Monday, July 20, 2020   
Academic Project Used Marketing Data to Monitor Russian Military Sites
In 2019, a group of Americans was observing the cellphone signals coming from military sites across Eastern Europe. The trackers weren't professional intelligence analysts with access to secret intercepts. Rather, they were a team of academic researchers in Starkville, Miss., working with their graduate research assistants and undergraduate interns on the campus of Mississippi State University, using a commercially available software program. The effort was a demonstration to the military of the power of commercial cellphone data to provide valuable intelligence. The team was working on a U.S. Army-sponsored, unclassified, experimental project that sought to leverage "open-source" commercial data for intelligence purposes. "This project has served as a great opportunity for both undergraduate and graduate students at MSU to develop real-world skills and knowledge that will benefit them greatly as they seek employment in the future," said David May, the principal investigator on the study and a sociology professor at Mississippi State.
MSU, Starkville police work to train officers on 'culturally responsive policing'
Starkville and Mississippi State University police officers are going through training on "culturally responsive policing strategies." Officers for both departments will attend workshops in August to educate them on racial diversity, biases, communications programs and crisis intervention. "We see our police officers not only as law enforcement officers, but also as educators," MSU Vice President of Student Affairs Regina Hyatt said. "We know some of our students come to campus with concerns about interacting with police, and we want to ensure our students see our police officers as resources and as people who have concern for their well-being."
MSU, MUW, EMCC plan hybrid of online, in-person classes
Mississippi State University, Mississippi University for Women and East Mississippi Community College all plan on utilizing a hybrid method of in-person and online courses this fall. Classes for all three schools are scheduled to begin on Aug. 17. MUW and MSU plan on finishing the semester around Thanksgiving, with both electing to not have a fall break this year. "The guidance from the state college board is for all public universities in Mississippi to return for the fall 2020 semester," said MSU Chief Communications Officer Sid Salter. "At this point, there's been no contradiction of that policy since it was adopted, so we have no choice but to comply with that. Obviously with the daily (COVID-19) reports, it certainly appears to be a fluid situation. ... We can't wait until there's certainty to make those plans, hence the Safe Return document on our website."
Coronavirus: Colleges plan to reopen for fall semester
Colleges and universities across Mississippi will return to campus for the fall 2020 semester. Here's a roundup of how colleges and universities in Mississippi plan to resume classes and reopening plans. Mississippi State University plans to return to full campus operations and in-person instruction in August 2020. The University will implement screening, testing, and contact tracing. All residential students will be required to complete a temperature screening every 24 hours along with the self-reported health questionnaire. All non-residential students are strongly encouraged to complete a temperature screening and health questionnaire daily. All employees will be required to conduct a self-screening daily prior to coming to work. This should include an "at home" temperature check and a review of potential symptoms of COVID-19 including cough, shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, chills, muscle pain, sore throat, and a new loss of taste or smell.
COVID-19 puts brakes on Mississippi catfish sales
Cash flow challenges are the latest struggle for Mississippi catfish producers, as product sales to their biggest consumers – restaurants – are way down due to COVID-19. "Even though prices are relatively stable, it has no meaning when producers are unable to sell their products," said Ganesh Kumar, an agricultural economist at Mississippi State University's Delta Research and Extension Center in Stoneville. "Sales lost due to COVID-19 related closures are irrecoverable. "Sales lost to restaurants has a downward effect on the supply chain. Eventually, fish inventory builds up in ponds, and producers spend more money on maintenance feeding, increasing the cost of production," he said. Jimmy Avery, Extension aquaculture specialist with the MSU Thad Cochran National Warmwater Aquaculture Center, said Mississippi continues to lead the country in catfish production. MSU continues to support the U.S. catfish industry through research and Extension from the Thad Cochran National Warmwater Aquaculture Center. Major areas of current research are fish health, water quality, production systems, economics, nutrition and genetics. Additionally, the MSU College of Veterinary Medicine operates the Aquatic Animal Diagnostic Laboratory, where producers can have their fish diagnosed and water quality checked.
'Crazy Hair Art' to 'plant people,' 4-H stays connected during pandemic
With so many outlets for face-to-face activity stripped from the summer of 2020 by COVID-19, youth organizations have been forced back to the drawing board. Typically, 4-H would be hosting camps, fun days and club meetings. Instead, the youth-oriented nonprofit is focused on alternate ways to connect with current and potential members. From Camp in a Box, to a virtual talent show, an at-home agronomy project with prize money available, or creating your own "plant people," Lowndes County 4-H'ers can engage. Junior 4-H members, ages 8 to 13, can participate in a Virtual Project Achievement Day. Demonstration videos on STEM activities, Sports Fishing, Photography, No-Sew T-shirts, Crazy Hair Art and more are posted to help youth complete specific activities. A Virtual Share the Fun Talent Show invites junior members to submit short videos to be posted on 4-H social media. Learn more about 4-H at, visit your county's Mississippi State University Extension Service Facebook page or contact your county Extension office.
