Thursday, July 16, 2020   
Former priest indicted as feds, Jackson Diocese reach agreement on criminal complaint
A former Starkville priest accused of defrauding parishioners out of tens of thousands of dollars for fraudulent medical expenses has been indicted by a federal grand jury on 10 counts of wire fraud. On top of that, the Catholic Diocese of Jackson, who is accused of being aware of the fraud and actively working to cover it up, has reached an agreement with the federal government in connection to a criminal complaint filed separately against the Diocese. Lenin Vargas, the former pastor for St. Joseph Catholic Church in Starkville, saw the indictment filed in February, receiving 10 counts of wire fraud, according to court documents unsealed Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Aberdeen by Judge Sharion Aycock. If found guilty, Vargas could face up to 20 years in federal prison, fines up to $250,000 or both. No timetable for a trial is known at this time. Vargas stands accused of lying to parishioners at St. Joseph in Starkville and the Corpus Christi Mission in Macon, claiming he had cancer and was receiving treatment, when in reality he had recently been diagnosed as HIV positive -- a fact he kept hidden from parishioners as he allegedly solicited money for his fraudulent expenses.
Several Northeast Mississippi Main Street communities accredited
Towns and cities across Northeast Mississippi were among the Main Street communities in the state that have been designated as accredited Main Street America programs for meeting rigorous performance standards set by the National Main Street Center and the Mississippi Main Street Association. Those communities include Aberdeen, Amory, Baldwyn, Booneville, Byhalia, Columbus, Corinth, Holly Springs, New Albany, Okolona, Pontotoc County, Ripley, Starkville, Tupelo, Water Valley and West Point. Each year, the National Main Street Center and its Coordinating Program partners announce the list of accredited Main Street America programs in recognition of their exemplary commitment to preservation-based economic development and community revitalization through the Main Street Approach. In 2019, Mississippi Main Street's Designated Communities generated 185 net new businesses, 62 business expansions to existing businesses, 633 net new jobs, 101 building rehabilitations and 331 downtown residential units. In addition, 178 public improvement projects were completed as well as 36 new construction projects in downtown business districts. More than $148 million was invested by the public and private sectors in 2019, and more than 43,211 volunteer hours were recorded.
Chico Patel unveils $40 million mixed-use project across from new Fondren hotel
It's as if Chico Patel is trying to upstage himself. Patel, co-founder of the Wealth Hospitality Group, formerly Heritage Hospitality Group, revealed a plan this week for Fondren Landing, a $40 million to $42 million condominium/apartment and retail project. In the same conversation, Patel said the Homewood Suites hotel will open July 27. The 125-room hotel is across State Street from the next project, which will be built on a one-acre site. Work won't actually start till about 2022, Patel said. That's because the Fondren Station Post Office in a separate building on the site has a lease for another year or so, Patel said. The timing of the projects typifies the style Patel has established: move forward while others seemingly are still thinking about it. Wealth Hospitality was formed in December by Patel and his cousin, Bruce Patel, who was chief executive of Tupelo-based Fusion Hospitality. Chico Patel's brother, Mike, will be a key player in the new company.
Here's an exclusive look inside the Mississippi Aquarium Research Center
The Mississippi Aquarium was busy collecting and caring for animals, prior to introducing them to their habitats once the aquarium opens. Ric Urban, who is the Vice President of Animal Care for the Mississippi Aquarium, and his staff are taking care of species like stingrays and other fish, who reside inside a facility where some of the aquarium's star attractions are being kept before the grand opening. "We lovingly call it the 'ARC.' It's the Aquatic Research Center for the Mississippi Aquarium. This is the home of the animals we're staging for the aquarium as we're waiting to gain control of the habitats," Urban said. This is the first time a news media outlet has been allowed to get a look inside this high tech center. The finishing touches are being put on the exhibits and habitats at the $98 million Mississippi Aquarium where visitors will see river otters, American crocodiles, alligators, sharks, dolphins and more. While the aquarium is a tourist attraction featuring entertainment, the emphasis is on education. The hope is guests will develop an appreciation for the environment when they visit.
Despite pandemic, state ends budget year with an estimated $56 million surplus in funds
Despite the economic slowdown caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, it appears the state collected enough revenue, primarily from tax collections, to have ended the last fiscal year on June 30 with a surplus. According to a report recently released by the staff of the Legislative Budget Committee, the state ended the fiscal year with "an estimated excess of $55.9 million," though, that number could be adjusted in the coming two-month closeout period. But the surplus means that Gov. Tate Reeves and/or the Legislature will not be forced to dip into the state's reserves funds to ensure a balanced budget for the just-completed fiscal year. The state has a healthy Working Cash Stabilization Fund or rainy day fund of about $680 million. After a dramatic drop in tax collections for April, it appeared likely that the rainy day fund would be needed to balance the budget. But in the final two months of the fiscal year, collections rebounded despite the pandemic, according to the report released by the Legislative Budget Committee staff.
Mississippi gov considers bar restrictions as virus spreads
Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves said Wednesday that he might set restrictions on bars to try to slow the spread of the new coronavirus, but he was vague about when that might happen and whether they would be statewide. On a day that the Alabama governor issued a statewide order for people to wear masks in public, fellow Republican Reeves continued defending his own decision to have mask mandates only in a few Mississippi counties that are showing the biggest problems with COVID-19. Reeves showed frustration with reporters who persist in asking about a statewide mask order. "The words on the page do not matter," Reeves said during a news conference. "I can write all kind of laws down on the page, sign it as an executive order and say, 'Woo hoo, look at what I've done. I've done great stuff.' If people don't comply, it doesn't matter."
