Wednesday, May 27, 2020   
Study names Mississippi State University state's top 'Best Value College'
Mississippi State University was recently recognized as the state's top "Best Value College" in 2020 by a prestigious New York-based financial technology company. SmartAsset, in its annual Best Value Colleges study, ranked MSU first among the state's four-year universities, public and private, with the University of Mississippi (UM) ranking second and the Mississippi University for Women (The W) coming in at sixth overall.
Starkville, Oktibbeha unemployment rates top 13% for April
April unemployment numbers were published by the Mississippi Department of Employment Security, which provided the first real local insight into the economic impact had by the COVID-19 pandemic. According to the numbers posted Tuesday, Clay County reported the highest unemployment in the area at 24.6%, while Lowndes (15.7%) and Oktibbeha (13.5%) also saw their jobless totals climb to double digits. Oktibbeha's unemployment jumped nearly nine percentage points over the year from April 2019, while rising by 8.7% from March 2020. The city of Starkville's unemployment rose to 13.8% for April, while the city of Columbus reported unemployment at 17.5%. Starkville's rate is up nearly 10 percentage points from the same month last year, when the city reported unemployment at 3.9%.
While still hit hard by virus, GTR showing slight improvement
Paul Binford stood on the curb outside the terminal, waiting for a bus that never came. Binford, an assistant professor of secondary social studies education at Mississippi State, had just flown into Golden Triangle Regional Airport on Tuesday afternoon on his way back from a trip to visit family in Minneapolis, Minnesota. That morning, he had arrived at Minneapolis-Saint Paul International Airport an hour and a half before his flight took off only to walk through an empty terminal and move quickly through a scarce security line. He saw the same "eerie" emptiness strolling through the typically packed Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport during his layover. Binford's journey was just a reminder that things are far from back to normal at GTR in the face of the coronavirus pandemic. The airport is down to one flight per day from its normal four, and passenger travel is just 10 percent of what it was this time last year. But Executive Director Mike Hainsey said the situation at GTR is improving -- if only slightly. In the past two weeks, Hainsey said, the airport has gone from an average of five-to-seven passengers a day to an average of 12-to-15. It's far off the pre-pandemic average of 175 passengers per day, Hainsey said, but it's a start.
Expert: Slow economic recovery for Mississippi amid virus
Mississippi can expect a long, slow economic recovery from the shock of job losses and the steep decline in commercial activity tied to the coronavirus pandemic, state economist Darrin Webb told legislators Tuesday. At the beginning of this year, the U.S. economy, and to a lesser extent the Mississippi economy, were doing "quite well," Webb said. Then, businesses were forced to close because of government orders aimed at slowing the spread of the virus. "This is like slamming on the brakes for the economy," Webb said. Mississippi legislators will spend the next few weeks deciding whether to trim state agencies' budgets for the year that ends June 30. They also must set a new budget for the year that begins July 1. Mississippi tax collections exceeded expectations for the first eight months of the budget year but have fallen sharply. The state also delayed its income tax filing deadline from April 15 until July 15, which means some money that should be collected during the current budget year will be collected in the coming year.
State economist predicts worst economic recession for Mississippi since WWII
At a legislative hearing on Tuesday, the state's economist, Darrin Webb, predicted Mississippi will suffer a deep economic recession because of the novel coronavirus pandemic, with a long recovery effort that could take years. The Senate Appropriations Committee convened to hear Webb and Herb Frierson, the commissioner of the Mississippi Department of Revenue, offer an update on the economic outlook for the state. "As a general rule, the recession is expected to be deeper than what we were seeing in April, and the recovery time -- because the recession time is deeper -- it takes longer for us to fully recover," Webb told legislators. "Like the nation, we do think recovery begins in the third quarter and strengthens in the fourth quarter," he said. The prediction comes as legislative leaders are crafting a budget for the coming fiscal year and economic projections could have serious ramifications for the final budget.
Mississippi coronavirus: State could lose $1.2 billion in revenue
State Economist Darrin Webb told lawmakers Tuesday he expects Mississippi to collect $1.2 billion less in tax revenue by mid-2021 than what was predicted before the coronavirus pandemic. The shortfalls could have serious impact on how lawmakers shape the state's budget going forward, though Webb stressed there is much uncertainty about his forecast. "This is not normal at all," Webb cautioned. "I don't know what's going to happen. I don't know if whether there's going to be another stimulus bill. I don't know if there's going to be another round of virus in the fall. Those types of things could have dramatic effect on the forecast." Webb stressed there is a lot of data he has not seen yet, such as April sales tax figures. Like the national economy, Mississippi is poised to see rapid economic growth as the economy reopens, Webb said, but he expects Mississippi's growth to lag behind the nation's growth, as it did after the Great Recession. According to Webb, it could take until 2023 -- or longer -- for Mississippi's economy to recover to pre-pandemic levels, though he again stressed that there are numerous factors that could change that forecast.
State Economist Predicts Slow Recovery Due to Pandemic
Mississippi's statewide shutdown to slow the spread of the coronavirus has meant an estimated loss of $864 million. That's based on an earlier revenue projection -- according to state economist Darrin Webb. At a Senate Appropriations Committee hearing yesterday, he said revenue will take a nosedive during the second quarter which began May 1. "First quarter we declined about 5.3 percent. We think for the second quarter we're going to decline 44 percent. So like the nation, we do think that recovery begins in the third quarter then strengthens in the fourth quarter," said Webb. Herb Frierson with the department of revenue told the committee 82 percent of taxpayers have filed their returns. He said the state received $14 million in corporate taxes and collected another $35 million they didn't expect to get. The tax filing deadline has been extended to July 15th. "We think income tax is still going to come in pretty strong. Probably a little bit below where we thought it was going to be because of the delinquency because just some people won't be able to afford to make that payment," said Frierson.
State economist: Mississippi economy might not recover until 2023
State economist Darren Webb told the Legislature Tuesday that the state's economy might not return to its pre-COVID-19 recession levels until 2023. Webb briefed the Senate Appropriations Committee as they start the task of crafting a budget for fiscal 2021, which starts July 1. Also providing testimony was state Revenue Commissioner Herb Frierson. Frierson said the state's tax receipts for the month of May, as of May 22, were $44.9 million were below the Legislature's revenue estimate that was last updated in November. A big part of the shortfall was the sales tax, which was more than $16 million below estimates. Webb said that the growth in the state's non-farm employment declined by 55 percent in the second quarter of this year. He estimates unemployment will peak at 20 percent by the third quarter of this year. "We're in uncharted waters and that is an apt description," Webb said. "I don't think we've ever had this kind of a global response to a pandemic like this one."
