Friday, May 29, 2020   
Bully's Pantry opens at MSU-Meridian for students in need
Many students at MSU-Meridian work part-time jobs along with going to school, but with the ongoing pandemic, many of those jobs have been discontinued. With that in mind, school officials have brought Bully's Pantry to the Meridian campus, a goal that has been around for some time. The COVID crisis just necessitated that being earlier, so we're very pleased that we were able to launch that," says Terry Dale Cruse, the head of campus for MSU-Meridian. "We're still in the process of getting everything set up, actually, our Facilities Team is in the process of constructing shelving now for our pantry, but [the Kahlmus Auditorium] has been a temporary set-up for us in the meantime." MSU-Meridian has received help from the community to get Bully's Pantry operating here. "We've partnered with an organization called Extra Table out of Hattiesburg and that's who we source the majority of our food from," Cruse says. "The funding for the food, the initial funding was sent to us by our Student Affairs office on our Starkville campus but then since that point, numerous donors have stepped up and given to support the pantry, and so the sustained funding for the pantry will come from private donations."
Thrive in Five at Mississippi State University
Mississippi State University recently launched its new Thrive in Five accelerated degree program, which will allow students to earn both a bachelor's and master's degree in five years. The Thrive in Five website,, will also allow students to work with program coordinators to learn about requirements and start the enrollment process online. The university has added Thrive in Five programs for animal and dairy science and agribusiness management; fashion, design, and merchandising; human development and family sciences; landscape architecture; mathematics and statistics; educational psychology; and veterinary medical science for the fall 2020 semester. Other Thrive in Five programs include biochemistry and molecular biology, history, biological sciences, aerospace engineering, mechanical engineering, chemical engineering, public policy and administration, management and information systems and more. MSU is also temporarily waiving GMAT and GRE testing requirements for students applying to the university's graduate programs.
Mississippi State Waiving Some Application Requirements and Licensure Exams
The Mississippi Department of Education is temporarily waiving some requirements for students applying to enter Mississippi State University's teacher education and administration preparation programs. MDE is also waiving licensure exams for certification through December 31, 2021. Waivers include both traditional undergraduate and non-traditional graduate teacher education programs and approved traditional or non-traditional educator or administrator preparation programs. Licensure exam waivers are available for elementary education, secondary education, special education, music education, physical education, school administration, school counseling, school psychology and master of arts programs in teaching-secondary and teaching-special education. MDE has also waived educator preparation program admission testing requirements for teacher education, which includes the ACT and SAT requirement or the Praxis Core Academic Skills for Educators examinations. Grade Point Average and all other criteria for MSU program admission remain in effect.
Professor: African Americans in rural areas take fewer pandemic precautions than those in urban areas
Dr. Anthony Neal lives in Atlanta, but in his role as an assistant professor of philosophy at Mississippi State University he makes the almost 300-mile trip from his home to Starkville twice a week. On Thursday, Neal was the featured guest in MSU's Institute for the Humanities online interview series hosted by the institute's director, Julia Osman. In the hour-plus-long interview on the subject, "Experiencing Blackness during the Pandemic," Neal shared his thoughts on COVD-19's unique impact on the black community. How the black community sees and responds to the virus is not monolithic, he said, based on the differences he sees in his home in Atlanta and his native Mississippi as he travels to MSU on those twice-a-week trips. "I think the black community in our major cities take (COVID-19) very seriously, more seriously than what I see in rural areas," Neal said. "I think a lot of that has to do with how information is disseminated. In rural areas, people tend to get their news from local TV, whereas in urban areas, people are far more likely to watch the national news and other sources. They're getting updates on our phones all the time and following the news very closely. I think people living in rural areas have less access to information and that shapes their responses."
Same storm, different boats: Virus puts additional stress on dairymen
Although the coronavirus pandemic has impacted people worldwide, it has not affected everyone equally. "We are in the same storm, but not in the same boat," said Amanda Stone, assistant professor and Extension dairy specialist at Mississippi State University. "People are dealing with different things, including dairymen. Some people are getting laid off of work, and some don't have cars or access to food." The mental toll the pandemic is having on dairymen is difficult for people in the industry to discuss, Stone explained during a webinar hosted by the AgriSafe Network, a national non-profit group that provides training for the agricultural industry. "Imagine dumping milk that you know somebody could be consuming like someone hungry in your own community and the heartache you would feel," Stone said. "Dairymen want to feed the nation, or they wouldn't be in this occupation." About 98% of dairy farms in the United States are family owned, Stone said, regardless if they have 10,000 or 10 cows. "But large farms are not going to be the ones that exit. Small dairies are going to be the ones that go," Stone said.
Mississippi blueberry growers expect high quality, average yield
The COVID-19 pandemic presented a new obstacle for Mississippi blueberry growers in 2020, impacting the labor force for the early-season varieties. "A lot of growers are working through how to deal with harvest, packing and sales because of COVID-19," said Eric Stafne, Mississippi State University Extension Service fruit and nut specialist. "Labor was short for the Southern highbush hand harvest, but there seems to be adequate labor now that we are moving into rabbiteye harvest, which began the week of May 4." Jeremy Edwards, co-owner of his family farm Great Southern Farms in Richton, is one of those growers. His crop is harvested by hand and with machinery. Unable to get enough people to hand-pick berries for the Southern highbush harvest, he mechanically harvested his 50-acre crop. He was hopeful he would have a full hand-harvest crew by mid-May for the 100 acres of rabbiteye bushes on the farm. "Securing harvest labor has been our biggest obstacle this year," Edwards said.
Catfish Producers Can Make Case for Relief Funds
Catfish producers impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic have the opportunity to provide the U.S. Department of Agriculture information on why they should be eligible for economic assistance through the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program. Although the catfish industry was not included in the final rule announced on May 19, a separate amount of funds is available for other eligible industries, including aquaculture and nursery crops, if the USDA gets all the needed information. "USDA has just announced they are looking for data from catfish farmers related to price declines, loss of marketing outlets and the amount of fish that remain unharvested as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic," said Jimmy Avery, Mississippi State University Extension Service aquaculture specialist. "This clearly shows USDA's commitment to make catfish producers eligible for direct payments under the program. But the Farm Service Agency won't be ready to accept applications from catfish producers yet," he said.