Gov. Tate Reeves considering order to shut down bars to control COVID-19
On the day Dr. Deborah Birx, the White House coronavirus response coordinator, was in Mississippi to discuss the state's response to the coronavirus pandemic, Gov. Tate Reeves said Wednesday things are getting worse. And one of the things Reeves said he is considering is a possible shutdown of bars where he said a lot of young people are socializing without wearing masks. No final decision has been made but Reeves warned that some action dealing with bars is likely. Reeves said Birx met with him and several community leaders as part of her visit to the state. He said Birx is visiting several states across the country. He said Birx expressed concern about bars being responsible for COVID-19 spread. Reeves said Birx urged wearing masks as one of the best things to deal with the coronavirus pandemic.
Governor Reeves discusses meeting with White House's Dr. Birx
Amid rising COVID-19 cases in the region, Dr. Deborah Birx, the Response Coordinator for the White House Coronavirus Task Force, was in Mississippi to meet with Governor Tate Reeves and state health officials. During Wednesday's press briefing, Governor Reeves highlighted the key points of their discussion, including a continued emphasis on mask use. "Dr. Birx reiterated the Trump administration's firm conclusion that masks work, and masks can help prevent further economic shutdowns. We know that further economic shutdowns is a pain in many of our communities that is not sustainable and that it contributes to our people giving up on our mission," Governor Reeves explained. Dr. Birx expressed to the governor and those in attendance that bars have shown to be a source of transmission due to an inability to socially distance. The governor went on to say that they are having conversations about an order that could close certain bars following a "strong recommendation" from Dr. Birx. "It is a definite possibility," he said.
Gov. Reeves says partial shutdown of bars 'possible'
As hospitalization numbers for COVID-19 continue to rise across the state, Republican Gov. Tate Reeves on Wednesday announced that it is a "possibility" that bars, in some capacity, could close down to slow the spread of the virus. Reeves said that he and staff members are still deliberating the specifics of the order, including whether the order restricting bars should apply statewide or only in counties where transmission of the virus is most prevalent. "It is not in my DNA to shut down private business, so this is something we're having conversations about," Reeves said. The announcement of the possible shutdown comes at a time when Dr. Deborah Birx, the coronavirus response coordinator for the White House Coronavirus Task Force, visited with Reeves and other state officials on Wednesday as part of her visits to Southern states.
'A disease of a splintered society': Politics, science clash in COVID-19 response
When it looked as though Mississippi might be starting to successfully control the spread of coronavirus in mid-May, three Starkville doctors sat down with a local sports reporter to discuss the upcoming football season. The three men each said they'd feel safe attending a Mississippi State game -- with normal attendance in a stadium that holds 60,000 people -- come fall. At that point, Mississippi had recorded more than 10,000 COVID-19 cases and nearly 500 people had died. Dr. Cameron Huxford argued that COVID-19 "wasn't as bad as we thought"; Dr. Jim Brown called health department orders aimed at limiting the spread "an infringement on civil liberty"; and Dr. Will Carter quipped, "You can't isolate yourselves forever." By July, as deaths more than doubled, cases tripled and hospitals became overwhelmed, Huxford, Brown, Carter and 15 other local male physicians doubled down, advocating in a joint letter against a local mask requirement the Starkville Board of Alderman ultimately approved. The position of the 18 physicians, led by Dr. Huxford, who presented the arguments at the July 7 board meeting, are not shared by the nation's primary health associations or government health agencies. As responses to the pandemic have polarized communities across the nation, the demonstration in Starkville showed that not even medical professionals are immune to the discord.
State Rep. Jill Ford of Madison recovering from virus
Freshman State Rep. Jill Ford of Madison is among the over 40 legislators and Capitol staff that has tested positive for COVID-19. Ford, who said she was on Day 11 of the virus, said she was feeling fine. "I can't go run a marathon," she joked. Ford said she thinks she contracted the virus the last day of the session and first felt ill on July 6. "I did not feel like getting out of the bed and that's not typical," she said. Ford explained she thought the exhaustion was a result of the hours she and other legislators poured in over the last couple weeks tackling the state budget and voting to retire the state flag. She then said she developed a slight fever and lost her sense of taste but that was the worst of it. "I'm glad to get this and get it over," she said. "So many people are living in fear."
Oxford Mayor Robyn Tannehill tests positive for coronavirus
Oxford Mayor Robyn Tannehill announced during a recessed meeting of the Board of Aldermen that she tested positive for the coronavirus on Wednesday. Tannehill, who attended the meeting from home via Microsoft Teams video chat, said she will be quarantining for the next 14 days as a result of the positive test. She added that she has exhibited no symptoms of the virus, which commonly causes fever, a dry cough and shortness of breath. According to the mayor, she decided to get tested after a member of her family came in contact with an infected person. "My daughter got tested for COVID-19 because she had been around a friend who tested positive. She tested last Wednesday and we still have not received her results," Tannehill said. "This morning, she and I both had the rapid test, and we both came back positive. I wasn't going to get tested, but I was there with her and she tested positive, so I asked them to test me, too." The greatest issue Tannehill said she'd run into with the situation was the fact that her daughter was initially tested eight days ago and, at the time of the meeting, had still not received the results of that test.
Lawmaker's social media post citing coronavirus statistics 'not accurate,' state health officer says
While there's no shortage of social media comments from people who think Mississippi's strategy to slow the spread of COVID-19 isn't the right move, posts from current and former lawmakers echo some of those sentiments, including one dubbed "not accurate" by the state's health officer. State Rep. Dana Criswell (R-DeSoto County) posted on Facebook Tuesday that 99.9 percent of the county's residents were not positive for the virus, and it had a 99.99 percent survival rate there as well. When asked about those calculations, state health officer Dr. Thomas Dobbs disagreed with the representative's conclusion. "I'll have to go back and look at those numbers, but those sound way off from what we've seen. There may be some strange way they're getting sliced up," Dobbs said. "DeSoto's a hotspot right now. They're having a lot of cases right now. I just think there's some error in the calculation. It's just not accurate."