State economist says COVID-caused recession inevitable; impact could last till 2023
Tuesday, the House and Senate reconvened for more work in the 2020 Legislative session. Senators sat for a hearing with State Economist Darrin Webb and Commissioner of Revenue Herb Frierson who both addressed the current financial impact COVID-19 is having on the state. "I think this will be the most difficult choice for the State of Mississippi and their economics in the last 100 years that I've ever read about," said Lt. Governor Delbert Hosemann in regard to setting the state budget for next year amidst an unprecedented economic year. Budgets from this year have yet to be set as well, which is later than normal for legislators. With final numbers still up in the air Hosemann said that he and the Speaker sent a joint letter in April to agencies alerting them that cuts were likely to be required. Agencies were not required to provide any documents on how those cuts will be made per department. Hosemann said he hopes if at all possible, not to use the Rainy Day fund this year. There is a chance that the state could use the late tax filing dollars for FY 2020 and not FY 2021. Hosemann said he has not reached a decision on what direction to go at this time but anticipates that they will come to a conclusion in the next few weeks. He added that it will depend on the final sales tax and revenue numbers that have yet to come in. "If it's possible for us to limp into the next year with minor utilization of the Rainy Day Fund up until June 30, that would be my preference," said Hosemann.
Legislators face historically tough budget choices with shortfall projections as much as $1.2 billion
The Mississippi Legislature could be facing the most difficult decisions of the past century in terms of developing a budget for the next fiscal year and in getting through the current fiscal year, Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann said Tuesday after hearing an update on the state's economic outlook. Legislators were interested in the briefing for two reasons. They not only want to know the economic outlook of the state, but they also are trying to understand how state revenue collections would be impacted by the economy. In other words, legislators want to know what will be the level of the cuts they'll have to make. Hosemann projected that revenue collections could be below the estimate used to construct the current $6 billion budget by as much as $400 million for the current fiscal year and down as much as $800 million for the next fiscal year, beginning July 1. If Hosemann is correct, that could force legislators to make double digit cuts in the state budget for the upcoming fiscal year, though, they do have reserve funds that could be used to offset the cuts. But at any rate, legislators were told that it will take time for the nation and the state to recover from the economic slowdown caused by the coronavirus.
Mississippi In Deep Recession Facing Long Recovery, 273 New Cases of COVID-19
Mississippi is suffering the effects of a COVID-19-induced recession, deeper than any since the end of World War II, and can expect a long recovery even after it ends, State Economist Dr. Darrin Webb said at a Senate Appropriations Committee hearing this morning. Webb shared projections anticipating unemployment in Mississippi reaching a peak of around 20% by the third quarter of 2020, but expressed confidence that the "deep recession" would not linger after the crisis abates, anticipating high growth rates for the state in 2021 and 2022. Still, the state economist cautioned that the economic outlook for Mississippi was deeply negative, and that traditionally the state lags behind the U.S. in economic recoveries. Webb suggested Mississippi would recover by 2023 "at the earliest." The Mississippi Legislature returned to the Capitol building today, with the Senate gaveling in at 10 a.m. just ahead of an Appropriations Committee hearing. More than 800 Hinds County employees returned to work today as well. The Hinds County Board of Supervisors ordered the closure on April 2. County buildings opening up must provide masks and temperature checks for all returning employees and have installed contact barriers like plexiglass shields for the public.
For Many, $600 Jobless Benefit Makes It Hard To Return To Work
Economists at the University of Chicago estimate that more than two-thirds of the workers on unemployment insurance are making more in jobless benefits than they did at work -- in some cases two to three times as much. It's a stark reminder of just how low the pay is in many hard-hit industries such as restaurants and retail. When millions of low-wage workers are suddenly forced to stop working to protect public health, there are good reasons for the federal government to step in with some relief. Still, Vavra and his University of Chicago colleagues say the flat, $600-a-week benefit does create questions of fairness, especially when other low-income workers are still on the job doing essential work. Arguments about fairness and whether the extra unemployment benefits discourage a return to work are likely to grow louder in Congress. House Democrats passed a bill that would extend the additional benefits through January. Senate Republicans are resistant. Ganong and Vavra stress that with double-digit unemployment, maintaining some form of enhanced benefits will be vital. But they suggest an alternative formula so that benefits more closely match -- but don't exceed -- workers' old paychecks.
Gov. Tate Reeves reflects on pandemic response, blames himself for labeling some businesses 'nonessential'
Gov. Tate Reeves said Mississippi has learned invaluable lessons and strategies after dealing with the coronavirus pandemic now for the last two and a half months, a trial by fire of sorts for states across the U.S. While the Magnolia State stands to have more than 15,000 coronavirus cases by the end of May, Reeves and state health experts say they're confident that the measures they've taken will help Mississippians weather the storm for months to come. "We learned a lot from this first wave. The one thing that we learned is, unlike the state of New York and the state of New Jersey, Mississippi never had a huge peak. But because we never had a huge peak, we had a prolonged plateau," Reeves said. Reeves said he blames himself for not being more clear that all businesses should be considered essential because of how much that business owner or employee relies on it; the end result of those first executive orders caused economic hardship for "nonessential businesses" because they were forced to either shut down or adopt stringent practices that impacted their ability to make a living. Now, as the state faces a potential second wave in the fall, Reeves said the key to getting through that without another shelter-in-place order and economic shutdown is through what he calls the "little things" -- wearing masks, avoiding crowds, and staying at least six feet apart.
Judge: Health Department must respond to public records request
A Mississippi judge ruled Tuesday that the state Health Department must respond to a newspaper's public records request about long-term care facilities where outbreaks of the new coronavirus have occurred. Hinds County Chancery Judge Tiffany Grove granted an emergency injunction in favor of Hattiesburg Publishing Inc., which owns the Pine Belt News. Grove wrote that the Health Department has seven days to either provide information what the newspaper is requesting or cite a specific exemption in the state Public Records Act for denying the information. The state health officer, Dr. Thomas Dobbs, said in response to questions at a May 13 news conference that the Health Department will not release the names of long-term care facilities where residents or employees test positive for COVID-19, just as it does not release the names of facilities where other diseases such as tuberculosis are found.
