Tuesday, June 23, 2020   
March sales tax revenue down 10%+ in Columbus, Starkville
Sales tax revenue collected in Starkville this March was down 10.8 percent from March 2019 totals, and April 2020 produced 13.4 percent less than April 2019. While that's not the 30-percent drop Mayor Lynn Spruill and the city's board of aldermen braced for in the wake of the restrictions they implemented to curb the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic -- including limiting social and business gatherings and mandating restaurants only serve customers via drive-through, takeout and delivery -- it still comes out to nearly $1 million lost if the trend holds for the rest of the fiscal year. For a city with a budget of about $23 million -- $7 million of which comes from sales tax revenue -- that's no small loss. For Starkville, at least, Ward 1 Alderman Ben Carver said he hopes the football season at Mississippi State will help. A key financial factor for the city, the sport drew an average of 56,190 fans to Davis Wade Stadium for home games last fall. But M. Kathleen Thomas, professor of economics and head of the finance and economics department at Mississippi State, cited positive COVID-19 tests for football players at MSU and Alabama as reasons that practice -- let alone game play -- is still up in the air. Attendance restrictions likely to limit capacity to 50 percent or less are also a factor.
Monday Profile: Veterinary student helps bolster MSU's LGBTQ community
Keegan Jones changed his name about a year ago, between finishing his bachelor's degree at Mississippi State University and starting veterinary school. A lot had changed since he started college four years earlier. Jones is transgender and had recently started hormone therapy when he arrived at MSU as a freshman. In the time between, he helped MSU's two LGBTQ student organizations merge into one and worked on making resources for LGBTQ students more "concrete" and not something they had to "dig and ask" for. The LGBTQ+ Union was an advocacy group, while Spectrum "was more focused on giving people, closeted or not, somewhere to be," Jones said. He was on Spectrum's leadership council for three and a half years. Months of discussions between the two groups led to the formation of Fostering LGBTQ+ Advocacy, Resources, and Environments -- F.L.A.R.E., which Jones said meets both the advocacy and social support needs of LGBTQ students at MSU. The leaders of both organizations worked hard to find the balance between the two goals, he said.
Starkville tops record for single-day mobile site testing at J.L. King
Drive-through testing conducted in Starkville on Monday by the Mississippi State Department of Health broke the previous record held by Starkville for the most tests conducted statewide at one of the multi-agency mobile testing sites. According to University of Mississippi Medical Center spokesman Marc Rolph, a total of 160 tests were conducted at J.L. King Park Monday, topping the city's and state's previous single-day record of 140 tests done on June 9 at the Oktibbeha County Safe Room. What's more, OCH Regional Medical Center ICU Medical Director Dr. Cameron Huxford said the hospital on Monday also saw its second busiest day for testing, as 38 were conducted at the hospital's drive-through location, further underscoring a busy day for health officials.
Mississippi posts COVID-19 data after 5-day delay
The Mississippi Department of Health reported 1,646 new cases of coronavirus and 40 deaths on Monday, after a five-day delay in posting figures online. The numbers represent new cases and deaths that occurred in the state between Wednesday and Sunday. Two of the 40 reported deaths happened between May 25 and June 7 and were identified from death certificate reports, officials said. Mississippi's total number of COVID-19 cases since March 11 now stands at 22,287, with 978 deaths. There are 485 Mississippians hospitalized with confirmed COVID-19 infection. Mississippi has a population of about 3 million. Monday's delay is not the first time officials have been slow to post daily coronavirus numbers in Mississippi. Health Officer Dr. Thomas Dobbs has apologized repeatedly in recent weeks for delays, citing the state's outdated software system.
Mississippi reports 1,646 new COVID-19 cases over five days
The Mississippi Department of Health on Monday reported 1,646 new COVID-19 cases and 40 deaths between June 17 and June 21 in its first coronavirus update since last Wednesday. Northeast Mississippi counties reporting new deaths include: Chickasaw, Monroe and Oktibbeha. Of those 40 deaths, two occurred between May 25 and June 7 and were identified through death certificate reports. The total number of coronavirus cases in Mississippi stands at 22,287 with a death toll of 978. More than 17,200 patients in the state are presumed to have recovered from the virus. Every county in the Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal's coverage area saw an increase in COVID-19 cases over the past five days.