More than 260 people cited for curfew, other shelter-in-place violations in Golden Triangle
Law enforcement officers in the Golden Triangle issued at least 260 citations for violations of curfew and other temporary restrictions implemented in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic -- about half of which were written in the city of Columbus alone. Starting in late March, local municipalities began passing 10 p.m-6 a.m. curfews and limiting the number of people who could gather in groups to help spread the curb of the virus. The bulk of the restrictions followed Gov. Tate Reeves, who issued executive orders closing businesses considered "nonessential" and prohibiting individuals from gathering in groups of more than 10 (the order later widened to groups of more than 20). The curfews did not apply to adults 18 or older who had to go to work, pick up food or medicine or attend to other essential business. In Starkville, police wrote 49 such citations -- 43 for shelter in place violations and six for curfew violations, according to information provided by Starkville Police Department Public Information Officer Brandon Lovelady.
Nissan: Canton plant plans to 'gradually' resume production Monday
Nissan in Canton will resume production on Monday. However, it was not immediately clear if production will be cut. Friday morning, LLoryn Love-Carter, spokesperson for Nissan Group of North America, said the Canton plant will "gradually" resume production starting June 1. The company announced Wednesday it would "carry out a phased restart." "We have planned our manufacturing restart with care, mindful that the impact of COVID-19 continues," Steve Marsh, senior vice president, Manufacturing, Supply Chain Management and Purchasing, Nissan North America, Inc. said in a release. "The process will be gradual. Our first priority is to implement thorough protocols so employees are confident the necessary precautions have been taken to ensure their safety in the workplace." Tuesday, one day before Nissan made the restart announcement, Nikkei Asian Review published an article that Nissan "plans to scrap a production line" at the Canton plant "as part of an effort to cut 300 billion yen ($2.79 billion) in annual costs."
Shoppers are on a mission, metro retailers say
Major shopping centers in metro Jackson are moving toward full reopening as the state continues to loosen the constraints imposed on businesses to contain the coronavirus pandemic. The U.S. Census Bureau said on May 15 that retail sales in the nation's brick-and-mortar stores fell 17.8 percent in April from a year earlier due to the lockdown of state economies. But shopping centers in metro Jackson are singing a more-upbeat tune since that report. Shoppers are more intent on buying, rather than just looking, according to the local retail centers. About 90 percent of the 37 retail and restaurant tenants in Highland Village in Jackson have reopened, according to Lynsie Armstrong, marketing director. On June 3, Lululemon and Vineyard Vines will reopen, along with Bravo!, she said. In some regards, "we're incredibly healthy," Armstrong said, adding that because of the demands on creativity, the tenants are "stronger than ever." Sales are strong because most people come to actually buy something, rather than just window shop, she said. That, she said, is unusual.
Mississippi casinos see increase in revenue over holiday weekend compared to last year
Casinos raked in $5 million more in revenue this Memorial Day holiday compared to the same three-day weekend last year. Despite state-mandated limitations on customer volume and a reduced number of available slot machines and table game seats due to social distancing, casinos saw an increase in business over the three-day weekend. After weeks of being shuttered due to the pandemic, most casinos opened just in time for the three-day Memorial Day Holiday and got a much-needed boost in revenue. In fact, more money was spent at casinos across the state during those three days than before the same holiday weekend last year, exceeding expectations for casinos and the gaming commission. From May 21-25, 2020, the Mississippi Gaming Commission reports a total revenue of $33,912,761 statewide. That's $5 million more than casinos brought in during the Memorial Holiday weekend in 2019, which saw a total of $28,913,421. That's a difference of $4,999,340. Notably, the increase in revenue this year doesn't include Beau Rivage, which is slated to open back up on Monday, June 1.
Facing opposition from the governor, Senate delays vote on extending session for the year
The Senate has put the brakes -- at least for the time being -- on the House plan to allow Speaker Philip Gunn and Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann to reconvene the Legislature at any time this year. The House took up and passed the unprecedented proposal with no dissenting votes Wednesday to essentially keep the Legislature in session until Dec. 31 to deal with matters pertaining to the coronavirus, though they would only be in Jackson when jointly called by the two presiding officers -- Gunn in the House and Hosemann in the Senate. Senate President Pro Tem Dean Kirby, R-Pearl, said the Senate would not take up the proposal this week. "We are seriously considering it," Kirby said. "I think there are some questions by some senators. They want to talk about it." Of maintaining the ability to return to Jackson, Sen. David Parker, R-Olive Branch, said, "In normal times, my opinion would be in no way we do this. Unfortunately, right now is not normal" and legislators need the ability to reconvene.
State agencies could see 6.5 percent cuts for next year
Most state agencies could have their appropriations cut by 6.5 percent as the Legislature starts work on the budget for fiscal 2021. Senate Appropriations chairman and state Sen. Briggs Hopson, R-Vicksburg, said that the Senate chose the 6.5 percent figure after consulting with the Legislative Budget Office and modeling various revenue scenarios. Hopson said the Senate's first attempt at a total general fund budget for fiscal 2021 will be $5.486 billion, which represents a $259.7 million reduction from fiscal 2020 general fund appropriations. He also said that some agencies will take greater cuts in general fund support since they receive monies from other special funds. Some of the cuts from the original budget recommendation proposed by the Senate include: Institutions of Higher Learning (universities) could receive $1.22 billion, a $19 million cut from the budget recommendation issued in January.