MSU architecture freshmen show skills in 'Emmett Till River Site Memorial' exhibition
Several area Mississippi State students are among 36 freshman architecture students showcasing their final first-year studio projects Aug. 28-Oct. 1 in an "Emmett Till River Site Memorial" poster exhibition at the Emmett Till Interpretive Center in Tallahatchie County. They include Philip "Andy" Ladd of Columbus, Grace Owens of Starkville, Jacob Herrington of Louisville and James "Jeb" Thomas of Tupelo. Located at 120 N. Court St. in Sumner, the center is open Tuesday-Saturday from 11 a.m.-1 p.m. or by appointment. Admission for the exhibition is free. Through a spring 2020 semester partnership with the Emmett Till Memorial Commission, the students produced design proposals for a Till memorial at the Graball Landing site. Silvina Lopez Barrera, MSU School of Architecture assistant professor and studio coordinator, said this site sits at the convergence of the Tallahatchie River and the Black Bayou, where it is believed Till's body was found. Since April 2008, the ETMC has attempted to commemorate the site, she explained.
Community partnership forming to address racism, reconciliation
Community groups representing Starkville, Oktibbeha County, and Mississippi State University participated in an announcement Thursday in downtown Starkville's Unity Park formally unveiling a forward-looking partnership committed to seeking solutions to racism and paths to racial reconciliation. Groups, organizations, and institutions participating include Starkville Stand Up, the City of Starkville, Oktibbeha County, the Oktibbeha County Chapter of the NAACP, the Starkville Oktibbeha County School District, members of the area legislative delegation, and MSU. MSU President Mark E. Keenum said the university has a strong stake in being a partner in the efforts to seek answers to these historically difficult challenges. "MSU strives daily to be a nurturing, welcoming, and equitable environment for learning, research, and service to our community, state, and nation," said Keenum. "There is valuable, important work to be done on the vital issue of racial reconciliation, and I'm committed to putting my shoulder to the wheel of crafting and implementing meaningful solutions. The town-and-gown relationship between MSU, the city and county is vital to accomplishing those goals."
Starkville native's 'Thrive' group helps businesses during COVID
With the businesses to her left and right both gone and fewer customers coming in to browse, Abadie knew she needed to make an effort to start selling books, MSU merchandise and more on the internet, but she didn't know quite how to go about it. At a recent meeting of Starkville's Main Street Association on the upper level of her store, Abadie talked about her need for an online sales presence with Hunter Harrington, director of membership development for the Greater Starkville Development Partnership. Not long afterward, Harrington called Abadie with an opportunity. The Partnership had recently been contacted by 2019 Starkville High School valedictorian Hannah Jian, who, along with four business administration classmates at Emory University in Atlanta, established Thrive Strategy and Consulting in June. The pro-bono organization is designed to help small businesses in its members' respective hometowns -- Starkville; Los Angeles; Gainesville, Florida; and cities in Georgia and Colorado -- navigate the financial challenges of the coronavirus pandemic. "We have resources," Jian said. "We have expertise that we think can actually translate to real help for small businesses in our communities."
Starkville considering another water/sewer rate increase
Starkville will increase water and sewer rates and adjust its rate structure to help fund more planned infrastructure upgrades, a long-term project that started two years ago. Nelson McGough, a research technician at the Mississippi Water Resources Research Institute within Mississippi State University, presented the board of aldermen with four rate structure options at its Friday work session. The board will consider the options and choose one at a future meeting, though not on Tuesday. "One of the things we committed to two years ago was moving (the rates) so we could begin the infrastructure improvements and maintain them, so this board and the next board and onward seeks to take care of the infrastructure that's going to keep on aging," Mayor Lynn Spruill said. The city's initial rate increase in September 2018 began raising the money required to replace aging water and sewage pipes in Pleasant Acres, Green Oaks and Rolling Hills, the neighborhoods Starkville Utilities general manager Terry Kemp said generated the highest volume of calls for repair work in 2018.
Starkville attorney challenges downtown Streatery in court
Starkville attorney Charles Bruce Brown's first challenge to the city's planned Streatery, an outdoor seating and dining space that will temporarily occupy nine Main Street parking spaces, did not succeed at the board of aldermen's July 7 meeting. Brown introduced a new challenge Wednesday with a notice of appeal in Oktibbeha County Circuit Court, claiming again that the Streatery would only benefit a select few downtown restaurants -- including one partly owned by a city employee -- and therefore violate the state law prohibiting the use of a public space for a private citizen, business or industry. His law office sits behind the planned Streatery location on the south side of the street, and he and 30 other citizens with businesses and offices on Main Street have signed a petition against the Streatery. He gave the petition to the board of aldermen, Mayor Lynn Spruill and City Attorney Chris Latimer on July 7 prior to the board's vote approving the project. Spruill and Latimer have said the project will simply repurpose a public space for another public use and is meant to benefit all Main Street businesses.
Coronavirus in Mississippi: 1,251 new cases, 3 deaths reported Monday
The Mississippi Department of Health reported three new coronavirus deaths and 1,251 new cases Monday, bringing the state total to 43,889 cases and 1,358 deaths. The state hit a new daily record Thursday, with 1,230 daily cases. The previous high was reported on June 25, with 1,092 confirmed cases reported in a single day. On Friday, State Department of Health Officer Dr. Thomas Dobbs said eight major medical centers in Mississippi had no ICU beds. He said one patient had to be sent to an out-of-state hospital. Mississippi does not have a statewide mask mandate but 23 counties are currently under a mask mandate from the state: Bolivar, Claiborne, Covington, DeSoto, Forrest, Grenada, Harrison, Hinds, Humphreys, Jackson, Jefferson, Madison, Panola, Quitman, Rankin, Sharkey, Simpson, Sunflower, Tallahatchie, Tate, Walthall, Washington and Wayne.