Mississippi officials target nursing homes, where coronavirus spread creates a perfect storm
Relief was the first emotion that overcame Carla when she received a letter that an employee at her sister's Mississippi nursing home tested positive for COVID-19. Her initial response, although unusual given the circumstances, was justified. For weeks, she'd been in the dark regarding conditions inside her sister's facility. The letter said that just a single case was identified and the employee immediately isolated outside of the facility. But for Carla, who asked for anonymity over concern that her sister could later be mistreated, that relief quickly gave way to fear -- she knows how infections can race through facilities if not stopped quickly. Carla's only sister is one of the more than 16,000 Mississippians currently living in a long-term care facility. Though residents of long-term care -- nursing homes and other residential facilities, such as assisted living centers, rehabs and homes for those with developmental disabilities -- only comprise 13 percent of all COVID-19 cases in Mississippi, they've accounted for just over half of all deaths.
MDAC modifies cost-share program for farmers
Commissioner of Agriculture and Commerce Andy Gipson announced that the Mississippi Department of Agriculture and Commerce is modifying the Good Agricultural Practices and Good Handline Practices certification cost-share program by increasing allowable reimbursement in an effort to aid farmers impacted by COVID-19. "MDAC has increased the reimbursement amount of the cost-share program for Mississippi farmers to provide financial assistance to cover the cost of GAP/GHP certification," said Gipson. "This program will reimburse farmers that have successfully passed certification for 75 percent of the cost up to a maximum of $750 per year, instead of the previous limit of $500 per year." GAP/GHP audits are voluntary independent audits of produce suppliers throughout the production and supply chain. GAP/GHP audits focus on best agricultural practices to verify that fruits and vegetables are produced, packed, handled and stored in the safest manner possible to minimize risks of microbial food safety hazards.
Farmers encouraged to apply for USDA Coronavirus Food Assistance Program
Mississippi's Commissioner of Agriculture and Commerce Andy Gipson says, "I encourage all of our farmers across the state to take advantage of this unique opportunity." In order to be eligible for a payment, a producer must have suffered a 5-percent-or-greater price loss over a specified time resulting from the COVID-19 outbreak or face additional significant marketing costs for inventories. Additionally, producers will have to certify that they meet the Adjusted Gross Income limitation of $900,000 unless at least 75 percent or more of their income is derived from farming, ranching, or forestry-related activities. Producers must also be in compliance with Highly Erodible Land and Wetland Conservation provisions. There is a payment limitation of $250,000 per person or entity for all commodities combined. Applicants who are corporations, limited liability companies, or limited partnerships may qualify for additional payment limits where members actively provide personal labor or personal management for the farming operation.
'Something isn't right': U.S. probes soaring beef prices
Supermarket customers are paying more for beef than they have in decades during the coronavirus pandemic. But at the same time, the companies that process the meat for sale are paying farmers and ranchers staggeringly low prices for cattle. Now, the Agriculture Department and prosecutors are investigating whether the meatpacking industry is fixing or manipulating prices. The Department of Justice is looking at the four largest U.S. meatpackers -- Tyson Foods, JBS, National Beef and Cargill -- which collectively control about 85 percent of the U.S. market for the slaughter and packaging of beef, according to a person with knowledge of the probe. The USDA is also investigating the beef price fluctuations, Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue has confirmed. "It's evidence that something isn't right in the industry," said Sen. Chuck Grassley, an Iowa Republican who has spoken out against mergers in the agriculture industry. In April, Grassley requested federal investigations into market manipulation and unfair practices within the cattle industry. So have 19 other senators and 11 state attorneys general.
Potato farmers seek changes to USDA's COVID-19 payments
The National Potato Council urged its members to apply this week for COVID-19 aid while it works to increase Agriculture Department payments to potato growers and tries to sell Congress on a plan to buy $300 million of surplus spuds. The USDA began taking applications Tuesday for $16 billion in direct payments to farmers and ranchers adversely affected by disruptions to the economy related to the pandemic. Kam Quarles, CEO of the National Potato Council, said his association told members to sign up "to keep their options open" while the organization makes the case to the USDA to change its assessment of the impact COVID-19 has had on the industry. Quarles said one glaring oversight in the current USDA payment program is the exclusion of seed potatoes that are used to start potato crops. "Congress is going to have to step in and provide more resources. We're on the Hill right now with language that says $300 million of fresh potatoes, frozen potatoes, dehydrated potatoes need to be cleared out of the pipeline to allow supply and demand to balance," he said.
FDA rolls back food rules for 5th time during pandemic
The Food and Drug Administration has temporarily loosened labeling and information rules for food manufacturers for the fifth time during the novel coronavirus pandemic. The changes are intended to ease manufacturers' supply-chain snags, but advocacy groups say they are concerned that the changes will become permanent and that they will present problems for consumers concerned about tracking the provenance of their food. The new guidance allows manufacturers to substitute hard-to-source ingredients in their products without changing the label. And it allows vending machine operators latitude to omit calorie information for foods sold. Advocacy groups say the guidance, announced Friday, makes it more difficult for people with food allergies to be confident that their food won't make them sick. It walks back some of the advances vending machines have made in the past year in offering more healthful choices.
Speculation swirls about next Supreme Court vacancy
Just months before Election Day, the question of whether President Trump will get to select a third Supreme Court justice hangs over the final weeks of the court's term. Speculation over a possible vacancy has focused in recent years on the prospect of Justice Clarence Thomas exiting while Republicans control the White House and Senate, and alternatively on the health of the court's aging liberal bloc. Top Senate Republicans drew fresh attention to the bench recently when they said they would confirm a new justice if given the chance despite 2020 being an election year, in an apparent reversal of their rationale for blocking President Obama's nominee late in his second term. Such statements, including by Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) earlier this month, revived the unsubstantiated whisper campaign that Thomas was considering retiring now to allow Republicans to replace him with a like-minded, though younger, jurist to lock down conservatives' 5-4 majority. Thomas, 71, has repeatedly denied the claims. "I'm not retiring," he said adamantly last spring while speaking at Pepperdine University.