Mississippi COVID-19 hospitalization rate ranks second in nation amid state data blackout
Mississippi currently has the second highest COVID-19 hospitalization rate in the U.S., as the state enters its fifth day without releasing new case counts or data trends. Hospitalization data has been the only new data released since June 19, when the Mississippi Department of Health issued new case numbers for June 17 and released a statement apologizing for data delays saying that "the agency is working to address legacy software issues impacting its ability create detailed reports." Though technical problems have lately delayed daily reports, only once before now -- June 11 -- has the agency completely forgone daily numbers. As of Friday, Mississippi saw its peak hospitalization of confirmed COVID-19 cases at 516. Confirmed and suspected cases -- both require hospital resources for isolation, bed space devoted to coronavirus care and health care worker protective equipment -- accounted for 689 hospitalized patients. State Health Officer Thomas Dobbs on Thursday said that the state was seeing "significant stress" on the health care system after warning about growing hospital pressure for weeks, particularly in central Mississippi.
Top exec: If state flag goes to ballot, 'any business considering locating here will pause'
One of the state's top executives said that elected officials would compromise the state's ability to attract new business if they choose to let voters decide the fate of the state flag, which features the Confederate battle emblem. John Hairston, CEO of Hancock Whitney bank and one of the most prominent business leaders in the state, told Mississippi Today he believes lawmakers, not voters, should change the state flag. "If the issue goes to the polls, it will be covered by every major network. Any business considering locating here will pause, not wanting to take the risk of locating here until resolution," Hairston said. "What if the vote is a narrow win, or worse, an outright loss? What does that mean about our people? We have too much goodness in Mississippi to take the risk. I support the Legislature taking action now, and let's get this decades-long issue put to bed." He said the state flag is already hindering the state's ability to attract business.
Mississippi gov rejects 'separate but equal' 2-flag plan
Mississippi Republican Gov. Tate Reeves said Monday that he's against having two state flags -- the current banner with the Confederate battle emblem that critics see as racist, and a yet-to-be-determined design that would erase Confederate images. "Over the weekend there has been a proposal floating amongst some in the Legislature to create a second Mississippi flag. Let's call it the 'Separate but Equal' flag option," Reeves said Monday on social media. He said having two flags would further divide the state. "I don't believe it would satisfy either side of this debate, and I don't think it is a viable alternative," Reeves said. A white Republican statewide elected official, Insurance Commissioner Mike Chaney, said Monday that the current state flag needs to be "retired and replaced" because it does not achieve "a common brotherhood of our citizens."
Legislative leaders say they're still short of necessary votes to change state flag
Legislative leaders believe they still do not have the necessary votes to change the state flag, which features the Confederate battle emblem, after multiple closed-door meetings held Monday in efforts to develop a politically palatable and feasible way to address the issue. As calls to remove the Confederate battle emblem from the Mississippi state flag intensify, lawmakers have discussed whether to change the flag that was adopted in 1894. Two trial balloons floated over the weekend -- having two separate official state flags and/or letting voters decide the fate of the flag -- have drawn major opposition from both the public and many lawmakers on both sides of the aisle. The biggest hurdle leaders face is that any change to the flag or putting it on a ballot this late in the legislative session would require a two-thirds vote of the both the 122-member House and 52-member Senate to suspend its rules. Late Monday afternoon, House Speaker Philip Gunn and Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann met for almost an hour in the lieutenant governor's office where various issues, including the flag, were addressed related to trying to end the session by Friday as planned.
New Albany senator falsely claims Black man designed state flag
State Sen. Kathy Chism, R-New Albany, believes the Legislature should not change the state flag and has without any evidence claimed that a Black veteran of the Confederacy designed the flag. Historical accounts widely attribute the design of Mississippi's flag, which was adopted in 1894, to Edward Scudder. Scudder was a white state senator and attorney. But in a Sunday Facebook post, Chism, a freshman lawmaker, made a different historical claim without referring to any sources. "The MS flag was designed by an African American Confederate Soldier," Chism wrote. "I can only imagine how proud he was that his art, his flag design was chosen to represent our State and now we want to strip him of his pride, his hard work. I'm sure he put a lot of thought into this design." Within the comments to her post, multiple people corrected Chism's claim. As of Monday evening, Chism's original post remains. When reached Monday night, Chism said she has no comment on the post and would not answer any questions about the source of her claims about the design of the flag.