Gov. Tate Reeves extends mask mandate in 13 counties, adds 10 counties
Gov. Tate Reeves has extended a mandate to wear masks in public in 13 counties and added 10 additional counties where COVID-19 cases are increasing. The original mask mandate for the 13 counties including DeSoto, Hinds, Madison and Rankin counties ended at 8 a.m. Monday. "COVID-19 is spreading and killing in our state. It's not a hypothetical -- it is happening," Reeves said Monday. "Today, I've extended our executive orders to mitigate the threat, adding 10 counties to the list of those with stricter measures in place." The new order adds Bolivar, Covington, Forrest, Humphreys, Panola, Sharkey, Simpson, Tallahatchie, Tate and Walthall counties. "We saw over 1,000 new cases again today," Reeves said Friday at his news briefing. "COVID-19 isn't going away, it's spreading rapidly and killing people across the state." Reeves and state Health Officer Dr. Thomas Dobbs urged people at the press briefing Friday not to congregate and to wear masks.
Mississippi top doc: COVID 'solution is not to get infected'
Mississippi is hiring more people to investigate the spread of COVID-19, but cases are expanding rapidly in the state and the work is outpacing the number of employees. The state health officer, Dr. Thomas Dobbs, is imploring the public to take precautions against the pandemic. Resources such as hospital beds, personal protective equipment and coronavirus tests can be exhausted. "The solution is not to get infected," Dobbs said Friday during a news conference with Gov. Tate Reeves. The pathway to avoid infection is to wear masks, stay at least 6 feet apart from other people and avoid groups, the physician said. "Forgive my frustration that everybody wants the magic bullet of the contact tracing or the testing or the vaccine when the solution is just plainly obvious, in front of us for everyone to see," Dobbs said. "And I'm baffled that the simplest of solutions is the one that we refuse to broadly adopt."
Mississippi governor defends decision not to issue statewide mask mandate
Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves (R) defended his decision not to issue a statewide mask order in an interview on Sunday, arguing that a mandate is not the most effective way to urge residents to wear face coverings to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus. "It's not about the words you write on the page. [It's] not about words like mandate," Reeves said on CNN's "State of the Union. "How do you get the majority of your citizens to actually adhere to doing what's right?" Reeves signed an order earlier this month requiring face masks in 13 counties across the state, but did not go so far as to issue an order across the whole of Mississippi. CNN host Jake Tapper pressed Reeves on his decision, noting that more than half the governors across the country have imposed mandatory mask orders including in some "deep red states" such as Alabama.
Gov. Tate Reeves: Education 'essential,' even during pandemic
Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves said Friday that even as coronavirus cases continue to grow, it will be important for children to return to classes, either in person or online. Mississippi has a decentralized education system, with local school districts deciding how to reopen. The academic year begins in the next few weeks, and districts face a July 31 deadline to submit their pandemic reopening plans. Some have said they will offer a combination of in-person and online schedules. "I can think of nothing more essential than a child's education," Republican Reeves said Friday. "Missing so much time, especially early on in their schooling, could and would destroy lives. ... Those that are privileged have an advantage, while kids without fancy iPads and without parents who can watch them full-time may never recover."
Secretary of State Michael Watson asking AG whether Legislature made it harder to vote in pandemic
Secretary of State Michael Watson is asking for an official opinion from Attorney General Lynn Fitch's office about whether a bill passed by the state Legislature will make it more difficult for Mississippians to vote if COVID-19 is still an issue during the Nov. 3 election. The bill, which was signed into law earlier this month by Gov. Tate Reeves, specifies people can vote early during the pandemic if: They are under a physician-imposed quarantine related to the coronavirus. They are providing care for a dependent under quarantine. Watson is asking the attorney general to issue an opinion on whether the new language conflicts with existing language that gave local circuit clerks discretion in allowing people to vote early.
Coronavirus surge brings suffering to the impoverished, under-resourced Mississippi Delta
Chad and Kelsey Dowell, both doctors in the small, impoverished town of Indianola in the Mississippi Delta, have cried a lot in recent weeks. The reason is the same every time: the coronavirus. Sometimes, they find themselves weeping when a patient carrying an oxygen tank is finally able to leave the South Sunflower County Hospital, where they work. Sometimes, they tear up on their back porch when they think of the few options left for another COVID-19 case. Sometimes, the couple, both 32, are overcome at the dinner table while their two young kids argue in the next room over what movie they want to watch. Their emotions are stretched thin by the flood of patients they see struggling to breathe, their own inability to respond to the pandemic with the limited resources at their rural hospital, the immense nursing and staffing shortages they face, the resistance members of their community feel to keeping themselves safe during the outbreak and the rising number of deaths from the disease that seem to come as a result. "To everybody in town that I see posting on Facebook about how this isn't real and that it's a political scheme, I'm like, 'Oh, my God, come intubate these patients,'" Kelsey Dowell said from the back porch of her home. "'Come see what we see. It's real.'"