Twitter Places Fact-Checking Warning On Trump Tweet For 1st Time
Twitter has placed a fact-checking warning on a tweet issued by President Trump in which he claims without evidence that mail-in ballots are fraudulent. Twitter's move on Tuesday marks the first time the technology company has sanctioned Trump as criticism mounts about how the president has amplified misinformation to more than 80 million followers on the social media platform. Trump responded by accusing Twitter of stifling free speech. Twitter spokesman Trenton Kennedy told NPR that while the tweet about mail-in voting does not violate Twitter's rules since "it does not directly try to dissuade people from voting," it does contain "misleading information about the voting process, specifically mail-in ballots." The action is the latest confrontation between Washington and Silicon Valley with a presidential election just months away. Critics of Twitter have complained that it has placed Trump above its attempts to enforce rules aimed at making the platform more civil.
He Says Trumps Cost Him $2 Million, but Hotelier Now Cheers Federal Assist
When President Trump was campaigning in 2016, his company announced a new line of bespoke hotels that would be built with partners across the country. But two years into his presidency, the Trump Organization shelved the brand and dropped the only partner, a Mississippi family business that one member says lost about $2 million in the collaboration. Now the former partner is preparing to open the hotel in Cleveland, Miss. -- without the Trump brand, but with a Trump assist. Donning orange gloves and a white mask, the hotelier, Dinesh Chawla, visited a local bank last month to sign a stack of papers locking in about $250,000 in loans through the Trump administration's paycheck protection program. The loans, intended for businesses hit hard by the pandemic, are backed by the Small Business Administration and can be forgiven if Mr. Chawla puts most of it toward paying employees. For Mr. Chawla, who also obtained about $25,000 from an S.B.A. disaster relief fund, the experience brought his family's unlikely decades long relationship with the Trumps full circle. It was Mr. Trump the businessman who returned an out-of-the-blue phone call in the 1980s from Mr. Chawla's father, an Indian refugee. Mr. Trump suggested V.K. Chawla seek a loan from the S.B.A., advice the elder Mr. Chawla credited with jump-starting the family's hotel business.
Ellen Green Named Interim Dean of Delta State University's College of Arts and Sciences
Delta State University has appointed Dr. Ellen Green, associate professor of biology, as the interim dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, effective June 1, 2020. She succeeds Dr. David Breaux, who recently announced his retirement as dean after six years. Dr. Green had been chair of the Division of Mathematics and Sciences since 2018. Earning bachelor's, master's, and doctoral degrees from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and specializing in entomology, she joined Delta State in 2007 as an assistant professor of biology. She became chair of what was then called the Department of Biological Sciences in 2014, among other roles over the years. Earlier in her career, she was a research scientist and project leader at Kimberly-Clark Corp. "Dr. Green has significant experience in industry and at Delta State," said Dr. Charles McAdams, provost and vice president for academic affairs at DSU. Delta State will conduct a national search for the position after next academic year.
Andrea Mayfield: changing business world vitalizes community colleges
The coronavirus pandemic has altered business models -- both immediate and long term -- for companies and organizations across the country. Dr. Andrea Mayfield, who is the executive director of the Mississippi Community College Board, thinks this evolution of the business provides a wonderful opportunity for people to use community colleges to gain the newly required skillsets employers will now be looking for. "Business operations have already changed," Mayfield said. "They're going to continue to change, and when they change, those required skillsets are going to change. That's why the community colleges are perfectly positioned to be able to provide that training." Skills in technology as well as data literacy are just a couple of the skills that will be highly sought after in a post-coronavirus world. Mayfield also believes there are going to be more jobs available after the pandemic than there were before, which is just another reason for people to go ahead and attain the necessary skillsets.
Hattiesburg Presidential Scholar to major in history at U. of Alabama
A U.S. Presidential Scholar from Hattiesburg says she'll major in history at the University of Alabama this fall. Abigail Wiest was named as one of two Presidential Scholars from Mississippi last week. She graduated May 16 from Sacred Heart High School. Wiest was chosen for the honor based on several factors, including academic success, essays and community service and leadership. She is part of the 56th class of Presidential Scholars.
ERDC researcher awarded top honor from U. of Alabama
Dr. Tim Rushing of the U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center has earned one of the top awards at the University of Alabama -- the 2020 Civil, Construction and Environmental Engineering Department Distinguished Fellow Award. Rushing, who serves as chief of the Airfields and Pavements branch in the Geotechnical and Structures Laboratory, graduated with a bachelor's degree in civil engineering from Alabama in 2000. After earning a master's degree and doctoral degree from Mississippi State University, he joined the ERDC team in 2005 as a research civil engineer. As an undergraduate student, Rushing worked on transportation and civil engineering projects. At the time, he did not realize that work was paving the way for his future at ERDC. "Those opportunities sparked by interest, which ultimately led to my decision to join ERDC in 2005 after working as a design engineer for five years," Rushing said.
Mojo@AU provides help transitioning for international students
Moving to a new city, a new school and leaving home for the first time is difficult for any rising freshman in college. It is especially difficult however for international students who are coming to a new country and learning English as a second language. Mojo@AU is a program at Auburn University designed to help international students transition to America by introducing students to one another and helping with conversational skills. "One of the primary benefits of having a diverse student body is the opportunity for students from different backgrounds to learn from each other both inside and outside the classroom," said Kalani Long, a communications and marketing specialist in the office of international programs. "But those interactions often require intentional fostering to flourish. MojoChat is one tool to help create those interactions." The program is a new effort from the university, formed in January 2020 and launched officially in February.
Auburn University prof edits handbook for citizen scientists
An Auburn University researcher and faculty member is the lead editor of the newly released Handbook of Citizen Science in Ecology and Conservation, the nation's first comprehensive guide for both professional scientists and citizen scientists -- avid science enthusiasts who carry out essential, hands-on research work. Christopher Lepczyk, a professor of wildlife biology and conservation in Auburn's School of Forestry and Wildlife Sciences, said the handbook helps citizens start or become involved in projects. "This is very much a book for practitioners and the public, as much as it is for professional scientists," Lepczyk said. "Our goal was very much oriented at creating a book that can be read and used by both an interested lay person as well as the scientific community. Thus, we worked to present the concepts of citizen science in an easy-to-read and user-friendly manner, without a lot of jargon or citations." The editors aim to tear down some longstanding myths: that only professional scientists can engage in scientific research; that community involvement decreases the integrity of science; and that science is outside the grasp of the community, said Boyle.