Beauvoir COO 'not surprised' to lose Literary Landmark designation
The Jefferson Davis Home and Presidential Library at Beauvoir is losing its designation as a Literary Landmark. Friday, June 12, the Executive Committee of United for Libraries voted unanimously to rescind the status previously given to the library, which sits on the grounds of the historic last home of Confederate president Jefferson Davis. The program recognizes sites of literary significance, and the designations are awarded to sites as opposed to authors. The United for Libraries Executive Board released a statement saying, "United for Libraries has rescinded this designation, and regrets any implied endorsement of this site. We reject the racist and wrong 'Lost Cause' ideology promoted in Jefferson Davis' memoirs and by the site's owners, the Mississippi Division of Sons of Confederate Veterans, Inc. The site's focus does not match United for Libraries' values. The continued inclusion of Beauvoir as a Literary Landmark was an oversight -- one that we are rectifying." The Presidential Library at Beauvoir was originally given the Literary Landmark designation because the Biloxi home is where Jefferson Davis wrote, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government.
Trump tells aides he supports second round of stimulus checks, but White House divisions remain
President Trump has told aides he is largely supportive of sending Americans another round of stimulus checks, believing the payments will boost the economy and help his chances at reelection in November, according to three people aware of internal administration deliberations. However, leading congressional Republicans and some senior White House officials remain skeptical of sending more checks, creating a rift within conservative circles that could have significant consequences for the stimulus package set to be taken up by lawmakers in July. The White House has not officially taken a position on the matter. Internally, the president's advisers and allies are split. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin has advocated sending another round of checks, two people with knowledge of internal deliberations said, speaking on the condition of anonymity to frankly discuss matters they weren't authorized to comment on publicly. Larry Kudlow, director of the White House National Economic Council, is skeptical of sending payments out to as many people who received them in the first round, said one person familiar with internal matters who also spoke on the condition of anonymity.
Trump team weighs a CDC scrubbing to deflect mounting criticism
White House officials are putting a target on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, positioning the agency as a coronavirus scapegoat as cases surge in many states and the U.S. falls behind other nations that are taming the pandemic. Trump administration aides in recent weeks have seriously discussed launching an in-depth evaluation of the agency to chart what they view as its missteps in responding to the pandemic including an early failure to deploy working test kits, according to four senior administration officials. Part of that audit would include examining more closely the state-by-state death toll to tally only the Americans who died directly of Covid-19 rather than other factors. About 120,000 people in the U.S. have died of the coronavirus so far, according to the CDC's official count. Protecting the president is seen as increasingly important by political aides as the general election approaches in just over four months and criticism mounts from former Vice President Joe Biden, other Democrats and even former national security adviser John Bolton who say the blame rests squarely on Trump himself.
Chancellor Glenn Boyce responds to unrest over Confederate statue relocation plan
The University of Mississippi community celebrated the IHL Board of Trustees' vote to approve the relocation of a Confederate monument on its campus on Thursday, but by Friday, some of that joy had turned to anger. Once the plans were made public regarding the relocation of the statue from the Lyceum Circle to the Confederate Cemetery, a pair of renderings that depicted the cemetery being renovated into a space that some viewed as still glorifying the statue and the cemetery. On Monday, Chancellor Glenn Boyce issued a statement and detailed message regarding the renderings and the unrest that had grown since Thursday. "While those constituencies listed in the submission did approve the plan to relocate the monument to the cemetery, the placement of this statement in the document implies approval of the plan to add headstones to the cemetery, which was not addressed or approved by those groups," Boyce said. "This is clearly an error and I will clarify this with the Board of Trustees."
Chancellor Glenn Boyce clarifies plans for Confederate monument relocation
University of Mississippi Chancellor Glenn F. Boyce clarified plans for relocating the Confederate monument on campus in an email to students, faculty and staff on Monday afternoon. The State Institutions of Higher Learning Board of Trustees approved a plan submitted by UM last Thursday to relocate the monument from its prominent spot in the Circle to the University Cemetery near the Tad Smith Coliseum on campus. Many members of the UM community expressed outrage after two artist's renderings of renovations at the cemetery, which were included in the proposal sent to IHL, were shared widely on social media. In the letter, Boyce outlined the process for developing the plans after the IHL Board tabled the university's request to move the monument in January to receive more information from the university regarding contextualization and replacing markers at the cemetery.