Top Democrat blasts Chairman Bobby Moak ahead of leadership election
Willie Simmons, a Mississippi transportation commissioner and one of the top Democratic elected officials in the state, blasted Democratic Party Chairman Bobby Moak in an email to the party's 80-member executive committee last week and endorsed the man running to unseat Moak as party chairman. Simmons laid out a long list of grievances to committee members, including that Moak and state party officials "did nothing to assist" during his 2019 campaign for central district transportation commissioner, and that the party has done little to support Black candidates running for office. "The facts appear to suggest that we do not want real inclusion in the party, and discrimination practices are alive and well in the Mississippi Democratic Party," Simmons wrote on July 18. "We are suffering from having the knees of members of our own party on our necks and we cannot breathe."
Analysis: Confederate monuments undergo renewed scrutiny
A growing number of Mississippi counties are planning to move Confederate monuments that have stood outside courthouses for more than a century. And the University of Mississippi last week moved a rebel soldier statue that has long been a divisive symbol on the Oxford campus. Research by University of Mississippi history professor Anne Twitty provides context for understanding the white supremacist message behind the monuments. In mid-June, Twitty found a detailed newspaper account of the May 10, 1906, dedication ceremony for the rebel soldier statue near the Lyceum, the main administrative building on campus. The speaker was Charles Scott, "a candidate for governor who often campaigned in his Confederate uniform," Twitty wrote on Twitter. "In their eyes, Confederate soldiers' greatest achievement did not come during the Civil War, but rather during Reconstruction, when they ensured, through force of arms, that Black people would remain subjugated," Twitty wrote.
Clergy demand Lafayette supervisors reverse Confederate monument decision
Over 80 Lafayette County faith leaders and citizens gathered in front of the Lafayette County Chancery Court Building on Monday to demand that county supervisors reverse their vote to keep a Confederate statue prominently displayed in the center of the Oxford Square. "What is taking place this morning is not just of one group of people. It's not even of just the faith community. What we are experiencing here this morning are the thoughts and sentiments of Lafayette County citizens who are offended, who are hurt and who feel that that monument is an offense to all of those of us who believe in unity," said the Rev. James Hull, president of the Tallahatchie-Oxford MB Ministerial Alliance of 18 African American churches in Lafayette County. During the press conference, the Rev. Duncan M. Gray III, the retired bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Mississippi, the Rev. Ronnie Driver, member of Flint Hill M.B. Church in Lafayette County and the Rev. Dr. Gail Stratton, a Unitarian Universalist community minister, spoke on behalf of over 70 faith leaders supporting relocation of the Confederate statue.
Analysis: Espy places race at center of Senate campaign. How will Hyde-Smith respond?
Mike Espy, the Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate in November, is making no bones about this election in this moment in a reframed campaign strategy announced Monday morning: Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith has a race problem. "Cindy Hyde-Smith is holding us back, and she's hurting our state," Espy says in an ad released Monday morning that focuses on his personal experiences with racism. "With her talk of public hangings and glorifying Confederate symbols, Cindy Hyde-Smith is trying to drag us back into the worst of Mississippi's history." Following several police and vigilante killings of Black Americans earlier this year, millions have taken to the streets and ballot boxes to protest racial injustice and inequity in government, capturing the full attention of every politician in the high stakes 2020 election year. While race has long proven an escapable political issue -- even in a state like Mississippi with a bitter history of racist violence -- it has become a focal point of most every federal election this cycle.
Mississippi public figures pay homage to civil rights icon John Lewis
Public figures around the state are paying homage to the late civil rights icon and U.S. Representative John Lewis. Lewis passed away in Georgia on Friday night at the age of 80-years-old. Lewis was the youngest and last survivor of the Big Six civil rights activists, a group led by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. that had the greatest impact on the civil rights movement. He was best known for leading some 600 protesters in the Bloody Sunday march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma. Lewis went on to have an illustrious career in Congress. In 2011, he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by former President Barack Obama. In 2018, Lewis attended the grand opening of the Civil Rights Museum in Jackson, in which he gave the keynote address. "As long as I have breath in my body, I will speak up, and speak out," Lewis told the crowd. "And I will find a way to get in the way, and get in trouble -- good trouble, necessary trouble."
President Trump sours on online learning that his administration evangelized
President Donald Trump's newfound disdain for online education is a sharp departure from what his administration and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos have long championed in terms of policy on virtual learning. As he presses schools and colleges to physically reopen their doors this fall, Trump has dismissed online learning as an acceptable strategy that local education leaders can employ as they face surging coronavirus cases in many parts of the country. In events and media appearances over the past several weeks, the White House and administration officials have repeatedly insisted that the nation's schools and colleges must physically reopen classes -- and that online instruction, fully or partially, isn't an appropriate alternative. They've threatened to use federal funding as a lever to prod schools into physically reopening. But the Trump administration's focus on in-person instruction in traditional school buildings is a stark change for DeVos, who has long been an ardent proponent of virtual schools and individualized digital learning options for students.
The W names Iika McCarter director of admissions
Alumna and veteran admissions professional Iika McCarter has been named director of the Office of Admissions at Mississippi University for Women. "Ms. McCarter has been a leader across campus throughout her tenure at The W. These experiences, her vision and her strong belief in our institution make her the ideal candidate to lead our admissions efforts. I am truly excited to see the ways that she and her team are going to innovate and identify new students to join the Long Blue Line," said Scott Tollison, provost and vice president for academic affairs. McCarter has served as assistant director since October 2006. In addition to assisting with the recruitment/application process, she was responsible for scheduling campus tours, coordinating recruitment receptions and supervising the office support staff. "I have served the campus for 25 years but to be able to serve in this capacity is full circle for me. I began my professional career in this office and I am elated to continue to ride this wave. The W has been near and dear to my heart since 1991 and seeing this place thrive and continue to be successful is what I care about," said McCarter.