Pandemic Leads to State Agency Budget Cuts
Mississippi Senators passed the first round of state agency budgets, with many being cut by 6.5 percent. State revenues in April plummeted due to the statewide shutdown to prevent the spread of Covid 19. Republican Briggs Hopson of Vicksburg chairs the Appropriations Committee. He says they'll have $5.4 billion for fiscal year 2021 which begins July 1. That's $3 million less than estimated. "I wanna say this over and over, this is first action. We will meet and continue to look at revenue numbers over the next few weeks to make sure we have the best information available," said Hopson. Hopson says some agencies will see smaller cuts--such as K-12 education, community colleges and universities because they'll receive education enhancement funds and money from the federal CARES Act.
Mississippi physician: 'One wild weekend' can spread virus
Social gatherings are fueling the spread of the new coronavirus in parts of Mississippi, the governor and the state health officer said Thursday. They said people need to follow public health guidelines even if they are tired of doing so. "Every county is one wild weekend from falling off the cliff," said Dr. Thomas Dobbs, the health officer. Dobbs said south Mississippi's Wayne County has seen a sharp rise in COVID-19 cases since mid-May, including an increase in those hospitalized. He said ventilators at Wayne General Hospital were "maxed out" Thursday, although hospitals in other parts of the state still had ventilators available. Dobbs said he spoke to hospital leaders and other officials in Wayne County on Thursday morning and they said people have had large gatherings where social-distancing guidelines were ignored. Dobbs said there's evidence that some of those gatherings were points of outbreak.
State Officials Urge Mississippians To Continue Wearing Masks
The Mississippi Department of Health is reporting a cluster of COVID-19 infections in Northeast Mississippi as a result of a funeral gathering in Lee and Prentiss Counties. Approximately 100 people were in attendance and at least one person was infected with the Coronavirus that spread throughout the group. Nine cases have been confirmed and more are still under investigation. State Health Officer Dr. Thomas Dobbs says this is an example of why wearing a mask and social distancing is still important. "I don't care how great you've been. And if you're in a northern county and everything great and say 'okay we can go back to normal' you can't go back to normal," says Dobbs. "Please, if your county is doing great, keep it up. Don't let your guard down because it's not only going to cause illness, but it's gonna stress the health system and people are gonna get sick and die."
Baldwyn funeral event leads to 'cluster' of new COVID-19 cases
A funeral event that took place in Baldwyn has led to a cluster of new COVID-19 cases, according to the Mississippi State Department of Health. At least nine people have tested positive for the virus as a result of the event. The health department is reporting that at least seven Mississippi residents and two out-of-state residents contracted the virus, but other people who attended the event are currently being monitored. Around 100 people were at the event. "Individuals who attended the graveside service on May 17 at 1 p.m. and the after-service gathering from 2-6:30 p.m. are advised to monitor for symptoms consistent with COVID-19," the statement reads. Johnny Agnew, the owner of Agnew Funeral Home in Baldwyn, told the Daily Journal that his funeral home handled arrangements for the funeral that the health department referenced, but said his funeral home was ultimately not responsible for organizing the large gathering that led to people contracting the virus. "My funeral home can't even hold 100 people," Agnew said.
Top strategists say Mississippi Democratic Party's focus on white moderates can't win elections. Will anything change?
Michael Rejebian will be the first one to tell you that the political strategy he carried out for Jim Hood, the Democratic nominee for governor in 2019, was a failure. The campaign, which had been heralded as the Democratic Party's best shot at the Governor's Mansion in at least 16 years, focused most of its resources on targeting independent white voters, particularly in northeast Mississippi. Hood, a pro-life and gun-toting moderate, had won four attorney general races in large part by appealing to those voters. But that focus drew criticism from Democratic voices several times during the 2019 campaign who said Hood should have been doing more to appeal to the party's black, more progressive base. Late shifts in strategy occurred before the election, but those moves proved futile. On Election Day, Hood lost all but two counties in northeast Mississippi, and he ran below targets in majority-black Democratic strongholds. He lost to Republican Tate Reeves by about five points. "Continuing to focus on moderate white voters as a means to secure future electoral success assumes that there are enough moderate white voters to make that happen," Rejebian, Hood's campaign manager, told Mississippi Today this week. "And, more important, it discounts the potential future strength of African American voters."
Mississippi officials announce support of bill aimed to accelerate broadband program
A Mississippi official on Thursday joined a bipartisan pair of federal lawmakers to announce a bill has been filed in the U.S. House of Representatives that aims to speed up a federal broadband funding program. Brandon Presley, the state's northern district public service commissioner, joined U.S. Reps. Jim Clyburn, D-S.C., and Fred Upton, R-Mich., in a press call where Clyburn, the House majority whip, said he has introduced HR 7022, which would accelerate portions of the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund. The opportunity fund is administered by the Federal Communications Commission, which is scheduled to auction off around $16 billion in federal funds in October to bidders wanting to construct certain broadband projects. If the bill were to pass, the timetable to award funds to certain bidders would be accelerated. The third-term Democratic commissioner argues that the timetable needs to be accelerated in case a second wave of COVID-19 emerges in the fall, which could force people to work from home and students to learn from home. "It's like your house is on fire and you've got the keys to the fire truck," Presley said. "Are you going to crank it and use it, or are we just going to watch this problem get bigger and bigger?"
Young farmers worry about access to USDA aid
Some young and beginning farmers feel excluded from the Agriculture Department's coronavirus assistance efforts, hamstrung by a complicated application process that does not accommodate small, diversified producers. Groups representing this demographic warn that an entire generation of farmers could go bankrupt this year, especially after their request for a portion of funds to be set aside for young and beginning producers has not been granted. The Agriculture Department predicts that it will receive 1.6 million applications for the Coronavirus Financial Assistance Program. The application period opened Monday and will run through August. A USDA spokesperson said that a lack of experience with the department should not be a deterrent to applying, and the program is open to all types of producers and farms. Some producers argue the calculation used to determine direct payments is bound to mainly benefit large growers and shuts out many young and beginning farmers with direct sales or CSA business models. Those sales may mean they're unable to adequately represent their loss, including increases in out-of-pocket costs, to receive enough federal money. The payments are also on a per-crop basis, complicating how diversified farmers could tally losses.