Former student body presidents sent letter to state lawmakers about state flag
A group of former student body presidents at Mississippi's universities wrote a letter to state lawmakers expressing the need for a new state flag. Mayah Emerson previously served as student association president at Mississippi State University in 2018 and 2019. She said the group is meant to represent the youth of Mississippi and give young people a voice. Most of the former student body presidents served within the past five years. Emerson said the state flag has been a topic of discussion for a long time in student governments. "We need to do something; we need to leverage our collective power and uplift," she said. Emerson feels like now is a good time to try and make a change to better the state and have a flag that all Mississippians can be proud of.
39 past student body presidents call for state flag change
In a letter sent to Mississippi legislators, almost 40 former student body presidents of public Mississippi institutions signed to urge legislation to remove and replace Mississippi's current stage flag. Mississippi's current flag features a Confederate flag emblem in the top left. JoJo Dodd, Mississippi State's student body president from 2015-2016, released the letter on Twitter on Monday, and said that the former presidents signed to join the current sitting presidents to advocate for the change. Out of the 39 signatures, nine are past UM or University of Mississippi Medical Center presidents. "Rather than bear the scars of past sins, our flag should reflect that Mississippi's best days are ahead," the letter said. "And those better days can only become a reality through understanding our shared values and working together to better our schools, our communities, and ultimately -- our state."
Lafayette County Supervisors host community discussion on Confederate statue
The Lafayette County Board of Supervisors met at 5 p.m. Monday to discuss moving the statue from its place on the Courthouse lawn. Residents of Lafayette County gathered inside the Chancery building to discuss the topic of the Confederate monument, and if it should be removed from the courthouse lawn. Dr. Don Cole, a retired University of Mississippi professor and civil rights activist, spoke in favor of taking the statue down. "I am one who is personally offended by the presence of the Confederate statue," Cole said. "It does not represent my heritage or the heritage of anyone who looks like me." Cole, who is Black, was one of eight UM students to be expelled for protesting against administrative injustices in 1970. He later returned to Oxford and spent 25 years in the UM mathematics department. The last person to speak in favor of keeping the statue was Johnny Morgan, president of Morgan-White Group in Oxford and host of the "Good Ole Boys and Gals" political event. Morgan spoke about how, when he went to Oxford High School, he was taught that the Civil War was not fought over slavery or racism. Instead, he said the war was fought over unfair taxation on cotton.
ERDC researcher honored by U. of Southern Mississippi
Dr. Kent Newman of the U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center (ERDC) received a distinguished honor from the University of Southern Mississippi (USM) -- the 2020 Outstanding Alumni Award from the College of Arts and Sciences -- in the spring of 2020. Newman, a research physical scientist with the Geotechnical and Structures Laboratory (GSL), holds a bachelor of science in chemistry and doctoral degree in polymer science from USM. Since joining the ERDC team in 1993, his research has allowed him to travel the world – including a deployment to Kosovo in 2000 to support Army road construction, as well as Australia in 2007 to support rapid construction of airfields. Newman also plays a major role in connecting ERDC to his alma mater, USM. "I've been part of a great team that set up an Educational Partnership Agreement and joint research programs with USM," Newman said.
U. of Alabama astronomers offer digital stargazing to public
The University of Alabama's observatory at Gallalee Hall has been the site of the public viewings of stars, planets and other celestial phenomenon for more than 30 years. Dozens of people would line up to use the UA Department of Physics and Astronomy's reflecting telescope atop the observatory during regularly scheduled sky viewing events. But the coronavirus pandemic has forced changes. The event has gone digital, now dubbed Pandemic Public Nights, with a new video available on the department's website, www.physics.ua.edu. "It's a good opportunity for people to get their space fix," said William Keel, a UA professor of astronomy and physics. The astronomy department's telescope is controlled by a computer, and can be operated remotely, so Keel said faculty in the department thought recording or livestreaming what is seen through the telescope would be a good way to avoid crowding the observatory.
Face masks required in Auburn University facilities starting today
Students, employees and visitors to campus are required to wear face masks when entering facilities on University property starting today, Auburn announced on Thursday, June 18. This policy applies to all buildings and includes classrooms and laboratories, according to the University. "Wearing face coverings greatly reduces the chances of COVID-19 transmission, protecting those around us," the University said. "By taking individual responsibility for the health of the entire campus, we are working together toward a safe and uninterrupted fall semester." Those alone in a private office or with a roommate in a residence hall room will not need face coverings, according to the University. However, Auburn emphasized that the new policy also means any University event will require participants to wear face coverings, even if taking place in a non-University facility. The policy comes a week before face-to-face instruction is set to resume for the second summer mini-semester on June 29.