UK, US, Canada accuse Russia of hacking virus vaccine trials
Britain, the United States and Canada accused Russian hackers on Thursday of trying to steal information from researchers seeking a coronavirus vaccine, warning scientists and pharmaceutical companies to be alert for suspicious activity. Intelligence agencies in the three nations alleged that the hacking group APT29, also known as Cozy Bear and said to be part of the Russian intelligence service, is attacking academic and pharmaceutical research institutions involved in COVID-19 vaccine development. "It is completely unacceptable that the Russian Intelligence Services are targeting those working to combat the coronavirus pandemic,″ British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said in a statement, accusing Moscow of pursuing "selfish interests with reckless behavior." U.S. authorities have for months leveled similar accusations against China. FBI Director Chris Wray said last week, “At this very moment, China is working to compromise American health care organizations, pharmaceutical companies, and academic institutions conducting essential COVID-19 research.”
Mississippi officials appoint members to flag redesign commission
A prominent mayor, a community college president and the first African American justice of the Mississippi Supreme Court were among six people announced Wednesday to join the commission charged with designing a new state flag. Three members have yet to be announced. Lawmakers last month removed the former flag and its Confederate battle emblem following days of debate and pressure from outside groups. House Bill 1796, signed into law by Gov. Tate Reeves days later, laid out the process for choosing a new flag. It involves the commission recommending a design that will go before voters for final approval in November. The first step of the process -- with a Wednesday deadline -- involved Reeves, Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann and House Speaker Philip Gunn naming three members each to the new Commission to Redesign the Mississippi State Flag. Gunn and Hosemann made their picks Wednesday, while Reeves said he planned to announce his selections soon.
2 Coast women named to Mississippi state flag redesign commission
House Speaker Philip Gunn and Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann have announced their appointees to the nine-person commission that will redesign the Mississippi state flag, and two of them hail from the Coast. Gunn has nominated Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College president Dr. Mary Graham, Oxford mayor Robyn Tannehill and a staff member for Gunn, T.J. Taylor. Hosemann chose Gulfport resident Sherri Carr Bevis, former Mississippi Supreme Court justice Reuben Anderson of Jackson and J. Mack Varner of Vicksburg. Gov. Tate Reeves will name three more appointees to fill out the rest of the panel. Graham has served as MGCCC's president since 2010. Graham, who has served in the past as the chair of the American Association of Community Colleges, is a Biloxi native who grew up in Perkinston. Bevis was recently named community relations liaison to the Singing River Health System. She holds a bachelor's degree in communications from Mississippi State University and a master's degree from George Washington University. She previously worked as assistant secretary of state for external marketing for the Secretary of State's Office, and as a public school teacher in the Bay-Waveland and Hancock County School Districts.
Sen. Sally Doty resigning as senator to lead Public Utilities Staff
Sen. Sally Doty, of Brookhaven, is stepping down from legislature to head Mississippi Public Utilities Staff. Gov. Tate Reeves announced the appointment Wednesday afternoon. As MPUS staff director, Doty will lead the 30-year-old staff that was created to represent the broad interests of the state by balancing concerns of state agencies, public utilities and utility customers -- residential, commercial and industrial. Doty was elected three terms to serve in the Mississippi State Senate, representing District 39. She has served as chair of the Judiciary A Committee and chair of the Senate Energy Committee. An attorney in Brookhaven, Doty began her law career in 1991 at Wells, Moore, Simmons and Neeld before becoming director of legal writing for the Mississippi College School of Law (1993-1996). Doty then joined Allen, Allen, Boerner & Breeland in Brookhaven, 1996-2004. Since 2016, she has managed her private general civil practice. She is a graduate of Mississippi University for Women and the Mississippi College School of Law.
Democrat Mike Espy outraises GOP Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith nearly 3-to-1
Democrat Mike Espy raised nearly three times the money Republican incumbent U.S. Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith raised in the second quarter of 2020, according to campaign finance reports released on Tuesday evening. Espy raised $610,000 between April 1 and June 30. Hyde-Smith raised just $212,000 in that same period. Despite her poor second quarter, Hyde-Smith has still raised more money than Espy this campaign cycle: $2.1 million to Espy's $1.4 million. The November general election is a rematch between the two candidates, who squared off in a 2018 special election to fill the seat of the late U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran. Hyde-Smith defeated Espy in a runoff by eight points -- the closest a Democrat has come to the U.S. Senate in the modern political era. Successful fundraising, while vital to statewide candidates, does not necessarily translate to broad support at the polls, as Espy knows better than anyone. In 2018, Espy raised $7.5 million compared to $5.5 million for the victorious Hyde-Smith. Though he lost, he became the first Democrat in several statewide elections to outraise a Republican opponent.
President Trump shakes up campaign leadership, demotes Brad Parscale
Bill Stepien will replace Brad Parscale as manager of the Trump campaign, the president announced Wednesday night, shaking up the leadership of his stalled reelection bid. Parscale will stay on in his role leading the campaign's digital strategy and will serve as a senior adviser, Trump said. Parscale was the digital guru of the president's insurgent 2016 White House bid but had not worked as a campaign manager prior to taking that role ahead of the 2020 race. Stepien was recently promoted to deputy campaign manager. He previously served as the White House political director during Trump's first two years in office. Before that, he was the campaign manager for former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie's (R) two successful statewide campaigns in the Garden State. Those close to the campaign anticipated a change in leadership, particularly after Trump's disastrous rally in Tulsa, Okla. Making matters worse, Oklahoma health officials blamed the indoor rally for a subsequent spike in coronavirus cases in the area. Much of the scrutiny after the rally fell on Parscale.