FDA asks packing facilities to report on COVID-19 problems
The Food and Drug Administration is asking farms and facilities it oversees for food safety to let the agency know if COVID-19 forced them to close temporarily or slow production. The FDA's Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition issued guidance Wednesday for facilities that handle food for human consumption and farms on challenges they face during the pandemic. The FDA gained oversight of farms for the safe growing, harvesting, packing and holding of fruits and vegetables under a 2011 law. Reporting is voluntary, and restaurants and retail food establishments are excluded from the guidance. The notice comes a little more than a week after the FDA and the Agriculture Department announced a memorandum of understanding to keep the nation's food chain intact by making food facilities regulated by the FDA potentially subject to the USDA's use of a 1950 law known as the Defense Production Act to keep the U.S. food supply flowing.
Racial tragedies stoke pressure on Joe Biden to pick a nonwhite running mate
Presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden is facing growing pressure from activists and party leaders to pick a nonwhite running mate in the wake of explosive incidents involving race and police violence that have stoked widespread outrage. Biden has pledged to select a woman, prompting leading Democrats to publicly and privately promote several high-profile women of color for the job. Those calls have grown louder this week following the death of a black man in police custody in Minneapolis, a racist conflict in a New York City park and the fatal shooting of a black jogger in Georgia. Biden's recent suggestion that African American voters who aren't already supporting him "ain't black" and the coronavirus's disproportionate effect on nonwhite communities have added to the pressure. More than for any other candidate, the heightening racial tensions across the country have created a potential obstacle for Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), who is white. Critics have argued that when she served as a Hennepin County attorney, she was overly harsh to nonwhite communities and not tough enough on police. Those concerns have been magnified this week after a white police officer in Minneapolis, the Hennepin county seat, knelt on the neck of George Floyd, an unarmed black man who cried that he could not breathe and later died.
George Floyd protests erupt across nation: Police clear streets after fires in Minneapolis; violence in Columbus, Louisville
After a Minneapolis police precinct was torched late Thursday, residents awoke to smoke billowing, fires burning and police lining their streets after another intense night of protests following the death of George Floyd, a black man who died in police custody this week after a white officer pinned him to the ground under his knee. Police largely let protesters light fires and loot buildings into the early hours Friday before advancing through the area and creating a perimeter around the burnt precinct. During the clearing of the streets, a CNN reporter and crew were arrested. Amid the escalating violence, President Donald Trump criticized the city's mayor and called protesters "thugs." Twitter later put a public interest notice on that tweet. There were protests and rallies across the country, too -- including New York City, Chicago and Denver. In Louisville, Kentucky, a protest to demand justice for Breonna Taylor, the 26-year-old Louisville ER tech shot and killed by police in March, turned violent. Seven people were shot.
Mississippi mayor flouts calls to resign over George Floyd comments
A Mississippi mayor whose remarks about the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody sparked outrage is resisting calls to resign, including from his own town's board of aldermen. "Why in the world would anyone choose to become a police officer in our society today?" Petal Mayor Hal Marx tweeted Tuesday, the day four Minneapolis police officers were fired. The 46-year-old Floyd, a black man, was handcuffed and pleading for air as a white police officer kneeled on his neck Monday. In a follow-up tweet, the Republican directly referenced the Floyd case, saying he "didn't see anything unreasonable": "If you can say you can't breathe, you're breathing. Most likely that man died of overdose or heart attack. Video doesn't show his resistance that got him in that position. Police being crucified." Marx's Twitter account no longer exists. The Petal Board of Aldermen held a special meeting Thursday, voting unanimously to ask for Marx's resignation, the Clarion Ledger reported.
Mississippi mayor defends officers in George Floyd's death: 'If you can talk, you can breathe'
A Mississippi mayor is facing intense criticism for comments defending the Minneapolis police officers involved in the arrest of George Floyd, an African American man whose death prompted protests around the country and widespread calls for an investigation. Hal Marx, the mayor of Petal, Miss., a town about 90 miles southeast of Jackson, first commented on the arrest on Tuesday, tweeting, "Why in the world would anyone choose to become a #PoliceOfficer in our society today?" He later argued that he didn't see any "unreasonable" conduct from the officers, adding: "If you can say you can't breathe, you're breathing." Javon Patterson, an offensive lineman for the Indianapolis Colts who is from Petal, and Anthony Alford, an outfielder for the Toronto Blue Jays and graduate of Petal High School, were among many on social media to respond to Marx's comments. Marx has claimed that his initial comments were misinterpreted.
USM announces condensed schedule for fall 2020 semester
The fall 2020 semester for students at the University of Southern Mississippi will look a bit different than usual because of COVID-19. The university announced Thursday it will operate on a condensed schedule during the fall semester. The semester will begin on Aug. 17, and on-campus instruction will end Nov. 23. Students will take exams online the week of Nov. 30. The abbreviated schedule will not include the traditional fall break in mid-October. The previous plan was for the semester to start on Aug. 24 and end on Dec. 3. "As we prepare for resuming on-campus operations, the safety and health of our USM community remains our top priority," said University President Rodney D. Bennett. "The condensed fall calendar will present new challenges, but the fall semester will undoubtedly be another opportunity for USM to demonstrate our proven ability to meet any challenge with innovation and determination."
UMMC to receive $1 million in federal funds for telehealth upgrades
U.S. Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-Miss.), a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, today announced that four Mississippi providers will receive more than $1.74 million from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to expand telehealth services during the coronavirus health emergency. The University of Mississippi Medical Center, Leland Medical Center, Region 8 Mental Health Services in Brandon, and the Franklin County Memorial Hospital in Meadville will receive funding from the FCC COVID-19 Telehealth Program, which was authorized in the CARES Act. "The FCC recognizes the importance of strengthening telehealth capabilities as providers work to treat coronavirus patients while continuing to provide other medical services. I'm grateful for these new FCC resources and hope to see more, Mississippi was a leader in telemedicine services before the pandemic, and these grants should work to build on that success," Hyde-Smith said.