LSU postpones Phase 3 reopening of campus; officials hopeful to start fall semester on schedule
LSU officials announced it will not start Phase 3 of reopening its campus as planned after Gov. John Bel Edwards postponed the state's Phase 3 reopening due to the rise in coronavirus cases and hospitalizations. "We will follow the state's lead and remain in Phase 2 until further notice," university officials said in a letter to faculty and staff. The university originally planned to begin Phase 3 of its return to campus on June 29, which would have included boosting faculty and staff to 75% or less of personnel on campus and a limited reopening of the UREC, Union, library and dining facilities. Despite the setback, university leaders said they are hopeful the fall semester will start on schedule but urged the community to do their part in staying safe and slowing the spread of coronavirus in order to enter Phase 3. On Friday, state health officials confirmed a coronavirus outbreak in bars in the Tigerland area near LSU and told those who visited or worked at the bars to self-quarantine.
Petition asks UGA, other state colleges to require masks in fall
As COVID-19 cases surge in Georgia, a campus union has started a petition drive urging the University System of Georgia to require face coverings on campus this fall and adopt other strict safety measures. More than 900 people had signed an online petition begun by the United Campus Workers of Georgia as of Monday afternoon. The petition on Change.org asks that masks be provided and required for all in the system's campus communities, including the University of Georgia. The petition also asks that no faculty, staff or students "will be compelled to be face to face," and that free and frequent COVID-19 testing will be available for all those groups. In accordance with rules set by the University System of Georgia, UGA's plans include issuing two washable, reusable face coverings to all students, staff and faculty "and strongly encouraging their use while on campus." According to information on the UGA website, 89 students, faculty and staff are known to have tested positive for COVID-19.
Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service names Bob Scott chief
Bob Scott, a veteran weed scientist and director of the state's Rice Research and Extension Center in Stuttgart, has been named director of the Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service. Scott will succeed Rick Cartwright, who is retiring following a nearly 30-year career with the University of Arkansas system's Division of Agriculture, including three years as director of the cooperative extension service. Scott's appointment is effective on July 1. Scott joined the UA agriculture division in 2002 as a weed scientist, with a doctorate degree from Mississippi State University and bachelor's and master's degrees from Oklahoma State University. In 2013, Scott was appointed director of the UA extension centers in Newport and Lonoke. Scott has been director of the 1,000-acre Rice Research and Extension Center in Stuttgart since April 2018.
Concept to competition: Mizzou Esports hoping to continue early success
In eight months, Mizzou Esports went from a concept to having 21 scholarship student-athletes representing the university and competing all over the country. The Tigers' video game specialists are in a program that is barely 18 months old, yet from its genesis, the team has gained momentum, and it hasn't looked back. General manager Kevin Reape started the program from scratch in December 2018. He recruited coaches, athletes and sponsors for short- and long-term success. The college Esports scene is still new, with many larger universities yet to have an officially recognized program. Missouri, however, has invested resources into building a powerhouse in the video game community. "I think it is almost unheard of," Reape said of the Tigers' quick rise. Mizzou Esports is part of the student affairs division of the university's department of residential life. A move into the MU athletic department isn't likely for Esports at the moment because the current setup fits more of Esports' needs.
Faculty, staff petition in support of U. of Missouri custodians, landscapers
As University of Missouri officials consider outsourcing custodian and landscaping services, the workers are receiving support from MU faculty and staff. A letter circulating by email since Thursday supporting the MU custodians and landscapers had nearly 1,000 signatures Monday. The email has been making the rounds primarily among MU faculty and staff, said Kelli Canada, associate professor in the School of Social Work. She is one of the organizers. "We just really wanted to show our support," Canada said. "Our custodians and landscapers are part of our MU community." Some of the custodians have been with the university for 40 years and represent generations of families at MU, she said. The university last week opened proposals from 10 companies seeking to perform custodial services and eight companies seeking a contract for landscaping and snow removal.