Trump team launches a sweeping loyalty test to shore up its defenses
In the middle of a devastating pandemic and a searing economic crisis, the White House has an urgent question for its colleagues across the administration: Are you loyal enough to President Donald Trump? The White House's presidential personnel office is conducting one-on-one interviews with health officials and hundreds of other political appointees across federal agencies, an exercise some of the subjects have called "loyalty tests" to root out threats of leaks and other potentially subversive acts just months before the presidential election, according to interviews with 15 current and former senior administration officials. White House officials have said the interviews are a necessary exercise to determine who would be willing to serve in a second term if President Donald Trump is reelected. But officials summoned for the interviews say the exercise is distracting from numerous policy priorities, like working to fight the pandemic, revitalizing the economy or overhauling regulation, and instead reflect the White House's conviction that a "deep state" is working to undermine the president.
What College Activists Want
There was a time when stripping a racist's name from a building would have been celebrated as a breakthrough for racial justice in higher education. Today, it's accepted as a starting point. As the Covid-19 pandemic and outrage over police violence converge, college students are demanding radical change. They want Confederate symbols toppled, police departments defunded, coursework diversified, departments restaffed with people of color, and a host of other actions. Tyler Yarbrough couldn't believe the image in his Twitter feed. The University of Mississippi student senator was about to drive from his college town of Oxford to his hometown of Clarksdale for a Juneteenth event marking the end of slavery. And his university had just released plans to build what looked to him like a "shrine to white supremacy." The picture on his phone showed an artist's rendering of the campus cemetery to which the university planned to relocate its statue of a Confederate soldier. In late-night video calls, Yarbrough and other activists hashed out a plan to fight back.
UMMC could soon run out of room, supplies
Doctors at the University of Mississippi Medical center are feeling the strain of caring for patients during the pandemic. Hospital officials said they are out of room and could run out of supplies soon. Aside from treating COVID-19 patients, UMMC is also the state's only Level 1 trauma center. The hospital also provides other specialized care. "It puts a strain on the whole state when we are in that kind of position and are not able to perform our usual function in accepting the high-level and highly acute injured and ill patients in transfer," said UMMC Vice Chancellor Dr. LouAnn Woodward. Doctors also worry about the abundance of personal protective equipment and other supplies. It's vital to have enough materials to treat patients and also protect health care workers. "I worry about the reliability of our supply chain through all of this. That keeps me up at night," Woodward said. UMMC leaders said they're rotating employees through different services, trying to prevent burnout among staff members. Woodward said if residents take steps now to slow the spread, it will put everyone in a better position to deal with treatment in the fall when doctors say they typically see an increase in other respiratory illnesses.
East Mississippi Community College will re-open to public July 20
All East Mississippi Community College locations will re-open to the public Monday, July 20th. The campuses will be open from 8 a.m. until 4:30 p.m. EMCC president Dr. Scott Alsobrooks said campuses will look a little different with safety and security measures in place to keep staff and visitors safe during the COVID-19 pandemic. Alsobrooks said it's important for campuses to re-open, however, so staff can connect with current and prospective students. EMCC will continue to offer online and virtual connections. Faculty, staff and visitors are asked to wear face coverings at all times.
Itawamba Community College offers intersession classes beginning Aug. 3
Itawamba Community College is offering an opportunity for students to enroll in four traditional classes during an intersession, which begins Aug. 3 and ends with final examinations on Aug. 14, prior to the beginning of the 2020 fall semester. The schedule includes American (U.S.) History I, College Life, General Psychology and Public Speaking I. All classes meet from 8-10:30 a.m., Monday through Friday, at the Fulton Campus. "Traditionally, ICC has offered classes during an intersession between the conclusion of the spring semester and the beginning of the summer semester," said Dr. Melissa Haab, dean of enrollment services. "The classes will enable students to enroll and complete traditional academic classes that are requirements for most associate degree programs in a compacted format. They are face-to-face classes that will enable interaction between students and faculty in a classroom setting where the Mississippi State Department of Health and Center for Disease Control COVID guidelines are followed. "
Apple expands coding education programs to more historically Black schools
Apple Inc said on Thursday it was working with 10 additional historically Black universities and colleges to become "hubs" that will teach computer programming and app design skills in their regions. Apple started a community education initiative last year to provide iPads, Mac computers, teaching curricula and access to its staff and engineers for schools that serve under-represented minority students. The company said Thursday that the program now includes 24 universities, half of which are historically Black schools, with plans to add 10 more historically Black schools this year. The 10 schools Apple said will become new hubs are Arkansas Baptist College, Central State University in Ohio, Claflin University in South Carolina, Dillard University in Louisiana, Fisk University in Tennessee, Lawson State Community College in Alabama, Morehouse College in Georgia, Prairie View A&M University in Texas, Tougaloo College in Mississippi and Southern University at Shreveport, Louisiana.
'Are They Setting My Children Up for Failure?' Remote Learning Widens Education Gap.
After schools shut down in March, LaKenya Bunton would get home around 7 a.m. from an overnight quality-control job at a factory, doze for a few hours, then become teacher to her 16-year-old son, Amarrius. Her son, a rising sophomore, had received no remote-learning materials from his school and didn't hear from most of his teachers. Ms. Bunton's method included collecting Amarrius's cellphone and handing him the day's work: a packet of practice college-prep questions she printed from the internet. The problems were amplified for children in the nation's worst-performing schools, including at Jackson Public Schools, where 95% of the students are Black and just as many are considered low income. District parents say if education is the great equalizer, their children are at a growing disadvantage. Jackson Schools Superintendent Errick Greene said the district was ill prepared for the pandemic. Beyond connectivity issues, Dr. Greene noted that some parents have their own challenges helping their children learn. Nearly all of Jackson's students rely on free- and reduced-school lunch. Many live in neighborhoods with abandoned houses. About a third have no computers or cannot get on the internet at home.