Kelly Bennett named Faculty Member of the Year at MUW
Kelly Bennett would agree students come in all shapes and sizes. When Bennett was 4 years old, she would line up her stuffed animals on her bed. Armed with a binder and a pencil, Bennett would teach the animals every day. "I really thought holding the pencil made me more of a teacher," Bennett said. Once Bennett started school, she brought home any old papers and workbooks that her teachers gave her and she taught her sisters, Jessie and Erin. Bennett discovered the lessons she learned from Sesame Street, her mother and from school helped her connect with her "students." These days, Bennett's students are a little older and the setting is more structured. But Bennett's passion for teaching hasn't waned. In fact, it has blossomed as an assistant professor of education at the Mississippi University for Women. Bennett's love for her work was recognized earlier this year when she was named The W's Faculty Member of the Year.
Ole Miss leader sorry for handling of Confederate statue
The University of Mississippi chancellor apologized Friday for how he handled the relocation of a Confederate monument that has been a divisive symbol on the Oxford campus, including plans that critics said could create a shrine to Old South. Workers moved the monument Tuesday from a prominent spot near the university's main administrative building to a Civil War cemetery in a remote corner of the campus. A proposal released last month showed headstones being added to unmarked graves of Confederate soldiers, which surprised students and faculty who wanted the statue moved but not turned into an attraction. Chancellor Glenn Boyce said Tuesday that headstones won't be erected because a recent survey with ground-penetrating radar showed that bodies are buried close to the surface. "I must acknowledge that some aspects of the execution of this project have not been handled as well as I would have liked," Boyce said in a statement Friday.
U. of Alabama to begin COVID-19 tests for faculty, staff
Coleman Coliseum can seat 15,383, and has for basketball, gymnastics and, long ago, concerts. But for the next 10 days to two weeks, roughly 7,000 University of Alabama faculty and staff, all who plan to return to campus for the fall, will be visiting the arena for less-enjoyable but required services, getting tested for COVID-19. "I think the university is committed to making sure the campus is safe, the safest it can be," said Richard Friend, dean of UA's College of Community Health Sciences, which is overseeing the process. Following the UA System's Comprehensive Health and Safety Plan, and UA's Stay Safe Together program, those currently working on campus will be tested as well. Staff working remotely don't have to be tested right now, but must before returning to campus. Based on what he's seen over recent months, from data collected, Friend estimates between 2.5 and 4 percent of the UA faculty and staff tests may come back positive. For those identified as positive, UA will follow Alabama Department of Public Health quarantine and contact protocols.
Plan for testing U. of Alabama students revealed
The process for reopening the University of Alabama continues as the school released the plan for coronavirus testing. All students will need to test negative for COVID-19 before returning to campus for classes beginning Aug. 19. The tests will be free as part of the federal CARES Act and there are options for how they are conducted. The negative tests must be recorded within 14 days (two weeks) before returning to campus for any official activity. Students will receive an email in a few weeks with further instructions and options to take tests in person or at home. There will be 14 testing sites around the state, though the UA website does not list specific locations. UA's website suggests taking the in-person tests at least three days before the expected return date. The first tests will be administered July 26. At-home kits are designed for out-of-state students and include a nasal swab that needs to be mailed back to the lab. All results from the in-person and mail-in tests will be sent directly to the Student Health Center, according to UA's announcement.
UGA fundraising hit hard by pandemic, but still tops $1.2B goal for 8-year campaign
University of Georgia fundraising declined sharply in the past fiscal year, like many other colleges in pandemic-stricken 2020. But the university still comfortably exceeded its fundraising goal for an eight-year campaign. Gifts and pledges to UGA were about $175 million in the just-ended 2020 fiscal year, down 22 percent from 2019, when UGA reported raising $224 million in gifts and pledges. The 2019 total had also dipped slightly from the previous year, ending a streak of five straight years of record totals under UGA President Jere Morehead. UGA booked $242 million in the fiscal year ending June 30, 2018, which remains the university's highest one-year total on record. Overall, UGA's eight-year "Commit to Georgia" campaign garnered $1.45 billion, $225 million over the $1.2 billion goal UGA named in 2016 when it announced the "public" part of the campaign midway through.
Vanderbilt, Ohio State receive grant to develop socially-assistive robots for older adults
A team of researchers from Vanderbilt University and Ohio State University's College of Nursing recently received a $3.13 million grant to develop and deploy socially-assistive robots in long-term care facilities to encourage social interaction among older adults. "It's humans that's you want to have as your companion," Dr. Lorraine Mion, OSU College of Nursing faculty, said. "The robot can be a great assistive technology to the nursing homes and the assisted living areas that can then be used to facilitate older adults to engage with one another." The robots can work with two people at a time and encourage them to engage with each other. The robot gives instructions for different tasks or activities such as puzzles and strategy games, said Nilanjan Sarkar, Vanderbilt's chair of the Department of Mechanical Engineering and professor of mechanical and computer engineering. For now, the robots will only be deployed at long-term care facilities as part of the study.