Congressional Democrats worry pandemic will worsen racial disparities in education
Amid concerns the coronavirus pandemic could worsen racial disparities, even as protests worldwide call for greater equity in the wake of the killing of George Floyd, former U.S. Education Secretary John B. King Jr. on Monday called for Congress to forgive some student debt and to double the award size of Pell Grants. King, who headed the department for some of the Obama administration and is now president and CEO of the Education Trust, also backed the idea of institutions eliminating legacy preference in admitting the children of alumni, a practice that he said discriminates against students of color. King's testimony came during a wide-ranging three-and-a-half-hour hearing held by the House Education & Labor committee, which is controlled by Democrats. The hearing focused on the pandemic's worsening of racial disparities in the workplace, health care and education. Referring to K-12 education, the committee's chairman, Representative Bobby Scott, a Democrat from Virginia, said a lack of access to computers and the internet amid the online pivot had widened the gap between low-income and minority students compared to whites.
Trump Suspends Temporary Work Visas but -- for Now -- Leaves Alone a Program for International Students
International students won an unexpected reprieve as the Trump administration backed off plans to curtail optional practical training, the popular work program for international graduates, in the wake of a lobbying effort by colleges, employers, and even some Republican members of Congress. Still, an executive order signed by the president on Monday contains bad news for higher education, suspending the issuance of H1-B and other temporary work visas through the end of the year. Universities use the skilled-employment visas to hire top academics and researchers, regardless of nationality, and the possibility of working in the United States long term is a powerful recruitment tool for international students. The administration said the visa suspensions are needed to ensure that jobs go to American workers first during the economic crisis caused by the coronavirus pandemic. The order takes effect just after midnight on Wednesday and can be extended past its December 31 expiration "as necessary."
Campus labs are starting to open back up
Like dominoes being reset after a chain reaction, nonessential research labs are opening back up -- typically in the reverse order they were shut down due to COVID-19. It is not back to business as usual. Some labs can't reopen yet at all, as they deal in human subjects research or are hard to access due to remaining travel restrictions. And those labs that are open now are mostly staffed in shifts, with personnel wearing masks for hours at a time and staying socially distant from their colleagues. The conditions pose obvious challenges for lab personnel. Even so, reopening labs amounts to a soft reopening of campuses as a whole. This means that research labs are also test labs for fall. "We kept 77 labs open [during the pandemic]. We're now reopening 300 labs, and 12,000 students are arriving in the fall, so the scale keeps growing," Kirk Dombrowski, vice president for research at the University of Vermont, said recently. These openings, he added, are "all kind of building on each other." The labs that never closed at Vermont -- either because they were doing COVID-19-related research or were in the middle of clinical trials or other work that couldn't be paused -- offered some clues about how to reopen nonessential research labs.
U. of Michigan confirms it won't host presidential debate this fall
The uncertainty surrounding the fall semester, including ongoing COVID-19 concerns, led the University of Michigan to withdraw from hosting a presidential debate in October. The school made the official announcement Tuesday morning. The Free Press was the first to report the move Monday evening. "Given the scale and complexity of the work we are undertaking to help assure a safe and healthy fall for our students, faculty and staff and limited visitors -- and in consideration of the public health guidelines in our state as well as advice from our own experts -- we feel it is not feasible for us to safely host the presidential debate as planned," U-M President Mark Schlissel said in a letter sent to the commission that runs the debates. U-M had been set to host the second presidential debate between Republican incumbent Donald Trump and Democratic challenger Joe Biden Oct. 15. On Monday, the university announced it would resume face-to-face instruction in the fall, but said many classes would remain online or be some sort of hybrid. Schlissel said the university was planning a "public health informed" semester.
The 'First Amendment response' as the first response to racism on campus
As a staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union, Emerson Sykes has focused on the intersection of racial justice and free speech and how it plays out on college campuses. Sykes is a strong proponent of the First Amendment and said he's aware of and "frustrated" by the many examples of public and private universities invoking free speech rights in response to incidents of racism or hateful speech from students. He believes it's a way for administrators to say "our hands are tied" and sometimes shirk their responsibility to meaningfully respond to such incidents, which can leave students of color, in particular, feeling hurt and unsafe, Sykes said. As national conversations about racial injustice and police brutality have prompted students to call out their peers for racism and call on their colleges to do more to address it, student activists and leaders have lately demanded more punitive responses from college administrators. The activists have made clear that they find the "First Amendment response" to be increasingly irritating. There is a very high threshold for suspending or expelling a student for hateful speech not directed at a specific individual, said Martha Compton, president of the Association for Student Conduct Administrators.