U. of Tennessee to end face-to-face classes before Thanksgiving, cancel fall break because of COVID-19
The University of Tennessee, Knoxville, will end face-to-face classes before Thanksgiving to limit the number of students traveling off campus next semester, the university announced Tuesday. Classes will begin as scheduled on Aug. 19 and be held on Labor Day and during the previously scheduled fall break, Oct. 8-9, to allow the semester to end early. The last day of classes will be Nov. 24, before Thanksgiving break. Finals will be held online after Thanksgiving break, from Dec. 2 to Dec. 9. "Things on campus will be different, but Volunteers are committed to taking care of one another," Chancellor Donde Plowman said in an email to students. "We will work together for the well-being of our community and are counting on you to be a partner in creating a safe environment." The university is also considering options for changing the weekly class schedule, making "greater use of available class time slots Monday to Friday, including the use of evening time slots if necessary." Plowman also said it is too soon to tell how this will impact graduation and hooding ceremonies normally held at the end of the semester.
U. of Arkansas, Fayetteville unveils tentative plan for fall
The University of Arkansas, Fayetteville has released what a spokesman called a "tentative" covid-19 plan for students moving into campus housing in August -- including limits on dorm event attendance and changes in dining services -- even as details about the fall semester remain undecided. A video published Tuesday informs students and families of a "re-tooling of residential programming to limit group sizes while encouraging and building strong communities." As far as dining halls, "no self-service will be available and more to-go options will be," a voice states in the presentation. Chancellor Joe Steinmetz in a message to the campus Friday referred to "around June 1" and "the first week of June" as the likely release for "the broad outline of our fall plan." He referred Friday to "a possible return to campus."
Small classes, face masks for all, lots of hand sanitizer: What UGA may look like this fall
Single occupancy in dorm rooms. Big inventories of face masks and other "protective personal equipment." Staggered work shifts. A blend of online and in-person classes, with no classes larger than 30 students and each assigned a seat. Quarantine rooms for students who inevitably contract COVID-19. No magazines in waiting rooms. And lots and lots of hand sanitzer, social distancing, hand-washing and infection-control education. Those are some of the college reopening recommendations of a task force of the American College Health Association published earlier this month. The task force, chaired by Jean Chin, former director of the University of Georgia's University Health Center, is purposely couched in uncertainty about reopening U.S. college campuses in August or September, given the "highly unlikely existence of a recognized treatment or vaccine by then, and the uncertainty of widespread testing, surveillance and tracking capacity." The report offers little specific guidance on one of the knottiest issues facing universities with big-time athletics programs like UGA: college sports.
Georgia State University president plans for employee, student return
The leader of the university with the largest enrollment in Georgia said in a video released Tuesday that some faculty and staff will return to its campuses next week, with some additional guidelines to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus. Georgia State University President Mark Becker said workers will be required to wear masks in campus elevators and encouraged to wear masks in other public spaces. No more than four people will be allowed at a time in an elevator. Teleworking will continue, Becker said. The university, which has about 53,000 students, is working on what Becker called a "blended model" of in-class and online student instruction for the fall semester. Some classes may be taught online to accommodate faculty members who cannot teach in person. Students and faculty will be encouraged to wear masks in public spaces. Residence halls will be open, but capacity may be limited, Becker said. Georgia State's main campus is in downtown Atlanta.
Texas A&M plans phased approach to reopening campus to visitors
Summers on Texas A&M University's campus usually mean in-person college courses, tours and around 35,000 youth-level camp attendees, but visits will be largely limited this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Phased return of visitors to campus will begin June 15. Until then, the university will continue to prohibit visits for campus-sponsored activities, according to a university announcement from Chief Risk, Ethics and Compliance Officer Kevin McGinnis. "It is going to be a very different summer than what we've had in the past," McGinnis said. During the first phase, visitors who are on campus to meet with departmental staff for essential business or employment recruitment will be allowed in groups of fewer than five people,and must be approved by the applicable vice president or dean. McGinnis said Tuesday that essential business could potentially include research or recruitment purposes. Phase two is scheduled to begin welcoming these same types of visitors in groups of 10 or fewer, still with vice president or dean approval, beginning July 1.
Organizers move Texas A&M's Beef Cattle Short Course to online format
Texas A&M's Beef Cattle Short Course, an annual event that draws thousands of people to campus each summer, will be held online this year because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The event will broadcast Aug. 3-5, but will be available for registered participants to watch at their own pace. Topics include animal health, nutrition, reproduction, breeding, genetics, marketing, landowner issues, fence building and more. There will be a virtual trade show and live demonstrations. Last year's 65th annual event attracted more than 2,300 attendees and more than 140 exhibitors, according to the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service.
U.S. lawmakers unveil bold $100 billion plan to remake NSF
The National Science Foundation would get a sweeping remake -- including a new name, a huge infusion of cash, and responsibility for maintaining U.S. global leadership in innovation -- under bipartisan bills that have just been introduced in both houses of Congress. Many scientific leaders are thrilled that the bills call for giving NSF an additional $100 billion over 5 years to carry out its new duties. But some worry the legislation, if enacted, could compromise NSF's historical mission to explore the frontiers of knowledge without regard to possible commercial applications. The Endless Frontiers Act (S. 3832) proposes a major reorganization of NSF, creating a technology directorate that, within 4 years, would grow to more than four times the size of the entire agency's existing $8 billion budget. NSF would be renamed the National Science and Technology Foundation, and both the science and technology arms would be led by a deputy reporting to the NSF director. (NSF now has a single deputy director; the slot has been unfilled since 2014.) Many academic leaders are praising the legislation, which was spearheaded by the Senate's top Democrat, Chuck Schumer (NY), and co-sponsored by Senator Todd Young (R–IN). They see it as a huge vote of confidence in NSF, which this year is celebrating its 70th anniversary.
Trump Wants to Curb Work Authorization for Foreign Graduates. Here's What's at Stake for Higher Ed.