Texas A&M webinar addresses COVID-19 misconceptions
Members of the Texas A&M School of Public Health held a recent webinar to answer questions and clear up misconceptions surrounding COVID-19. The webinar, which included topics from virus transmission and antibodies to contact tracing and mask wearing, had more than 500 registrants, with more than 100 questions submitted before the start of the virtual event. Dr. Rebecca Fischer, assistant professor of epidemiology, said the most important thing people can do is encourage more people to understand the urgency and seriousness of the situation and how important it is to follow preventative measures. "Students want to come back. Football wants to happen, but it's really going to take us as a village and as a community to get the schools back functioning," she said.
U. of Missouri System President Mun Choi tells university leaders to back his decisions
Upset at dissent in the ranks he sees as undermining his leadership, University of Missouri System President Mun Choi called together deans and top administrators to make it clear he expects griping to end when a decision is made. Choi used Zoom meetings on July 10 and Monday to make it clear he wanted support for the decision he and the Board of Curators made to keep the Thomas Jefferson statue on campus and prosecute anyone caught vandalizing or tampering with it. The meeting included a slideshow presentation with surveillance photos of people later cited for acts against the statue, as well as a series of points taken from a 2018 Harvard Business Review article about how employees should handle implementing decisions that they disagree with. "If -- deep down -- you don't feel that senior management makes good decisions (or if you don't trust the organization or don't agree with the philosophy and mission), it's time to start looking for another job," one of the points state. In an interview Thursday evening, Choi said that is the extreme step.
U. of Missouri leaders defend inclusion and diversity efforts in virtual panel
University of Missouri administrators denied Thursday that recent personnel actions would impede the university's efforts toward inclusion and diversity, acknowledged that there is still work to be done, and outlined recent efforts and initiatives in a virtual panel and Q & A. A panel of campus leaders, including UM System President and Interim MU Chancellor Mun Choi, Provost Latha Ramchand and Vice Chancellor of Inclusion, Diversity and Equity Maurice Gipson, detailed efforts taken throughout the university to address inclusion, diversity and equity since fall 2015. The event lasted about an hour and 15 minutes. Those participating in the virtual event, which was open to the public, submitted questions on the recent removal of College of Education Dean Kathryn Chval, the Thomas Jefferson statue on MU's campus, and steps being taken to make faculty of color feel more welcome on campus. One question asked what steps were being taken to address faculty of color who weren't feeling welcome on campus, while another asked if campus leaders thought the university sought just tolerance or understanding in its efforts to address inclusion.
Republicans to make it harder to sue colleges for coronavirus
The main umbrella group representing colleges, which have been worried about being sued by students and workers if they become ill when campuses reopen, was pleased with a summary of a proposal being considered by Senate Republicans to make it significantly more difficult to file coronavirus-related lawsuits against colleges, K-12 schools, charities and businesses. But the summary, obtained by Inside Higher Ed on Friday, was panned by student groups and Senate Democrats who worried it would lessen incentives on the entities to take the necessary steps to keep students, workers and customers safe. Georgetown University law professor David Vladeck, who argued against creating a shield against coronavirus liability at a Senate judiciary committee hearing in May, said in an email Friday that the standard being proposed would go beyond engaging in risky activity or acting irresponsibly. For example, he said, what if a college didn't do contact tracing consistently and didn't tell a student that they had been in contact with someone who was infected by the virus and ended up in the hospital? They might have a case to say the college didn't take reasonable steps, but they would not be able to prove they were grossly negligent or intentionally tried to get the student sick.
Preparing for a chaotic year in college admissions
College admissions officers are not done worrying about the class that is supposed to enroll in the fall. Will students come? Will they come if a college is online only? The situation and the resulting models are changing daily. But in the last week, a new issue has emerged for colleges: high schools. Despite President Trump's insistence that schools should be fully open in the fall, school districts aren't listening. The push was most evident in California -- the Los Angeles and San Diego school districts said they will be online only in the fall. San Francisco's district said, "Our fall semester will begin with distance learning." Then on Friday, California governor Gavin Newsom, a Democrat, announced that most California school districts would be closed during the fall. Schools are making similar announcements elsewhere. At least the first six weeks of the coming school year will be online for students in Houston. For Atlanta, it's at least nine weeks online. Palm Beach, Fla., and Mesa, Ariz., are also starting online. And those schools planning to be open are not going to be normal. Some schools are planning for students to attend only one or two days a week. Most are canceling any school visitors. For college admissions officers, these decisions have profound consequences.
For First-Generation Students, a Disappearing 'College Experience' Could Have Grave Consequences
For some students, the trappings of that "true college experience" represent the appeal of campus life. For first-generation students, they are anything but superficial; they can be among the key forces keeping educational dreams alive. But as the coronavirus whittles away all signs of normalcy on campuses nationwide, first-generation students and their advocates say their education may be endangered. Adrianna Kezar, a professor of higher education at the University of Southern California, said the barriers facing first-generation students amid the pandemic are exacerbated versions of what they've always faced in higher education. "College has unfortunately been more of a privilege for wealthier students, and institutions haven't set up structures to help first-generation students who often come from lower-income backgrounds," she said. "There's this sort of whole set of assumptions about how you approach activities that these students don't necessarily have."
Are Mississippi farmers the next government dependents?