UMMC lays off hundreds amid pandemic. Other hospitals struggling. Now what?
The University of Mississippi Medical Center announced on Wednesday it has laid off more than 250 employees as it faces a budget shortfall in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic. The layoffs are just one step of several the center has taken in recent days in an attempt to shore up a "devastating budget shortfall" where UMMC has seen over $1 million in revenue losses each day since mid-March. And hospitals statewide, many facing financial problems before the pandemic, are struggling to stay afloat. "Today, in an effort to offset the financial losses attributed to COVID-19, the Medical Center took the unfortunate action of reducing our workforce by more than 250 positions," said Dr. LouAnn Woodward, UMMC vice chancellor for health affairs, in a statement. The job cuts are permanent and include both staff and faculty, said UMMC Spokesman Marc Rolph. They represent a relatively small number of staff at UMMC, about 2.5% of the center's 10,000-person workforce across the state. But the cuts come amid the coronavirus outbreak in Mississippi and as the center has spent considerable resources to combat the spread of the virus, including the creation of an in-house laboratory to test residents and a field hospital in downtown Jackson and other testing sites throughout the state.
Itawamba Community College makes plans to safely open in the fall; appoints task force
Itawamba Community College is actively making plans to safely open its doors for the 2020 fall semester with the appointment of a task force that will examine all options. The 21 members, which touch all areas of the college, had a virtual organizational meeting on May 18, and its goal is the announcement of a plan on June 15. "Our goal is to develop guidelines and protocols for the 2020 fall semester while following the guidance of public health officials and take a measured approach in determining how and when to welcome students back to campus and fully resume face-to-face instruction and services," said ICC President Dr. Jay Allen. Approximately 100 administrators, faculty, staff and students will be involved in the process through the task force and additional participation in three breakout committees. "Throughout the pandemic, we have placed an emphasis on ensuring that decisions weren't made by a single person," Allen said.
East Mississippi college plan redistribution of CARES Act money
Federal money aimed at helping college students weather the COVID-19 pandemic is starting to pour into East Mississippi. The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act) was passed on March 27 to provide economic assistance for families, small business and families, according to the U.S. Department of Treasury. College students are eligible for the money, but the funds can't be used for tuition. The grant instead provides funds for food, course materials, technology, healthcare or childcare costs. Meridian Community College received $1.47 million, according to a news release. East Mississippi Community College received about $1.7 million in early May. East Central Community College sent an email to 1,147 students eligible for CARES Act Funds. The school didn't disclose the amount it received. Mississippi State University's main campus in Starkville said the school received $8.9 million in CARES Act funding. As of May 8, the school had disbursed $2.6 million in CARES Act funding to 4,864 students who met the qualifications.
Auburn University forms new Black Alumni Council
Friday is the last day for potential alumni to join the newly created Auburn University Black Alumni Council. "This is an opportunity to really engage all our black alumni with the university," said Erin Hutchins, Inclusion & Diversity Coordinator for special events and programs at the Office of Alumni Affairs. "This council will play an important role by advocating for the concerns of black alumni and friends and advancing ... connectivity between alumni and the university and increase meaningful alumni engagement." Ten alumni will be chosen from any college or major at the university and any geographical area, Hutchins said. These alumni will be responsible for advocating for other black alumni in the Auburn family. "This will include advocating for the concerns of black alumni and friends, assisting with the recruitment of new students, supporting the retention of current students and working to preserve the legacy of black alumni, especially those who paved the way for us to attend Auburn University," she said.
Virtual orientation at Auburn University means new outreach tactics for Emerge
Many Auburn campus activities and organizations have been limited in how they can connect with incoming freshmen because of remote Camp War Eagle and the closing of campus. Emerge is one of the many such student organizations new students will have limited knowledge about the program for the upcoming fall semester. Emerge is a student-run leadership development organization that helps University students throughout college, teaching them life skills through workshops and retreats. "Our goal is to make leadership development accessible to all students on Auburn's campus," said Jediael Fraser, senior in software engineering and president of Emerge. Each year, the organization gets an average of about 500 new students that apply to be a part of Emerge. Last year, it gained 488 new members in the fall. Many of the new students each year come from the incoming freshman class, and Emerge usually benefits from promotions from Camp War Eagle to gain those numbers.
Louisiana college students can return to campus in the fall. But how will it work?
The Louisiana Board of Regents announced Thursday that students can return to campus in the fall if the state's colleges and universities follow guidance from public health officials on how to safely conduct in-person activities in the wake of the initial spread of coronavirus. Dr. Alex Billioux, assistant secretary of the state's Office of Public Health, shared strategies for opening campuses during the board's monthly meeting Thursday, in which school leaders disclosed the options they're considering in their phased approaches toward the new academic year. Plans will be finalized in the coming weeks, the leaders said, but schools are already preparing policies such as requiring all campus members to wear masks, cutting off in-person instruction before Thanksgiving and dividing up large classes on a rotating schedule to adhere with the state's social distancing requirements. "We are coming back," interim LSU president Tom Galligan told the Baton Rouge Area Chamber on Tuesday.
UGA announces phased reopening starting June 15
The University of Georgia will begin a phased campus reopening June 15. UGA and other state college and university campuses emptied in mid-March as Georgia entered a state of emergency to slow the spread of COVID-19. College administrators sent students and faculty home to complete spring semester online. Summer and "Maymester" classes also are being conducted remotely this year. A three-phased plan for "a carefully planned and measured reopening" that UGA administrators announced Thursday looks ahead to August and a hoped-for return of students and faculty to UGA's campuses. In the first phase beginning June 15, primarily essential staff and supervisors will return. Vice presidents, deans, department heads and directors will determine over the next two weeks who should return, according to the message, which bears the names of UGA President Jere Morehead, Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs and Provost Jack Hu and Vice President for Finance and Administration Ryan Nesbit.