The Trump administration is reportedly weighing whether to set limits on a program that is a major incentive for foreign students to come to America for college. The Optional Practical Training program, or OPT, allows international students to remain in the United States on their student visas after they graduate from college, so that they can work in their field of study for at least a year. According to news reports, the administration is considering restrictions in the program, in an effort to reduce competition for recent American college graduates who are entering the work force as the economy contracts because of the coronavirus. Growth in OPT participation has also provided one of the few bits of good news for international enrollment in recent years. According to the Pew Research Center, nearly 1.5 million foreign graduates obtained OPT authorization between 2004 and 2016. More than half of them were approved for employment in STEM fields. Meanwhile, the number of new international students over all has fallen in recent years -- and institutions are predicting drops in foreign-student enrollment this fall in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.
Colleges, Employers Fear Curbs to Foreign Student Job Program
Vibhu Varshney relocated from India to Tempe two years ago in part because of the quality of the computer science program at Arizona State University and in part because of the chance to train in Silicon Valley. "Most of the cutting edge work is going on here," he said. After completing a master's in computer science, Varshney will start an internship next month at PayPal through a program known as Optional Practical Training. The program allows international students on F-1 visas to work for 12 months in their field in the U.S. or for up to three years if they graduated from a STEM program. Current students can also work part time through the program. Participants have landed work at firms such as Google Inc., Inc., Microsoft Corp., and Intel Corp. But the OPT program could be on the chopping block as President Donald Trump's administration weighs new restrictions to non-immigrant visa programs.That prospect is worrying college groups as well as employers who rely on the talent the program provides. The Department of Homeland Security, which oversees the program, is assessing how the OPT affects the U.S. workforce, spokeswoman Carissa Cutrell said in an e-mail to Bloomberg Government.
Confusion continues over the Education Department's take on emergency aid distribution
In a statement on its website and a court filing over the Memorial Day weekend, the U.S. Department of Education said it does not intend to enforce guidelines it has issued that say only those eligible for regular student aid can get emergency student grants created by the CARES Act. However, financial aid administrators and associations representing colleges say that still leaves as clear as mud the question of whether colleges can give the grants to undocumented students without fear of being later penalized by the department. "I don't think it significantly increased the clarity that institutions were seeking," said Terry Hartle, the American Council on Education's senior vice president for government and public affairs. At the same time, Hartle was befuddled by another department move as it distributes money for education in the CARES Act. The department on Friday removed from its website an explanation of how it is distributing other CARES Act funds that were supposed to go to colleges that are in particular distress because of the pandemic. But instead, the money initially was earmarked for small institutions like seminaries and postsecondary schools for meditation, acupuncture and dog training.
Welcome to the Socially Distanced Campus
One day, students across the country will return to their colleges. Nobody knows exactly when that will happen because so much depends on the future spread of the novel coronavirus and on orders by state and federal officials. But many college presidents have suggested it will be fairly soon -- this fall, in fact. Whenever it happens, as long as no vaccine exists yet, it is likely to involve some social distancing. College leaders are already preparing for that future by considering ideas to prevent the virus's spread in spaces like classrooms, dining halls, and dormitories. To get a sense of what studying, working, and living on a socially distanced campus would look like, The Chronicle gathered documents and interviewed administrators to learn their plans to re-engineer their campuses' physical spaces to blunt the virus's contagion. The Chronicle heard proposals from community colleges and public and private four-year institutions with enrollments ranging from fewer than 400 to 30,000. Many administrators emphasized they had not made firm decisions yet, but they shared ideas that might work for themselves and others.
Experts Suggest Reducing Campus Dining and Housing in the Fall. Here's How That Could Impact Low-Income Students
The Centers for Disease Control issued new guidelines last week to help higher education institutions plan for the fall amid the COVID-19 pandemic. It described closing residence halls as the "lowest risk" option for housing and suggested alternatives like allowing fewer students to live in dorms. It also said closing communal spaces like kitchens and dining halls, providing takeout meals with disposable utensils instead, will be safer. As universities weigh these possible new realities, experts fear that limiting campus facilities -- or keeping them closed -- will exacerbate disparities for low-income students, even if it's the right call. "The decision to shut down campus as a response to a global public health crisis was the right decision," said Dr. Anthony Jack, assistant professor of education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. "But that does not mean that food and housing insecurity, economic scarcity, is not a fundamental problem ... We typically think that students [who] make it to college have a golden ticket and now all of their worries are now done ... and that's fundamentally not true."
Will the coronavirus transform or destroy higher education as we know it?
By the time actress Lori Loughlin pleaded guilty last week to bribing her daughters' way into the University of Southern California, any notion that the U.S. higher education system is fair had evaporated. Education as the great equalizer? Hardly. Harvard researcher Anthony Jacks revealed in his groundbreaking 2019 book how poor students cleaned showers and toilets and went hungry after cafeterias closed while their wealthier Ivy League classmates fled campus for ski resorts and spring break beaches. Transparent admission standards? Nope. In 2006, journalist Daniel Golden exposed how President Trump's son-in-law, Jared Kushner, found his way into Harvard despite lackluster grades with the help of his dad's $2.5 million donation. Fair admission tests? Paul Tough's new book deftly explored why standardized test scores like the SAT inevitably tilt elite college admissions towards rich students, as does their ability to pay in full. And last year, the outrageous Varsity Blues scandal that netted Loughlin, college coaches and dozens of others showed how money, celebrity and fraud can pave a road into the nation's most coveted institutions.
New resources to help support faculty with quality online instruction
In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, many instructors with little or no remote teaching experience were forced to move their classes online. Given scant guidance or time to prepare, this large-scale experiment in remote instruction wasn't destined for success. While some faculty members embraced the opportunity to try out new teaching methods, many understandably struggled to adapt rapidly to new tools and new ways of communicating with students. As institutions prepare for the potential of another semester taught fully or at least partially online, there seems to be a widespread desire among college leaders to turn things around. Several surveys conducted during the spring semester indicated widespread dissatisfaction among students with the remote learning experience they received -- no institution wants there to be a repeat this fall. Regardless of what happens in the fall, all instructors would benefit from planning a multimodal delivery.