Syndicated columnist Bill Crawford of Meridian writes: Perhaps you read the hyperbolic rant published by former state representative and unsuccessful GOP governor candidate Robert Foster that slammed "Dictator" Gov. Tate Reeves for his recent coronavirus executive order. Besides opposing Reeves' mask mandate for 13 counties, the "truth" telling Foster lambasted "Communist Democrats", "coward politicians', and "Cancel Culture Liberals", touted "what's left of free America", and named those who might oppose his rant as "Cancel Culture Communist Liberals." Interesting how such purveyors of "truth" have to be so vitriolic and damning of fellow Americans. The "truth" itself isn't sufficient? But, let's focus on one small part of the rant, where Foster said, "This is about government constantly pushing more taxes, more fees, more fines, more loss of Liberty, one little bit at a time." This is straight out of the Tea Party dogma and appealing in many ways. No-one likes taxes, fees, or fines. However, it paints government as an evil monstrosity conspiring to steal personal liberty rather than a constitutional system of governance controlled by duly elected local, state, and national officials trying their best to serve their constituents.
Legislators pay price for disregarding COVID-19 precautions at Capitol
Bobby Harrison writes for Mississippi Today: As a Republican House chairman waited outside Speaker Philip Gunn's office one day in late June, another prominent member walked up and they began an intense, face-to-face conversation literally inches apart with no masks. Several other Republicans -- all without masks -- joined the group a few seconds later. A masked reporter waiting near the door said to the members: "You guys aren't too concerned about the coronavirus." One of the members in the face-to-face conversation looked at the other and proclaimed, "Yeah, get away from me." The other let out a fake cough. Everybody laughed, including the reporter. ... The intent in sharing the anecdote is not to embarrass. There were, no doubt, countless other similar instances in the Mississippi Capitol not witnessed by a reporter as the Legislature was in session during a chaotic June. But the episode does highlight the cavalier attitude many members of the Legislature took about the coronavirus -- particularly the longer the session went.

MSU transitions to mobile ticketing for athletic events
Mississippi State will transition to mobile ticketing beginning with the 2020 football season. The transition to mobile ticketing will be for all ticketed athletic events."The move to mobile ticketing will provide greater convenience and a safer environment for fans," according to an MSU news release. "It will offer a contactless entry into athletic venues and the ability to transfer tickets electronically, eliminating physical touching concerns prevalent during this time. Mobile ticketing will also provide an added layer of security, guarding against the production of fraudulent and counterfeit tickets." Ticket holders will still have the option to print their tickets at home; however, the university strongly recommends fans go with mobile tickets. "Mobile ticketing reduces frequent issues related to paper tickets, including theft, shipping delays, tickets lost in transit and the need for an early confirmation of a shipping address. In addition, mobile ticketing will provide ticket purchasers the ability to easily transfer tickets via mobile phone," reads the news release.
'Gridiron greatness' of MSU's Scott Field featured in SportsField Management's latest issue
Mississippi State's award-winning Scott Field at Davis Wade Stadium is gracing the July 2020 cover of SportsField Management, the official publication of the national Sports Turf Managers Association. Receiving its third College Football Field of the Year distinction in 2019, Scott Field has "always been recognized for its outstanding turf quality and maintenance while withstanding the demands of NCAA athletics," according to MSU Sports Turf Superintendent Brandon Hardin. "The demands have increased yearly with more events, media exposure and recruiting importance. In a time where other schools around us perform 'a complete field resodding' on a yearly basis, we still practice sound agronomics, sod the very minimal amount possible, and grow-in the rest," Hardin explained in an STMA article featuring vivid images of Scott Field captured by MSU Athletics photographers.
Two inimitable Mississippi voices never to be forgotten: Elvis and Jack Cristil
Mississippi sports columnist Rick Cleveland writes: Sixty-four years ago, Tupelo photographer Terry Wood snapped a photograph of two Mississippi icons. The moment is preserved for the ages: Jack Cristil, who died in 2014, interviewing Elvis Presley, who died in 1977. Cristil was 30 years young, Presley 21, when the photo was taken. When I first saw the photo, years and years ago, I could not wait to ask Cristil about it. As always, he was candid. "Worst damned interview I ever had," Cristil said in that clipped baritone of his. "I don't think Presley much wanted to be there, and I know I didn't. It was terrible, just terrible." Perfect, I thought. Vintage Jack Cristil. All you ever got from Cristil was the truth. He didn't embellish. He gave you the facts whether you wanted them or not. He was clear, concise. And he was, for sixty years, Mississippi State. Over his 58-year tenure as State's play-by-plan radio announcer, Cristil called 636 football games and 1,538 basketball games. With apologies to Elvis, Jack's voice might have been the most beloved in Mississippi history.
SEC to honor scholarships of those who elect not to play during fall season
The SEC announced Friday the conference will honor the scholarships of student-athletes who elect to not participate in sports during the fall 2020 academic semester because of safety concerns related to COVID-19. There hasn't been any developments to the upcoming season since the league announced Tuesday all fall sports - excluding football - will delay the start of the season until after Aug. 31. Commissioner Greg Sankey has said in the past week a decision on football would come later this month. The conference also announced student-athletes who decide to sit because of the pandemic will remain in good standing with their team. "SEC universities are committed to full support of its student-athletes, whether or not a student-athlete decides to participate in sports during these uncertain times," Sankey said. "SEC student-athletes have frequently expressed their desire to compete, but it is important for student-athletes and their families to know the financial support committed to them by their institutions will not be at risk because of health concerns presented by the current pandemic."