Testing, distancing likely in store for Florida's public universities
A socially distant fall semester with potentially copious amounts of virus testing and tracing could be in the works for students and employees this fall at Florida's public universities. Tuesday, the governing body of the state's 12 public universities approved a blueprint for colleges to follow throughout the semester to aid the safe return of students and faculty in just months. Students and employees, according to the plan, may need to be tested and/or screened before coming back to campus. The university must decide who, when and how often some in the campus community should be tested. Each of the 12 public universities must follow the board's safety protocol while mapping out their own individual plans to reopen. Those plans must be presented to the Board of Governors by June 23. UF officials have said they will not publicly announce their plans until the June 23 meeting. Fraternities and sororities, intramural sports and student clubs must also align with CDC recommendations, as universities plan "for the gradual and measured approval of student extracurricular activities."
UF College of Engineering details plan for Fall
Faculty and staff of the Herbert Wertheim College of Engineering received an email memo May 15 outlining the college's plans to reopen in the Fall, according to UF spokesperson Steve Orlando. Orlando forwarded the memo sent by College of Engineering Dean Cammy Abernathy to The Alligator and said that Dean Diane McFarlin of the College of Journalism and Communications sent a similar email to faculty and staff. "Plans for the Fall are currently being developed and will be presented to the State University System of Florida's Board of Governors during their June 23 meeting," Orlando wrote in an email. The college's main goals are to restore the college to full functionality and protect faculty, staff and students to the greatest extent possible, Abernathy wrote. Each employee returning to campus in the Summer will receive one cloth mask and two disposable masks, or more as needed. Starting June 1, faculty members who want to access their offices over the summer will be screened and tested, too, Abernathy wrote.
Tennessee handgun carry on college campuses bill takes next step
The GOP-led Tennessee House has advanced several proposals that would allow public college students with permits to carry concealed guns on campus and eliminate the requirement that residents obtain any permits to carry handguns, including for concealed weapons. Wednesday's action followed a long debate Tuesday evening in which a House committee spent more than two hours debating the bill to eliminate the permit requirement. The proposal is backed by Republican Gov. Bill Lee, but he recently said it wasn't a top priority during the coronavirus outbreak.
Condoleeza Rice, co-author talk international relations during Texas A&M online forum
Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and scholar Philip Zelikow spoke Thursday evening at an online forum hosted by the George & Barbara Bush Foundation and the Scowcroft Institute of International Affairs at the Bush School of Government and Public Service. Rice and Zelikow reflected on late President George H.W. Bush's leadership style and its foreign policy implications, made comments on leadership and diplomacy more broadly and reflected on the COVID-19 pandemic and its myriad impacts. Rice and Zelikow talked about their book To Build a Better World: Choices to End the Cold War and Create a Global Commonwealth, which came out last year and examines the reunification of Germany and the end of the Cold War. The duo, who served together in the Bush administration in the late 1980s, previously wrote Germany Unified and Europe Transformed together in 1995.
U. of Missouri System, local police address Minneapolis police killing of George Floyd
University leaders and local police from a state and city that have faced racism and protests responded Thursday to the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police, while a local group announced a Friday march in response to Floyd's death. Officials from the University of Missouri System sent an email to its four campuses condemning "discrimination and violence," while a joint statement from Columbia police, Boone County Sheriff's Department and MU Police asserted officers being "held to the highest standards." The UM System message, also released Thursday, encouraged responsibility and invoked the system's "guiding principles." It was signed by UM System President and Interim MU Chancellor Mun Choi and the three chancellors of the Kansas City, Rolla and St. Louis campuses. The university found itself in headlines around the country in the fall of 2015, after a series of racist incidents on campus led to activist group Concerned Student 1950 protests and demands to MU and UM leaders. Former UM System President Tim Wolfe and former MU Chancellor R. Bowen Loftin both resigned as a result of the events.
Higher-Ed Lobbying Group, Eyeing an In-Person Fall, Asks Congress for Liability Shields
Higher-education leaders seeking to open their campuses for in-person operations this fall are asking Congress for protections that would insulate colleges from lawsuits brought by students, faculty, or staff who contract the new coronavirus. The American Council on Education sent a letter on Thursday to Senate and House leaders seeking "temporary and targeted" liability-exposure protections for institutions that open their campuses this fall. The letter, co-signed by more than 70 other higher-education associations, also seeks protections for faculty and staff members and institutional systems, including affiliated nonprofit organizations and health-care providers. In its letter, ACE said that such protections are necessary to "blunt the chilling effect" lawsuits would have on "otherwise reasonable decision-making leading to our nation's campuses resuming operations in a safe and sensible manner."
Home by Thanksgiving: An emerging strategy to reopen college campuses in the fall
Saint Louis University will kick off its fall semester in mid-August, earlier than usual, bringing students back for classes before sending them home for the year around Thanksgiving. Just a few miles west, Washington University, another private school, will delay the first day for its undergraduates until mid-September, part of a gradual restart of a fall term that will stretch into January. One major Midwestern city, two approaches to the resumption of campus life during the deadly coronavirus pandemic. It's a split that illuminates an emerging contrast between higher education leaders who are acting aggressively to reopen campuses -- aiming to squeeze in most or all of an in-person semester by Thanksgiving -- and those who are taking it slowly. Both camps say health is paramount. They are also mindful of fiscal pressures and the yearning of stuck-at-home students to return.
Trump administration reportedly considers restrictions on foreign student work program
Advocates for international students are raising alarm bells about a possible Trump administration plan to curtail a popular program that lets international students work in the U.S. for up to three years after graduating college. The advocates say restrictions on the program could have far-reaching economic implications for the American labor market and for colleges that recruit international students and rely on the revenues they bring in. An estimated 223,085 international students participated in optional practical training, or OPT, in the 2018-19 academic year, and participation in OPT has surged in recent years. "It's an essential part of the package of benefits that we offer to international students who come to the United States," said Brad Farnsworth, vice president for global engagement for the American Council on Education. ACE joined with nine other higher education associations in sending a letter to the White House last week requesting a meeting to discuss the OPT program.