Rules could deprive National Guard members fighting COVID-19 of education benefits
The way retired Brigadier General J. Roy Robinson sees it, one of the primary draws for young people to join the National Guard is the opportunity to go to college using tuition benefits provided by the federal government. Many National Guard members see the benefits as recognition of and appreciation for their service during times of crisis. But members currently on active duty assisting states in responding to the coronavirus pandemic may fall short of qualifying for federal tuition and retirement benefits because of a Trump administration decision to end some members' deployment just one day shy of the 90 days of federal service required. The federal deployments are set to end June 24. If the Trump administration sticks to this cutoff date, it will have a negative impact on some Guard members' ability to begin or complete their college education, said Robinson, who is president of the National Guard Association of the United States, or NGAUS, an advocacy organization that serves mostly officers in the National Guard. "They did the job required by the nation; they hit benchmarks that entitled them to certain benefits," Robinson said. "There's just no good way to explain that. It's just wrong."
How Gender and Racial Discrimination Lead to a Double Wage Gap for African American Women
A recent report details how gender and racial wage gaps fuel corporate profits and leave African American women involuntarily forfeiting billions of dollars in wages. Dr. Michelle Holder, assistant professor of economics at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, City University of New York, has laid out the numbers in the report "The 'Double Gap' and the Bottom Line: African American Women's Wage Gap and Corporate Profits," produced in partnership with the Roosevelt Institute. She found that because of the double gap -- caused by gender and racial discrimination -- African American women involuntarily forfeited as much as $50 billion in wages in 2017. This meant significant, recurring cost-savings for the private for-profit sector and a recurring annual loss for the Black community. The main data set Holder used to arrive at this figure was the 2017 American Community Survey.
Who has more experience operating a state prison farm than controversial Burl Cain?
Syndicated columnist Sid Salter writes: There has been more than a little media tut-tutting over the decision by Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves to hire controversial former Louisiana corrections official Burl Cain, 77, to lead the Mississippi Department of Corrections. Journalists widely panned Reeves' choice of Cain to pull Mississippi's prison system out of its present mire of rising prison deaths, U.S. Justice Department civil rights probes, federal lawsuits challenging prison conditions, persistent gang violence, major contraband discoveries, and corrections officer shortages exacerbated by low pay. The reason? Cain retired as warden of the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola after a Baton Rouge newspaper raised questions about his private real estate transactions with friends and kin of what the paper alleged were favored inmates. ... Cain's response was defiant: "Those allegations were unfounded ... there were no crimes committed." Factually, there's no record of Cain being indicted or convicted of a crime. ... Cain had success at the nation's most notorious prison farm at Angola. Perhaps he'll have it again at the nation's second most feared prison farm, the one in Sunflower County, Mississippi.

Mississippi State softball's first-generation college students take pride in accomplishments, hope to inspire others
Friends, teammates and relatives all congratulated Fa Leilua when she graduated from Mississippi State on May 1, but Leilua remembers one call above the rest. When she got on the phone with her mother Paiao, back in Southern California, Leilua finally got to say the three words she'd been waiting so long to utter. We did it. After five years of college and four seasons on the softball field, Leilua had become the first person in her family to graduate from college. She was proud to share the big moment with her mother, whose longtime work and support helped Leilua get to that point. "I think that the biggest thing for me that day was to tell my mom we finally finished something that we worked so hard for," Leilua said. Leilua's time in Starkville isn't over yet, as she has taken another year of collegiate eligibility and will play for the Bulldogs in 2021 while pursuing a master's degree. But her graduation -- despite being virtual -- acted as the culmination of years and years of hard work.
Want to harvest more mature bucks? Hunt near food plots, not over them
If you drive long enough on roads in rural Mississippi, sooner or later you'll probably see an elevated hunting stand overlooking a food plot. It's a scene found at most camps across the state, but data suggests it may not be the most productive place to harvest a deer. The Mississippi State University Deer Lab and the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries, and Parks outfitted mature bucks with GPS collars along the Big Black River in Madison and Yazoo counties. The collars collected locations of the bucks every 15 minutes during the 2017-18 and 2018-19 hunting seasons. Armed with 432,000 waypoints from 42 individual bucks, MSU graduate student Colby Henderson has been able to paint a fairly clear picture of what habitats bucks use and when. "What we actually found, during the day, food plots were not the most selected habitat classification within our landscape during the day," Henderson said. "During the day, the most selected habitat classifications were hardwood bottomlands and upland habitat during the day. So basically, the reasoning behind that is people are hunting during the day, so they (these habitats) are providing cover for deer to protect themselves. That doesn't mean you won't see deer in a winter food plot, there are just habitat classifications they used more."
MAIS releases 'Return to Competition Safety Guidelines'
The Midsouth Association of Independent Schools posted on its website Tuesday a list of guidelines for the 2020-21 school year as member schools begin summer workouts for fall sports. Titled "Return to Competition Safety Guidelines," the release outlines a plan for teams to return "to athletic activities with a common-sense approach to ensure safety at the competition sites." It also allows schools to add their own safety guidelines to practice amid the COVID-19 pandemic, which forced the cancelation of spring sports in the MAIS. Coaches and players are asked to physically distance themselves from one another during pre-game meetings, and no pre- or post-game handshakes will be allowed. A maximum of 20 people may stand in the designated team area, while other athletes and coaches must remain outside said area. Water coolers are prohibited, and players are asked to be responsible for their own hydration. For patrons and spectators, the MAIS recommends schools charge a team gate fee prior to games rather than individual fees, and fans are asked to sit the health-expert recommend 6 feet apart. Families may sit together as long as they don't number more than 20, and spectators are asked to leave the athletic facilities immediately following games.
FBS conferences, CBS, ESPN, FOX release statement on delayed college football schedule release
The networks announced Tuesday the delay of early-season college football kickoffs times. Generally, early June is about the time of year when kickoff times and television networks are announced for early-season games. Not this year. The Football Bowl Subdivision conferences, CBS Sports, ESPN, FOX Sports and affiliated networks released the following statement on Tuesday: "Collectively, the conferences and television networks have agreed to an extension for determining college football's early season game times beyond the standard June 1 deadline," the state read. "These kickoff times and network designations will be announced at a later date as we all continue to prepare for the college football season." The college football season is scheduled to begin with a handful of games on Aug. 29 and a full slate of games the following week.