Who Gets to Teach Remotely? The Decisions Are Getting Personal
Until recently, Jason Helms had been confident that he would be able to teach remotely this fall. He's a tenured associate professor of English at Texas Christian University, and his 2-year-old daughter has a congenital heart defect, so he had planned to do his job virtually so as not to bring the coronavirus home, he told The Chronicle in May. Now, he's not so sure. On Wednesday, Helms was informed by TCU's human resources department that his request for an accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act was denied because he did not meet the criteria. Helms was confused and frustrated. He tweeted about the ADA denial, which went viral. After getting a call from the head of human resources, Helms said he learned that he should have requested something called intermittent leave through the Family Medical Leave Act. He clarified the tweet but said he still has unanswered questions. He plans on applying but doesn't know if he'll be approved. Helms's case is one of many under consideration at colleges across the country.

Mississippi State AD John Cohen expecting football attendance decision around '30-day mark,' offers thoughts on impact of NCAA's Confederate flag ruling
As Davis Wade Stadium sits barren inching through the middle of summer, it remains to be seen when the Mississippi State's football home will be filled once more. Speaking with The Dispatch Monday, MSU Athletic Director John Cohen said he thinks the school will need to make a final decision on how many fans can attend games this fall around the "30-day mark" ahead of the Bulldogs' opener against New Mexico scheduled for Sept. 5. Should MSU stick to Cohen's suggested timeline, that would mean a decision would be made in the days around Aug. 1. While MSU has yet to determine how many fans will be allowed into Davis Wade Stadium this fall in conjunction with what state law will permit, other schools nationwide are preparing for a season with limited capacity. Cohen also noted that MSU has been in touch with officials at Ole Miss, Southern Miss and Jackson State in regard to how this year's football season could be handled, should it occur. "We're always talking to other schools and other schools are always reaching out to us," Cohen said. "It's not a bad idea if it's not your own. Other people can have really good ideas. We are in constant contact, we're in meetings with the Southeastern Conference and I think we're constantly bouncing things off of each other."
Mississippi State RB Kylin Hill says he won't represent 'this State anymore' if flag not changed
Mississippi State senior running back Kylin Hill indicated on Monday he would not continue to play football for the university unless the state flag is changed. "Either change the flag or I won't be representing this State anymore," Hill tweeted. He also added "I meant that .. I'm tired." Mississippi State head coach Mike Leach told the Clarion Ledger he supports his Hill in speaking out. "The biggest thing is that Kylin is entitled to his opinion just like everybody is," Leach said. "If Kylin chooses to express his opinion, I think he should if he wants to. I think he definitely should because all opinions on all issues should be heard. I think that's where we run into trouble in particular -- the dialogue isn't quite what it should be. Not everybody is listening to one another, and I think we have to get to that point. I applaud Kylin's right to express his opinion really on any subject." Hill's tweet was in response to Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves' explanation of why he believes creating a second state flag would not be appropriate. Reeves said having two state flags would "divide our state more."
Mississippi State's Kylin Hill demands change of state flag
Mississippi State's outstanding senior running back Kylin Hill took a stand against the state flag on Monday afternoon. Hill tweeted that he would not play for MSU unless the Mississippi flag, which incorporates the Confederate battle emblem, is changed. Hill, the SEC's third-leading rusher last season, has more than 26,000 Twitter followers. His tweet attracted more than 6,000 likes in the first two-plus hours. SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey announced on Thursday that the conference will consider not playing league championship events in Mississippi. That included softball, tennis, track and other sports that rotate between the 14 schools. Following Sankey's announcement, the NCAA's Board of Governors went one step further and expanded its "Confederate flag policy" on Friday. It announced that no championship events would be played "in states where the symbol has a prominent presence." Mississippi is the only state affected by the NCAA policy.