U.S. plans to cancel visas for students with ties to universities connected to Chinese military
The Trump administration plans to cancel the visas of Chinese graduate students and researchers who have direct ties to universities in China affiliated with the People's Liberation Army, a decision that will only affect a small percentage of the approximately 370,000 Chinese students studying in the U.S. The move was praised by some as a smart approach to mitigating the risk of theft of sensitive research and criticized by others as an overly blunt and likely ineffective measure that could open the door for further restrictions on Chinese students. News of the administration's plan was reported by The New York Times, which said at least 3,000 students would be affected. The Times noted that U.S. "officials acknowledged there was no direct evidence that pointed to wrongdoing by the students who are about to lose their visas. Instead, suspicions by American officials center on the Chinese universities at which the students trained as undergraduates." Senator Marco Rubio, a Republican of Florida who has been vocal in raising concerns about the Chinese Communist Party's links to American universities, praised the visa cancellations on Twitter.
U-Va. heads toward at least some in-person classes in fall
The University of Virginia announced Thursday that it is planning for at least some face-to-face classes when the fall term starts in late August on its campus in Charlottesville. But the in-person teaching will end by Thanksgiving. The state's flagship university, with 24,000 students, switched abruptly in March to online and remote instruction in response to the coronavirus pandemic. Its actions echoed those of colleges and universities across the country seeking to contain the spread of the deadly pathogen. Now, the university and others are studying when and how to bring students back. U-Va. expects to provide final guidance by mid-June, with many logistical details unknown. But on Thursday it sent a note to the university community spelling out tentative plans for the campus known as the Grounds. "Assuming state and federal public health guidelines allow, we are planning to have students back on Grounds and to hold in-person classes this fall," U-Va. President James E. Ryan wrote in an email co-signed with other officials. "We are still trying to determine how many students we can have safely back on Grounds and living in dorms, and how many in-person classes we can host, given social distancing restrictions."
Colleges Face Student Lawsuits Seeking Refunds After Coronavirus Closures
Columbia, Brown, Penn, Purdue -- universities with hallowed traditions, proud alumni and another thing in common: Right now they're being sued by disgruntled students. The students claim that when campuses shut down amid the coronavirus pandemic, they should have been entitled to more of their money back. And the list of institutions facing such challenges is growing, including private universities, such as Cornell, Vanderbilt, Liberty and Temple, and entire public systems in California, Florida, North Carolina and Arizona. The cases -- now dozens in all -- are raising difficult questions about what truly makes a college education valuable. Several law firms are handling these suits. Whether these lawsuits succeed or falter, they cast a shadow on the value proposition of college. Will universities going forward be able to charge the same tuition they're accustomed to for semesters that take place partially or entirely online?

Mike Leach talks Sasquatch, lessons, moments during L'Arche Football Preview
Mississippi State coach Mike Leach mentioned Sasquatch during his appearance on the 26th annual L'Arche Football Preview on Thursday night. "One of the best lessons I learned in sports and coaching and playing sports is always believe in yourself," Leach said. "If you don't believe in yourself, no one else will. If you don't believe me, just ask Sasquatch." Leach is preparing for his first season as Mississippi State's coach after leading Texas Tech for 10 years and Washington State for eight since becoming a head coach in 2000. Leach was introduced as the MSU coach on Jan. 10, but his first few months on the job haven't gone as expected. The coronavirus pandemic has put college football on hold, wiping out Leach's opportunity to coach his new team during spring practice, leaving him "anxiously awaiting the opportunity to work together."
Will CFB fans fill Mississippi stadiums? Ole Miss & MSU officials, health experts weigh in
The start of the college football season is 100 days away, and with the NCAA's recent decision allowing voluntary on-campus workouts to begin June 1, there appears to be growing optimism that the season will start on time. The question now becomes, will there be fans in the stands? Ole Miss Athletic Director Keith Carter approached the subject of fans in the stands with a sense of optimism while continuing to acknowledge that safety is the most important factor moving forward. Mississippi State Associate AD Brandon Langlois expressed a similar sense of cautious optimism. He noted that MSU Athletics is preparing for a number of different scenarios and examining many capacity models ahead of the beginning of the Mike Leach era at Davis Wade Stadium. Langlois went on to state that these decisions don't have to be made just yet as kickoff is several months away and that MSU Athletics meets regularly to discuss gameday preparations in the midst of the ever-changing situation that is facing college football.
Air-Raid Superstar? Kylin Hill will have chance to shine in Mike Leach's offense
Kylin Hill is fresh off a year in which he led the Southeastern Conference in rushing yardage during the regular season. However when the Mississippi State running back met his new position coach, Eric Mele, a few months back, Mele went ahead and informed Hill he might as well get ready to relinquish that crown. At the same time, Mele wanted Hill to prepare to pick up another. "I told (Hill) when we first got the job, I said, 'Hey listen, you're not going to lead the SEC in rushing this year, let's just get that out of the way," Mele said. "But you'll probably lead the SEC in all-purpose yards though. That's what we're all about. We want yards on the ground and in the air." Already an established runner, now Hill is about to have a prime opportunity to show he's so much more than that. When Mike Leach was hired as the new head coach of the Bulldogs back in January, it ushered in the famed Leach air-raid style. It certainly has the chance to take Hill from standout to superstar in his final season wearing MSU maroon and white.
Wildlife commission eases deer feeding restrictions, changes CWD management zones
The Commission on Wildlife, Fisheries, and Parks voted in favor of significant changes within the chronic wasting disease management zones this month that will allow some hunters to resume supplemental feeding while others will be able to harvest deer in excess of the state bag limit. One of those changes involves the reclassification of existing CWD management zones. "The North Mississippi Zone and the Issaquena Zone, they were CWD management zones," said Russ Walsh, Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries, and Parks' Wildlife Chief of Staff. "The commission voted to alter that. So, they are now surveillance zones. In the surveillance zones there are management zones. The management zones are smaller in geography. There will be four management zones." The new management zones include land surrounding locations where CWD-positive deer have been identified and restrictions within them remain the same in an effort to slow the spread of the disease which is fatal to cervids such as white-tailed deer and elk.