The Plan for the Return of UK Football
Sources tell KSR that Kentucky is planning to bring its Football team back to campus in stages. The first stage will involve the 30-40 players who already are in Kentucky, either because they live here or never left during the Quarantine. They will be brought back when the facility is allowed to be open. The assumption is that will be June 8, although that decision has not been finalized by the University. They will be tested by the University for all potential medical issues and if cleared, can begin workouts with the staff. For the rest of the team, their return to Lexington will be in stages. Each week, another group will be brought back (somewhere between 10-20), tested for the virus and then after a period of time, integrated with the rest of the team. This will continue throughout June, with players brought back every 5-7 days. The players with any potential pre-existing conditions or issues will be the last to return. By the time Fall camp starts, the hope is that the entire team will be present. As for the games, no final decision has been made what will happen.
A new way to rep the Bulldogs: Fans use face masks to show UGA pride
The Georgia "G" logo may be absent from TV broadcasts of live Bulldog games with teams sidelined during college sports' shutdown due to the pandemic. But it is still appearing in new ways. On the same day that driver Chase Elliott sported a UGA face mask before the sport's first NASCAR Cup Race since March, Atlanta government affairs lawyer Bill Clark wore his own during an interview on the CBS Evening News. Clark, a Georgia football season ticket holder and 1988 UGA law school graduate, spent four days in Emory St. Joseph's Hospital with COVID-19 before his release on April 19. A friend from church made the Bulldogs cloth face covering while he was in the hospital that he wore during his TV interview in a story about his participation in a clinical trial of Remdesivir. "Most schools in this league now have masks available," said Alan Thomas, Georgia's associate athletic director for external relations. "They're through our existing licensees. Most of them are washable brand face coverings that are decorative, but they're not medical grade masks." Repurposing licensed product for a facemask is fine, but the school has sent shut down notices on merchandise illegally sold using Georgia's marks and logos, Thomas said.
Iowa State unlikely to sell single-game football tickets this fall
The safest way to assure a seat at Iowa State football games inside Jack Trice Stadium this fall is to purchase a season ticket. The sale of single-game tickets for 2020 is unlikely. "Because we expect to reach the 50 percent capacity limitation through season ticket sales, we do not anticipate selling single-game tickets unless the capacity limits are raised," athletics director Jamie Pollard announced Tuesday in a message to fans on Iowa State's website. Pollard said "approximately" 22,000 season tickets had been renewed for the 2020 season that's scheduled to start Sept. 5 against South Dakota. Because of strict social-distancing guidelines following the coronavirus pandemic, the 60,500-seat stadium will seat 30,000. "That leaves us approximately 8,000 seats to be filled," Pollard said in the statement. "Those guidelines may be adjusted as time passes. Right now, we are planning as though the capacity of our stadium would be limited to 30,000 spectators."
Chancellor, AD discuss what a fall semester could look like for Kansas academics, sports
An overarching theme of the COVID-19 crisis, University of Kansas Chancellor Douglas Girod said Tuesday, is that it's been much easier to shut down operations than to open them back up. Girod, appearing at the KU Health System's daily media briefing, acknowledged that many things would almost certainly look different on the KU campus when the fall semester begins in August. "It's not going to be our typical opening, for sure," he said. "Certainly, some things just aren't going to happen, because we just aren't ready, and events are a very big one of those." Those changes are likely to include a staged move-in process for on-campus living and greater control over that environment once students have moved in, Girod said. As for the university's athletic programs, KU Athletic Director Jeff Long also joined Tuesday's briefing and was blunt in saying that officials just don't know at this point how or if fans will be able to attend games in David Booth Kansas Memorial Stadium or Allen Fieldhouse when it comes time for fall sports. "We are modeling, and we've modeled 15,000 to 16,000 fans in Memorial Stadium," Long said. "We've modeled Allen Fieldhouse, but I can't bring myself to look at it because I know how few people it will be."
Pac-12: Voluntary workouts can resume on campus on June 15
The Pac-12 Conference will allow voluntary workouts on campus for all sports beginning June 15, subject to the decision of each individual school and where allowed by local and state guidelines, the conference announced Tuesday. The decision was made by the presidents and chancellors of the conference schools and followed the announcement last week by the NCAA that schools can reopen for voluntary activities beginning next Monday. The Pac-12′s COVID-19 medical advisory committee created a series of guidelines and protocols for schools to follow once they decide to open for individual workouts. It's unlikely all 12 schools will open their doors at the same time. States with schools in the conference are reopening at difference paces and that will affect when athletes can return to campus for workouts. Arizona has reopened many of its services and said professional sports can resume, while California, Washington and Oregon have been slower and more restrictive in allowing the resumption of small gatherings.
South Carolina resident gets his big break in broadcasting as voice of cornhole on ESPN
College football had Keith Jackson. Major League Baseball had Vin Scully. And the Masters has Jim Nantz. But who is the voice of the American Cornhole League? None other than Mount Pleasant resident Jeff McCarragher. Almost by accident, McCarragher, the former play-by-play radio broadcaster for the College of Charleston men's basketball team, has become the national voice of professional and collegiate cornhole competition. And he wouldn't have it any other way. "Never in a million years did I think my big break in broadcasting would come from calling cornhole matches," McCarragher said with a chuckle. "When I lived in Kansas, I would play cornhole all the time with my neighbors and now those same neighbors see me on ESPN and text or message me on Facebook and reminisce about our matches back in the day. It's been a great experience for me both personally and professionally. I love it. I'm having a blast. I think it's great." The key to the ACL's surge in popularity over the past 18 months has been a three-year deal the league signed with ESPN.
Amid layoffs and furloughs, sportswriters wonder what will be left of a storied profession
On March 20, eight days after the NCAA announced the cancellation of its annual men's and women's basketball tournaments, six-time Super Bowl champion quarterback Tom Brady signed a free agent contract with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Brady's decision to leave the New England Patriots wouldn't just reshape the National Football League at a time fans were craving any morsel of sports action. Tampa now appeared set to be the epicenter of one of the biggest stories in American sports. But there was a problem: Mike Sherman, sports editor for the Tampa Bay Times, was not around to lead the paper's coverage. He was laid off the previous week. The paper replaced Sherman with an assistant sports editor and covered Brady's arrival well but still had lost a veteran, widely respected sports editor. Sports journalism, once a mainstay of daily newspapers and local TV news across the country, already was teetering from the upheavals of the digital era. But while many news organizations have taken a severe financial hit in recent months, sports departments have been devastated by the novel coronavirus, which has wiped out sports schedules and media advertising revenue virtually simultaneously.

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