College students expected to behave on and off campus this fall
Some 50,000 college students returning to Gainesville for the upcoming fall semester will be responsible to do their part to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. That's the message that University of Florida and local government officials made clear Wednesday during a joint meeting between the Gainesville City Commission and Alachua County Commission. During the meeting, UF Senior Vice President and Chief Operating Officer Charlie Lane, along with Dr. David Nelson, senior vice president for health affairs at UF and president of UF Health, presented and answered questions on the university's safety plan. All students, staff and faculty are required to answer screening questions before returning to campus. While testing is offered to all, it is only a requirement for certain people, including: those who are symptomatic, people who will be working in clinical settings with patients, and those who will be working in research settings where they will be in close contact with human subjects. As of Wednesday, UF's Screen, Test & Protect information page indicated that out of about 19,000 UF employees tested, 48 have tested positive. Out of 559 students tested, 149 have tested positive -- nearly 27%.
What to expect from UF transportation services this Fall
Students can expect longer wait times for the bus this Fall as the University of Florida rolls out its reopening plan. Masks are required, too. RTS buses can transport a maximum of 60 passengers per bus, but in the Fall, buses will likely be reduced to a 20 passenger capacity, said Scott Fox, the senior director of UF Transportation and Parking Services. Campus Connector shuttles, a shuttle service for faculty, staff and students, will be reduced to 33 percent capacity, meaning that only seven passengers will be able to ride at one time. Reduced capacity could lead to longer wait times and delays for passengers, but Fox said they are still evaluating how to provide an efficient service in light of these changes. "It's the toughest question of the day," Fox said. "We would need triple the buses and triple the drivers in order to provide the same level of service, and we would triple the money to pay for it. We don't have triple the money. RTS does not have triple the drivers."
Face-covering policies favored for U. of Arkansas System
Arkansas' largest system of college campuses has joined other state colleges and universities in requiring masks on campus, with some exceptions for when sports or public-health authorities say it's OK not to wear one. University of Arkansas System trustees approved a resolution Wednesday directing chancellors to develop policies that will, at a minimum, require face coverings when social distancing can't be maintained to prevent a coronavirus outbreak on campus. Classes begin in about a month, and campuses have begun asking more faculty and staff members to return to on-campus work. While many colleges and systems in the U.S. have opted to continue online-only course delivery during the pandemic, Arkansas institutions have opted to return to face-to-face classes. UA System trustees in May directed all campuses to do so this fall.
U. of South Carolina responds to Title IX athletics, sex assault FOIA query: No cases
Four months after the information was requested, the University of South Carolina responded Wednesday to a routine Freedom of Information Act request from The Post and Courier asking for details if student-athletes were involved in sexual assaults, sexual misconduct or Title IX violations. "The answer is there are none," a USC spokesperson wrote in an email to The Post and Courier. The response came after The Post and Courier ran a story online Tuesday and in print Wednesday that was critical of USC's failure to comply with state FOIA law. The Post and Courier on March 12 asked officials at USC and Clemson for documents related to student-athletes -- if any -- arrested or convicted of a sexual assault, sexual misconduct or a Title IX violation from Jan. 1, 2019, to March 10, 2020. Clemson responded on March 27 saying it had no such violations.
U. of Missouri expects decline in international enrollment despite visa reversal
University of Missouri international students face one less obstacle after the Trump administration on Wednesday reversed a rule that would have required them to transfer or leave the country if their schools went online only. But uncertainty over the COVID-19 pandemic, and the nation's status as the worst-hit country worldwide, could cause already declining international student enrollment to drop further, said MU spokesman Christian Basi. International student enrollment at MU has fallen nearly 35% between 2015 and 2019, when it was 1,634. It could get worse, Basi said. "It does appear we are looking at a potential significant decline in international enrollment," Basi said. It could be as much as 25%, he said. Many international students are waiting to enroll based on restrictions in their home countries, travel concerns and health issues in their countries.
Rhodes announces online-only start to fall semester, citing COVID-19 conditions in Memphis
Despite its health and safety plan and an expansive partnership with Baptist Memorial Health Care, Rhodes College has decided that external conditions of COVID-19 in Memphis and Shelby County are too unsafe for an in-person fall semester. The college announced Wednesday that it would plan to move forward with the fall semester virtually, until local conditions improve. In a letter to students, President Marjorie Hass acknowledged the decision was made both with a "heavy heart" and at the "last practical moment" before the semester begins on Aug. 26. The college asked public health experts in Memphis and within its network to review their plan and local conditions. Hass said the college expects and is planning for "an on-campus and in-person spring 2021 semester." But because a remote semester "cannot replicate the full on-campus experience," Hass wrote, the college will revert to a tuition structure based on fall 2017. That will provide a 9% reduction in the tuition rate, she wrote.
Uncertainty over aid for higher education in possible next coronavirus relief bill
The Trump administration has stopped short of saying it wants to withhold funding from colleges and universities that do not reopen for the fall term, as President Trump and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos have threatened with K-12 schools. But some higher education lobbyists are concerned the administration's push to get students back into classrooms could make it harder to get funding in Congress's next coronavirus aid package to help colleges deal with the financial hit they're taking from the pandemic. When the Senate returns next week from its July 4 break, Congress will begin racing to reach a deal on the next aid package in three weeks before leaving again until after Labor Day. Lobbyists are concerned that the focus will be on limiting aid for colleges only to help them reopen, which would be a blow to institutions that are dealing with lost revenues and additional costs, as well as significant cuts in state funding in many states.