SEC Eases Admissions Rules for Grad Transfers, Matching New NCAA Legislation
The Southeastern Conference has relaxed admission rules governing graduate transfers. During the final day of their virtual spring meetings Thursday, SEC presidents and chancellors approved a proposal to ease a restriction that required graduate transfers to enroll in graduate school at his or her new school. The new legislation, an amendment to a bylaw, allows grad transfers to pursue a second undergraduate degree, according to the proposal obtained by Sports Illustrated. The SEC's decision aligns its policy with that of the NCAA, which made the change to its graduate transfer legislation in April. The previous policy steered an athlete's education down a path that they may not have preferred. With greater enrollment options now, athletes are free to pursue a second major in the same way he or she could have done at the previous school. Admission standards at graduate programs can be stringent and often complicated. The new legislation will "reduce tensions created between athletics and academic departments" in locating graduate programs for athletes who may not "lack necessary practical experience to be admitted," the proposal reads.
Arkansas AD Hunter Yurachek shares parents' concerns
University of Arkansas Athletic Director Hunter Yurachek has two sons who are part of the Razorbacks' football program. Jake Yurachek is a redshirt sophomore linebacker who played in four games on special teams last season, and Ryan Yurachek is a graduate assistant coach. So when Hunter Yurachek reached out recently to parents of Arkansas athletes about coronavirus safety measures being put in place for their sons and daughters returning to campus this summer, he could personally relate to the mothers and fathers. "I deal with their mother on a regular basis asking questions about how we're appropriately preparing the facilities for her one son to go to work and for her other son to start working out again," Yurachek said of his wife, Jennifer, during a Zoom call with media members Wednesday. "She really could care less about how I'm doing at the Broyles Center and how sanitized that is." Yurachek was joking about his wife's lack of concern for his own well-being, but he's serious about safety precautions to make sure the Razorbacks and their parents are comfortable about voluntary workouts at UA facilities starting with the first of four phases for returning to campus June 8.
How UGA football is addressing coronavirus concerns and what happens if a player tests positive
Ahead of Georgia football players venturing back to Athens from their respective hometowns next week, they, along with their parents or guardians, have had a chance to address concerns they may have about what's ahead as they wade into uncharted territory. "There's obviously some apprehension and questions but they've got those same questions whether they're in Huntsville, in Macon or Columbus about going to work out," coach Kirby Smart said Thursday. "They know that our facility is one of the safest and we've certainly got the ability to care for that facility better than a lot of places they can go to back home." Team physician Fred Reifsteck, director of sports medicine Ron Courson and Smart have provided answers to players and their families about returning to football workouts during the novel coronavirus pandemic. "There won't be pressure to work out, to go do this extra," Smart said during a Zoom video session with reporters. "Kids got to voluntarily do it. If a guy doesn't feel comfortable or if a guy has a fever or a guy feels sick, we don't want him to come in. We don't want him to put himself in jeopardy and we've got to convey that." Voluntary workouts begin June 8.
What would a coronavirus-altered Tennessee football season mean for Vols traditions?
Jeremy Pruitt poured himself into some Tennessee traditions after the Alabama native and alumnus became UT's coach in 2017. He studied up on Gen. Robert Neyland's maxims, and he showed appreciation for the Vol Walk. "It's a pretty huge sight to see -- all these people with orange on standing out there to watch these guys walk," Pruitt said of the Vol Walk after a 2018 home game. Not only must Tennessee and the SEC decide whether to play football this fall -- and if so, in what capacity to allow fans because of the coronavirus pandemic -- but some Vols traditions also must be evaluated for 2020. The Vol Walk tradition began in 1990. Players, coaches and fans adore the pregame spectacle, which offers an opportunity for fans to interact with players and try to get a high-five from their favorite Vols. It is not, however, conducive to social distancing. Neither is the Pride of the Southland Band. The band's repeated playing of "Rocky Top" is ingrained into the Neyland Stadium experience. But once again, it wasn't set up with a pandemic in mind, and the band's presence at games will be a subject for school officials to ponder.
13,000 fans in Superdome for Saints games? That's just one of many scenarios considered
With some four months to go before the New Orleans Saints regular-season home opener, officials in charge of operating the Mercedes-Benz Superdome are considering a series of changes to manage fan safety amid the coronavirus pandemic, including what could be a sharp drop in the number of people able to cheer in person. During a monthly meeting Thursday, officials from the Louisiana Stadium and Exposition District -- the state entity commonly known as the Superdome Commission -- said they are currently modeling multiple contingency plans should the NFL mandate social distancing for fans. And while nothing is final, scenarios now under review would fill the Superdome between 17% and 50% of its typical 75,000-seat capacity. Doug Thornton, executive vice president of Superdome operator AMG Global, said during Thursday's meeting that in a worst-case scenario, the Saints could potentially play in front of fewer than 13,000 fans. But he noted that preparations were already underway to find creative seating arrangements or other avenues to avoid such a steep drop.
It's past time for radical change in Conference USA
Mississippi sports columnist Rick Cleveland writes: The first thing I'd do as commissioner of Conference USA? I'd blow it up. It doesn't work. It didn't work long before the pandemic. It certainly won't work now. Most of all, the economics don't work. There's too much travel, not nearly enough revenue. In many ways, the league was designed -- and has been altered over the years -- with TV markets in mind. That's why FIU and FAU were accepted as members in 2013, to regain the Florida TV market lost when first South Florida and UCF exited. That's why UTSA was accepted in 2013. San Antonio is a big city with lots of TVs. But the various networks have not been impressed. Big city teams do not necessarily translate into big TV contracts. People in Florida prefer to watch the SEC Gators and the ACC Seminoles and Hurricanes. Folks in Texas tune in to Texas, Texas A&M and TCU. For Conference USA, FIU, FAU and UTSA added little other than acronyms and airfare expense.

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