Arkansas AD Hunter Yurachek: It's not all about revenue
Athletic Director Hunter Yurachek fully realizes the importance of college football on the University of Arkansas' athletics department budget. No football at all this fall would have a widespread negative financial impact on Razorback athletics and entities that associate with the department. But Yurachek has grown weary of the talking point about how college administrators are holding out hope for football no matter what comes of the covid-19 trends. "I hate the narrative that we're doing this just for the money at this level," Yurachek said in one of the many moments of candor he showed on a Zoom conference with reporters Thursday. Those remarks were part of his response to a question about whether athletes have spoken to him about their take on playing sports this fall. "It's not about the money," Yurachek said. "It's a passion for these young men and women. And yes, there's some significant financial benefit ... that comes from this, but the majority of the financial benefits go back into the lives and the experience of those student-athletes."
COVID-19 test results can take more than a week, revealing the 'ethical aspects' of testing athletes at UGA and elsewhere
The wait to get results for a COVID-19 test in Georgia nowadays can be more than two weeks. "It's unacceptable," Georgia Department of Public Health Commissioner Dr. Kathleen Toomey said at a Friday morning press conference in Atlanta. "We can't do COVID prevention with that kind of turnaround time. We're working hard to get additional testing capacity to improve that." Test results for the site in Athens operated by the Northeast Health District or its mobile unit typically take seven to 10 business days, Clarke County Health Department clinic manager Sarah Peck said Thursday. Against that backdrop, the Georgia football team is preparing for a possible season where increased testing and timely results will be needed. UGA has declined to provide answers about the frequency with which it is testing athletes and the turnaround time to get results. Athletic director Greg McGarity has deferred to longtime director of sports medicine Ron Courson for details including if players will be tested weekly once full contact practices begin, but Courson has not been made available to speak about COVID-19 related matters to the media since the pandemic began.
Coronavirus pandemic could be catalyst to bring Southwest Classic back to campus sites
Texas A&M athletic director Ross Bjork, now in the early months of his second year in Aggieland, wasted little time drawing a conclusion from the Aggie football team's annual trip to Dallas to play Arkansas -- the rivalry needs to move back to on-campus matchups. With the uncertainty that still hangs over the 2020 college football season, this year might be the time to begin that process. Bjork told The Eagle he has already been in discussions with Arkansas athletic director Hunter Yurachek that have worked through possible scenarios for the Southwest Classic game this season. Should fans not be allowed into AT&T Stadium, the home of the Dallas Cowboys, Bjork believes the game should move to Kyle Field. A&M is the designated home team this year. "We obviously believe that our protocols, our stadium, our locker rooms -- we can make them safe, because we would really control that," Bjork said. "We have to really rely on the Cowboys to provide all those things [at AT&T Stadium]."
College football coaches face own risks from COVID-19 as they balance needs of their teams
North Carolina coach Mack Brown has been walking three miles a day, researching the best foods to add to his diet and trying out a variety of masks for comfort and safety to further insulate himself from COVID-19, a task of heightened importance after the Tar Heels placed voluntary workouts on hiatus following a spate of positive tests. "As the leader of this program, it's my responsibility to take care of myself," Brown said. "Because they don't need me getting sick." With his wife at a higher risk for complications from COVID-19, Wake Forest coach Dave Clawson will spend the season away from his family. So will Penn State coach James Franklin, whose daughter has sickle cell anemia. Since the spring, most Bowl Subdivision coaches have posted videos or statements online stressing the importance of wearing masks amid the coronavirus pandemic. These calls have taken on a new urgency within the past two weeks, as programs and coaches tie steps such as mask-wearing to the fate of the upcoming season.
Gamecocks coach Dawn Staley apologizes for critique of associate AD
Dawn Staley, head coach of South Carolina's elite women's basketball team, publicly apologized Sunday for questioning whether USC senior associate athletic director Maria Hickman is qualified for her role as chief diversity officer in the school's athletic department. "Let me say this, I apologize to Maria Hickman for speaking out of line for all the things she's doing and have done to advance black coaches, black student athletes including all student athletes and black administrators at (South Carolina). She's done more than I was privy to know," Staley tweeted in reaction to a Post and Courier retweet of a Post and Courier column. The column, posted Sunday, outlined and praised Staley's enhanced quest for more diversity and racial justice in the wake of George Floyd's Memorial Day death at the hands of Minneapolis police officers. Staley has said she hopes to help lead USC and the Palmetto State to adopt diversity programs that others around the nation can model.
NCAA name, image and likeness legislation draft is a restrictive first step
The NCAA's Power 5 conferences' proposed legislation governing name, image and likeness (NIL) is as many expected: filled with restrictions. According to a summary of the Power 5's draft, athletes cannot sign endorsement deals until they complete their first semester of college, can be barred from entering into certain NIL ventures and must make public NIL contracts. Power 5 athletic leaders, feverishly working this summer on NIL legislation, plan to present the semi-finished product to Congress next week in a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Capitol Hill, the latest step in advancing NIL down the path to a universal Congressional bill. Sports Illustrated obtained a summary of the proposed legislation, which is called the Student-Athlete Equity Act of 2020. While only an outline of the act, the summarized document provides another window into the NCAA's thinking on a uniform set of athlete compensation guidelines. It is not without a bevy of restrictions, the most notable of which are the aforementioned trio of policies.

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