Trump Administration Clears For-Profit Colleges To Register Veterans Again
For the second time in two months the Trump administration has sided with the for-profit college industry over a key constituency: veterans. In May, the president vetoed a bipartisan bill promoting debt forgiveness for veterans who were defrauded by for-profit schools. Now, the Department of Veterans Affairs is allowing several repeat-offending schools access to GI Bill money. Last year, the Federal Trade Commission laid enormous penalties on several colleges for deceptive advertising. One of the schools had been caught pretending to be affiliated with the Army in one of its online recruiting sites. Another, the University of Phoenix, agreed to pay $191 million for misleading students about job placements. Those penalties in turn triggered the VA to block the University of Phoenix, Perdoceo Education Corporation, Bellevue University and Temple University, from enrolling GI Bill students. After the FTC settlement, the VA announced in March that it would block the offending schools from enrolling GI bill students. But intense lobbying by the for-profit school industry ensued, and on the eve of the July Fourth holiday, the VA announced that Phoenix and three others had done enough to correct their behavior and can enroll GI bill students again.
President Trump targets Fulbright in China, Hong Kong
President Trump on Tuesday ordered his administration to take steps to end the U.S. government's flagship Fulbright exchange program in China and Hong Kong. Trump stated his intent to end Fulbright exchanges with China and Hong Kong as part of an executive order directing the suspension or elimination of various policy exemptions in U.S. law that give Hong Kong preferential treatment in relation to mainland China. The order was prompted by the imposition by Beijing of a new national security law governing Hong Kong, a step that the executive order describes as "merely China's latest salvo in a series of actions that have increasingly denied autonomy and freedoms" to Hong Kong, a semiautonomous region of China. The provision about Fulbright was buried deep in the order, in Section 3, provision (i) -- right after a provision ordering the suspension of a collaboration in the earth sciences involving the U.S. Geological Survey and an institute at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.
Rice University will hold classes in outdoor tents, asks students to bring own chairs
You might consider class held in massive circus tents a little unconventional, but Rice University believes it's a perfect social distancing strategy. When Rice University plans to resume its on-site classes in August, students will be bringing their laptops and chairs into nine large tents and temporary buildings in order to manage social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to officials. "Reducing population density will require us to use spaces in non-traditional ways and increase the number of large venues on campus," the Rice University statement read. According to Rice University's director of news and media relations, Doug Miller, the plan calls for five (40 x 60 foot) tents which are currently on order. These will hold anywhere from 25 to 30 students. In addition to the tents, there will be four temporary buildings which are designed to accommodate 50 students and an instructor with the requisite 6 feet of distance maintained. Yes, Houston is scorching hot in August, but not to worry. The temporary structures will be "lighted, cooled, heated and ventilated."
During the pandemic, students do field and lab work without leaving home
In a normal summer, Appledore Island, a 39-hectare outcrop 12 kilometers off the coast of Maine and New Hampshire, becomes a classroom. Students from high school to graduate level live in close quarters, eat in a communal dining hall, and work shoulder to shoulder to explore the biology of the shore and waters in 18 courses organized by the Shoals Marine Laboratory. But this summer, with the pandemic surging, students have stayed home. Instead, a skeleton staff on Appledore is streaming field trips and dissections of fish and invertebrates and setting up cameras to gather data for students. Moore's is just one of hundreds of lab and field courses forced online by COVID-19 -- "a seismic shift for those who were not already involved in distance or online education," says Martin Storksdieck, a science education researcher at Oregon State University, Corvallis.
Ransomware criminals are targeting US universities
As COVID-19 cases in the U.S. continue to climb, government and higher education leaders have been focused on doing what it takes to protect campus communities from the global pandemic. But college and university leaders would be wise if they were just as vigilant about protecting their sensitive data from the cybercriminals who are becoming increasingly sophisticated about encrypting the colleges' data and making the colleges pay a ransom to get it back. One of the latest examples is a ransomware attack that struck the University of California, San Francisco on June 1. In that case, cybercriminals used the NetWalker malware to encrypt data on the servers of the university's school of medicine. UCSF said that the attackers breached important data related to its medical school faculty's research. Such ransomware attacks on universities have become common. In 2019 alone, 89 U.S. universities, colleges and school districts became victims of such attacks, followed by at least 30 in the first five months of 2020. Along with the financial services industry, the education sector is one of the two most common targets of these attacks.

Former Mississippi State standout Jamar Chaney to join Mike Leach's staff in analyst role
Jamar Chaney is headed back to Mississippi State. A former Bulldog standout and seventh-round pick of the Philadelphia Eagles in the 2010 NFL draft, MSU announced Wednesday that Chaney will join coach Mike Leach's staff as a senior defensive analyst. "Mississippi State means so much to me and my family, and I appreciate Coach Leach for the opportunity to return home to a place that I have so many great memories," Chaney said in a news release. "I am excited to be a part of an outstanding football staff and athletic department, and I can't wait to get to work." "We are thrilled to welcome Jamar back home to Starkville and the program," Leach said in a news release. Chaney also spent parts of his NFL career with the Atlanta Falcons, Denver Broncos and Oakland Raiders following a three-year spell with the Eagles.