Texas Rangers prospect Justin Foscue trying to stay sharp in Huntsville
Picked by the Texas Rangers in the first round of the MLB First-Year Player Draft on June 10, former Grissom High School standout Justin Foscue normally would be preparing to report for his first pro assignment, probably with the Spokane Indians of the Short-Season A Northwest League, after signing his contract last week. Instead, Foscue is trying to stay ready by finding places to work out and take batting practice back home in Huntsville (which he told Dallas-area reporters during a conference call is "a pretty cool place to grow up.") Baseball is on hold because of the coronavirus pandemic. With MLB team owners and players so far unable to reach an agreement to get the big-league season started after spring training came to an abrupt halt in March, the minor leagues seem increasingly unlikely to play at all in 2020. The Rangers selected Foscue after his third season at Mississippi State ended early because of the COVID-19 crisis. Foscue had a .321 batting average in 16 games, with 10 runs, four doubles, two home runs and 16 RBIs in 2020. Foscue had played on Mississippi State teams that reached the College World Series the previous two seasons -- as a third baseman in 2018 and a second baseman in 2019.
Dak Prescott signs $31M deal, aims for more
Dak Prescott plans to be at training camp with the Dallas Cowboys, if and when it starts, on the richest one-year contract in franchise history. There is also still time to work out a long-term deal for the star quarterback. The former Mississippi State standout signed his $31.4 million tender under the NFL's franchise tag system on Monday. That comes just over three weeks before the July 15 deadline to agree on a long-term deal. By signing the offer under the terms of the franchise tag, Prescott is obligated to report for all team activities or risk being fined. He didn't participate in the club's virtual offseason program while unsigned. Prescott played the final year of his rookie contract on just a $2 million salary. He was the 2016 NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year while leading the Cowboys to the NFC's top seed in the playoffs and won his first postseason game two years later. The two-time Pro Bowler started his rookie season third on the depth chart after getting drafted in the fourth round out of Mississippi State. He moved up a spot when Kellen Moore was injured in training camp, and took over as the starter after Romo injured his back in a preseason game. Romo never got his job back.
Conference USA bans Mississippi from hosting championships until flag change
Conference USA is taking a cue from the NCAA and SEC by prohibiting all postseason play from taking place in the Magnolia State until the Confederate emblem is removed from Mississippi's state flag. "The C-USA's board of directors approved the prohibition of all conference championship events in the state of Mississippi until the Confederate emblem is removed from the state flag," the conference said in a statement released Monday. This move could have a huge effect on the Southern Miss baseball program. The Conference USA baseball tournament was played in Mississippi every year between 2014 and 2019, as well as in 2009, 2012 and 2013. The event has been played at Pete Taylor Park in Hattiesburg as well as MGM Park in Biloxi and Trustmark Park in Pearl. The event was supposed to be held at MGM Park in 2020 but was canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic. Conference USA scheduled a return to Pete Taylor Park in 2022, but that event is now in jeopardy of being moved because of Conference USA's decision.
No Alabama football season would be 'economically catastrophic' for Tuscaloosa, mayor says
Questions surrounding when Crimson Tide football might return to Tuscaloosa have still linger, but one answer remains: even an abbreviated season would have a negative impact on the both the state and local economy. Tuscaloosa Mayor Walt Maddox said no football at all could result in approximately $2 billion in lost revenue. This comes as Dr. Anthony Fauci of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases has questioned whether it could be possible for a football season to happen in the fall. "It would be economically catastrophic for Tuscaloosa if there is no football season," Maddox said. "Even a mitigated football season with restricted attendance and number of ball games would have dire economic consequences." Alabama football is a significant economic driver for both the city of Tuscaloosa and the state. According to statistics from the University of Alabama, home games during the 2015-16 season brought in an estimated $175.5 million, or $25.1 million per game. Maddox said that in the end, all decisions must be made on the basis of public health.
College football on the brink: Push to play undercut by virus outbreaks
Colleges are racing toward a fall sports season unlike any other, as they work to keep the coronavirus from infecting student athletes and staff who bring in billions of dollars and entertain a nation. So far, it's not going well. Across the country, college athletic programs are under financial and political pressure to return to the fields, but these efforts come amid safety warnings from public health officials and continued uncertainty about how the academic side of colleges will get back to business this fall. Three months after Covid-19 halted March Madness basketball tournaments, college leaders are wading through evolving information about the disease and its ability to spread through contact sports. They're also asking Congress for protection from legal liability. But as states reopen, lockdowns lift and infections smolder in some states, the prospect of a virus-tinged sports season underscores broader tensions between safety and money. Health experts are urging administrators to craft intricate campus safety plans, while college towns rely on the economic activity generated by fall Saturdays. How colleges proceed will send a message about the influence of athletics -- and the cash produced by big-time programs -- in higher education.

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