message out of Texas A&M University is clear and confident: there will be Aggie football this fall. Whether or not the university is able to fill its 102,733-seat stadium to capacity, A&M wants to be a national and state symbol of the return to normalcy after the coronavirus pandemic shut down the College Station campus along with much of the country. A&M athletic director Ross Bjork remembers how football fans coordinated wearing the colors of the American flag for the Aggies' first home game after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Fans sitting in each of the three levels of Kyle Field all wore the same color. The "Red, White and Blue Out" was a display of patriotism that "no act of togetherness and camaraderie on such a grand and public scale could match," said 12th Man Magazine, the university athletic foundation's publication. Bjork envisions a similar, triumphant return for football following the worst of the pandemic. The importance of college football to the state partly fueled the decision by A&M to safely bring athletes back to competition this year, Bjork said. The assurances mask widespread uncertainty about how such a fall season would be structured, especially when it comes to the fan experience.
College Football Prepares for a Tough Matchup: Tradition vs. Coronavirus
College Station, Texas, isn't prone to earthquakes. But when 100,000-plus Texas A&M fans chant their school's "War Hymn" at football games, the stands at Kyle Field shake. During the final verse, when the lyrics instruct the Aggies to "saw varsity's horns off," revelers link arms with their neighbors and turn the stadium into a rolling sea of maroon and white. It's one the most high-density scenes in college football, heavily reliant on human contact -- and completely out of step with the reality of the coronavirus pandemic. And now Texas A&M athletic director Ross Bjork is the man who has to figure out what that rowdy setting is supposed to look like if the nearest person is 6 feet away. It's not clear if the college football season will start on time or at all, and whether fans will be allowed to attend when play begins. But as the overseer of a program that is heavily dependent on fan traditions, Bjork is already grappling with the question of how to stage a game at a time when the pandemic has posed previously unasked questions about all mass gatherings.
President Trump Looks Forward to the Return of Sports With Crowds
In a telephone appearance during a televised charity golf exhibition on Sunday, President Trump enthusiastically supported the return of live sports events during the coronavirus pandemic. "We want to get sports back, we miss sports," Trump said. "We need sports in terms of the psyche of our country. And that's what we're doing." On Sunday, at roughly the halfway point of a skins game match involving four of the PGA Tour's top golfers -- Rory McIlroy, Dustin Johnson, Rickie Fowler and Matthew Wolff -- Trump praised NBC for carrying the event, then called for a more robust resumption of activities in all sports. While Sunday's golf exhibition was produced by a skeleton television crew and contested without spectators or caddies, the president said he hoped that future events would be teeming with fans. The PGA Tour is planning to become one of the first major American sports to return to competition with the Charles Schwab Classic on June 11 in Fort Worth. A lengthy, almost weekly schedule of men's golf tournaments is set to follow, including the P.G.A. Championship in San Francisco in early August, the United States Open in mid-September outside New York City and the Masters in November in Augusta, Ga.
Records show Georgia Southern spent $50k on Athletic Director search
Jared Benko's first official day as the Georgia Southern University Athletic Director was April 1, 2020. Records show that it cost the school $50,000 to get him to Statesboro. A contract dated January 8, 2020 was signed by University President Dr. Kyle Marrero, entering into an agreement with Chicago, Illinois-based DHR International. DHR International conducted the national search for Southern's next athletic director after former AD Tom Kleinlein resigned. The contract is for a fixed-fee of $50,000 to be paid in three installments. The first payment was due when the school and company entered into the agreement as a retainer. The next payments were due 30, and 60 days later, respectively. DHR International will also be reimbursed for any "search-related indirect expenses". The contract states that those expenses will be billed at 12% of the retainer, and include things like administrative, support expenses, communications, and database management.
U. of Kentucky fires cheer team coaches, attorney after hazing investigation
University of Kentucky officials announced Monday the firing of four coaches of the nationally recognized cheerleading team and a high-level university attorney after squad members took part in hazing activities, alcohol use and public nudity. The firings came after a three-month internal investigation that found that the coaching staff failed to provide oversight of the team during off-campus events. Head coach Jomo Thompson and assistant coaches Ben Head, Spencer Clan and Kelsey LaCroix were released by the university on Monday along with T. Lynn Williamson, a university lawyer who also served as an administrative adviser to the cheerleading squad, a press release stated. The coaching staff "knew or reasonably should have known" about conduct of the team and did not take sufficient steps to address the conduct after learning about it, the press release stated.

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