Jamar Chaney returns to Starkville as defensive analyst
Former All-SEC linebacker Jamar Chaney is returning to Starkville. The former Bulldog has been hired as a defensive analyst, Mississippi State announced on Wednesday. He comes from the University of Florida, where he was the assistant director of player personnel for a season under Dan Mullen. Prior to his one-year stint as a coach at Florida, he was the head coach at St. Lucie West Centennial High School, where he went 11-8-1 and led the school to its first playoff appearance in seven seasons. "Mississippi State means so much to me and my family, and I appreciate Coach Leach for the opportunity to return home to a place that I have so many great memories," Chaney said in a press release. "I am excited to be a part of an outstanding football staff and athletic department, and I can't wait to get to work." Chaney was a standout linebacker for MSU from 2005-2009.
Mississippi State's Kylin Hill named to Doak Walker Award watch list
While the season may be in peril, senior running back Kylin Hill added another award to his resume Wednesday. Hill, a Columbus native, was named to the Doak Walker Award watch list for the second-straight season after he led the Southeastern Conference with 1,350 yards and 10 touchdowns in 2019. The Doak Walker Award is presented annually to the nation's top running back and is presented by the PwC SMU Athletic Forum. In 2019, Hill earned first team All-SEC honors from the Associated Press and was named to the Fall SEC Academic Honor Roll. The former Columbus High School standout also won the Conerly Trophy in December, honoring the best football player in the state of Mississippi -- marking the fifth time in seven years an MSU player took home the award.
Mississippi State men's basketball notebook: Humphrey Coliseum renovations, Robert Woodard II, voluntary workouts
Mississippi State men's basketball coach Ben Howland can't help but look ahead to the athletic department's scheduled renovation of Humphrey Coliseum after the 2020-2021 season. In what will be nearly a $50 million project, the concourse will be completely redone, and upgrades will be made to locker rooms and training rooms. Restaurants will also be added, along with luxury box seating, which are both being implemented to increase future revenue streams. "It really helps our men's and women's basketball teams," Howland said of the renovations as a recruiting tool while speaking as part of a coaching panel on MSU's Virtual Road Dawgs tour. "It's a great venue to watch games in. They're going to add a lot of amenities to it and it's going to be a lot nicer." Of course, timing is everything. The project being completed on schedule largely depends on football revenue, which could fluctuate depending on COVID-19 cases nationwide. As for the 2020-2021 season itself, Howland is still optimistic the Bulldogs will play basketball this year.
When can we play high school, college football? No good answers exist
Mississippi sports columnist Rick Cleveland writes: The 2020 football season? To play or not to play, that is the pressing question. And nobody has a good answer because, frankly, there isn't one. You ask me, playing football this fall is a 14-point underdog and the point-spread is rising. There is no social distancing in football, the ultimate contact sport. The days before the traditional start of football season dwindle. Meanwhile, the pandemic numbers continue to rise. ... Southeastern Conference athletic directors met Monday in Birmingham. ... Mississippi State athletic director John Cohen said he was encouraged by Monday's meeting. "All things considered, I'm really pleased with all the options that we have," Cohen said. "I just think our league and Greg Sankey, in particular, are so well-prepared. Nobody wants to push the season back. Nobody wants to reduce the schedule, but nobody is more prepared than the SEC because of the leadership we have."
MACC considering appeal after NJCAA votes to move football, fall sports to spring
The Mississippi Association of Community Colleges is considering an appeal after the NJCAA voted Monday to move the majority of its fall sports to the spring due to COVID-19, according to Meridian Community College President Thomas Huebner. The MACC, which governs MCC, as well as East Central and East Mississippi community colleges, has until July 27 to file an official appeal, asking NJCAA President Christopher Parker to allow the conference to commence with fall athletics under its own parameters. If the appeal is granted, however, teams will become ineligible for postseason competition, including Region 23 tournaments and national championships. "As a group in Mississippi, we'll have to decide if the benefits of doing that outweigh the benefits of waiting," said Huebner, who also serves on the NJCAA Presidential Advisory Committee. MACC member school presidents will meet multiple times over the next 12 days to determine whether to file an appeal, Huebner added, while still considering what other governing bodies decide.
2020 college football season: SEC's possible plans coming into focus
On Sept. 12, the second week of the college football regular season, the SEC, ACC and Big 12 are scheduled to hold something similar to Major League Baseball's interleague play. LSU will host Texas, Tennessee plays at Oklahoma, Auburn and North Carolina meet in Atlanta, and Mississippi State will travel to NC State. Though the dates of those games may change, officials are working to keep them as part of an altered fall season that, in the SEC's case, may include a 10-game schedule: eight conference games and two non-conference games---referred to as an 8-and-2 model. That was one of the many models discussed Monday in a meeting among SEC athletic directors at league headquarters. Those with knowledge of the meeting's dialogue spoke to Sports Illustrated under condition of anonymity. An SEC spokesman declined comment when reached Wednesday. Despite rising case numbers nationwide, with many hotspots in the SEC's 11-state footprint, the consensus among administrators is that their communities and athletes are strongly in favor of playing football this fall.
SEC's Greg Sankey talks positive trend, Pac-12 replacement game for Alabama, schedule scenarios
SEC commissioner Greg Sankey on Wednesday pointed to a positive trend Wednesday within his conference and the COVID-19 pandemic, while also being asked some of the more popular questions as it relates to the upcoming college football season. Sankey, who was a guest on Outkick on Wednesday, did appear optimistic in terms of testing numbers from last week on SEC campuses. Over the weekend, he said things weren't trending in a positive direction. "Our numbers are way down from the low single digits to zero," Sankey told Clay Travis. "One of my presidents said, 'Hey, I feel comfortable we can support and oversee and keep people healthy." That's not to say we're out of the woods yet. Sankey has remained consistent with his message about preaching patience as he continues to gather information. Data and statistics from upcoming events, he said, will be crucial. "The (NASCAR) Bristol event tonight is an important stat," said Sankey, citing the number of fans in the stands.
Gators AD Scott Stricklin: Inconsistent scheduling decisions a hurdle for college football
UF athletics director Scott Stricklin said college football could use someone in charge. The big decisions made by the NBA, Major League Baseball and other sports amid the coronavirus pandemic have been steered by powerful commissioners weighing input from advisers and medical staff. They have presented a narrow list of options to team owners and players unions, pushing forward with a singular voice after reaching a consensus. College football leaves these high stakes calls up to those in charge of each individual conference, totaling 10 at the FBS level and many more at the lower divisions. The Big Ten, the biggest money-maker of them all, announced plans last week to pursue a conference only schedule in the fall, leading the Pac-12 to follow suit a day later. Those moves blindsided their Power 5 brethren from the SEC, ACC and Big 12 and further exposed the need for single body setting the course for all. "In a perfect world, I think the Autonomy 5 have done a really good job of trying to make decisions in concert, and in a perfect world, that would have happened," Stricklin said during a videoconference Tuesday. "I haven't talked to anybody in the Big Ten. I don't know why, I don't know what led to their decision, but I do think it's helpful when we can try as much as possible to make decisions in concert."
LSU's Ed Orgeron on Fox News: U.S. needs a 2020 football season with 'some adjustments'
LSU coach Ed Orgeron continued his campaign to play football during the coronavirus pandemic in a guest appearance on Fox News on Wednesday afternoon. On "Your World" with Neil Cavuto, Orgeron said he thinks there will be a football season this fall with "some adjustments," but he repeated his belief that the country needs football. "I do believe we need to play football, for many reasons," Orgeron said. "And, first of all, I think the country needs it. I think the state of Louisiana needs it. The economy needs it. We all need it." It was the same message that received applause from Vice President Mike Pence on Tuesday, when Orgeron advocated for football during a roundtable at Tiger Stadium with White House and higher education officials. This is also the second time Orgeron has appeared as a guest with Cavuto this year. During the initial spread of the virus in March, Orgeron said on "Your World" that people needed to take the sickness "seriously."
ESPN considers how to make 'GameDay' work during pandemic
For millions of college football fans, couch potato Saturdays begin with ESPN's "College GameDay." The COVID-19 pandemic has put this season in peril, but if it can be salvaged, so too will the sport's most popular pregame show. "If there is college football there will be 'College GameDay.' Period," said ESPN's Lee Fitting, who oversees all the network's college studio shows and remote programs. "GameDay" just won't look like the traveling circus fans have grown accustomed to over almost three decades, broadcasting from the site of a big game in front of thousands of pumped-up, signing-waving fans. Lee Corso's signature selection at the end of the show could end up being done from his home in central Florida, with the 84-year-old former coach donning a baseball cap instead of a mascot head. "We're still determining what 'GameDay' would look like this season and, frankly, it could be different every week what it looks like," Fitting told The Associated Press on Wednesday. "It could be potentially on the sidelines of an early game. It could be on the concourse in a stadium. It could even still be on campus."
New financial aid rule from NCAA 'could be very helpful' for sports like baseball
Certain student-athletes can pair additional financial aid with their athletic scholarship under a new NCAA rule, possibly alleviating scholarship restrictions for teams in equivalency sports such as baseball. The NCAA Division I Council passed legislation Wednesday that exempts need-based and merit-based financial aid awarded by schools from counting against a team's scholarship limit. The permanent rule, effective Aug. 1, may help teams long forced to divide athletic scholarships among players. Programs still have scholarship limits -- 11.7 per college baseball team, for example -- but players can now receive more financial aid based on their academics or family income. Under the new legislation, student-athletes in equivalency sports can pair different types of financial aid, creating a more extensive financial aid package. "It could be very helpful to us," LSU baseball coach Paul Mainieri said. "It certainly will be helpful at many institutions around the country."
How SEC athletic departments ranked in total revenue for 2018-19 fiscal year
Texas A&M remains the SEC's revenue king, and the conference continued to reign supreme over college sports' financial arms race during the 2018-19 fiscal year. The Aggies' $212.7 million in total operating revenue for the fiscal year ending June 30, 2019, ranked second nationally behind Texas ($223.9 million). The SEC had 10 institutions ranking in the top 20 nationally for total operating revenue. The Big Ten had six schools, with the Big 12 and ACC accounting for two apiece. Texas, Texas A&M and Ohio State ($210.5 million) were the only schools to top $200 million in total operating revenue. Rounding out the top five nationally were Michigan ($197.8 million) and Georgia ($174 million). USA TODAY compiled the financial data in partnership with Syracuse University's S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications. USA TODAY published the annual database on Thursday. Every SEC athletic department except Missouri, Mississippi and Alabama operated at a surplus for the 2019 fiscal year. Alabama's reported $21.2 million operating deficit resulted from a large, one-time accounting anomaly, according to the school.
Dak Prescott, Dallas Cowboys unable to reach long-term contract as franchise-tag deadline passes
The deadline passed quietly in Dallas. No last-minute deal emerged between the Cowboys and quarterback Dak Prescott on Wednesday, so he'll play on the one-year franchise tag in 2020. After that, negotiations can begin anew. Momentum stalled months ago, Prescott seeking a deal no longer than four years while the Cowboys yearned for at least five. On March 16, Dallas placed its exclusive franchise tag on the man they drafted in Round 4 four years ago. On June 22, Prescott signed the tender worth $31.4 million. The former Mississippi State quarterback will report to Cowboys headquarters whenever the NFL and NFLPA deem it safe to stage training camp. NFL rules prohibit negotiations with franchise-tagged players during the season. So for the second straight year, Prescott will bet on himself.

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