Friday, August 7, 2020   
Mississippi State receives $1.3 million in FAA Unmanned Aircraft Systems grants
U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine L. Chao today announced that the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is awarding $3.3 million in research, education and training grants to universities that comprise FAA's Air Transportation Center of Excellence (COE) for Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS), also known as the Alliance for System Safety of UAS through Research Excellence (ASSURE). "These grants will help develop a greater array of innovative strategies to more effectively deploy drones during emergency response situations," said U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine L. Chao. There are currently 1.65 million recreational and commercial drones in the active UAS fleet. That number is expected to grow to as high as 2.31 million by 2024. The ASSURE grants are aimed at continuing the safe and successful integration of drones into the nation's airspace.
Mississippi State University receives over $1.42M from FAA
Mississippi State University and several other universities across the country received grants from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine L. Chao announced that FAA awarded $3.3 million in research, education and training grants to universities that comprise FAA's Air Transportation Center of Excellence (COE) for Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS), also known as the Alliance for System Safety of UAS through Research Excellence (ASSURE). The FAA's COE program is a long-term, cost-sharing partnership between academia, industry, and government. The program enables the FAA to work with center members and affiliates to conduct research in airspace and airport planning and design, environment and aviation safety. The COE also allows the FAA to engage other transportation-related activities.
Mississippi universities and community colleges awarded $3.5 million for student support services
U.S. Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-Miss.) today announced the award of more than $3.5 million to 10 Mississippi universities and community colleges for student support services. The Mississippi institutions were eligible to take advantage of an extended U.S. Department of Education application deadline offered to schools located within federal disaster areas. The Student Support Services (SSS) Program awards represent first year funding of an anticipated five-year grant program. "The Student Support Services Program funding gives these Mississippi schools resources to help students navigate post-secondary education requirements, which will be further complicated by the coronavirus pandemic over the next few semesters," said Hyde-Smith, who serves on the Senate appropriations subcommittee with jurisdiction over federal education programs. The Mississippi schools receiving FY2020 SSS Program grants include Mississippi State University, $292,898.
Mississippi universities, community colleges awarded $3.5M
Several Mississippi universities and community colleges were awarded $3.5 million for student support services. The money was awarded to schools located within federal disaster areas. The universities included the University of Southern Mississippi, Mississippi State, Mississippi Valley State, Alcorn State, and Jackson State. The community colleges included Copiah-Lincoln, Holmes, Pearl River, Hinds, and Northwest Mississippi. The funds will be used to provide opportunities for academic development, assist students with basic college requirements, and to motivate students towards the successful completion of their post-secondary education.
MSU Fall Return Policy
Mississippi State University's Safe Return Task Force recently developed a comprehensive health and safety return plan for students and faculty returning to school for the upcoming fall semester amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The university has also launched the "Cowbell Well" initiative, which encourages seven wellness behaviors: wearing a face covering, cleaning hands often, observing physical distancing, staying home if you feel sick, sanitizing surfaces, practicing self-care and completing daily screenings. Movin' You to MSU, the university's annual residence hall move-in time, will take place from Aug. 10 to Aug. 15. All students and families will go through a health screening before arriving at residence halls to unload their belongings. The university will implement contactless check-in. Volunteers on site will provide directions and manage elevator occupancy but will not help move students' possessions into their rooms, a release from MSU says.
Dead Zone smaller than usual
The bottom area of low oxygen in Louisiana coastal waters west of the Mississippi River, commonly known as the "Dead Zone," was mapped at a much smaller-than-average size this summer. This summer's dead zone size was the third smallest area since mapping began in 1985. Current models used to predict hypoxia in the northern Gulf of Mexico are robust for long-term management purposes, but they are not optimized to predict the area for years where short-term weather patterns move water masses or mix up the water column. Field measurements, therefore, remain a necessity to understand the dynamics of hypoxia and contribute to accurate modeling of a changing ocean. This research was funded by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Center for Sponsored Coastal Ocean Research via the Northern Gulf Institute Cooperative Agreement, Mississippi State University.
Aquarium a monument to post-Katrina recovery; $98 million attraction to open Aug. 29
Fifteen years to the day after Hurricane Katrina made landfall and destroyed most of the infrastructure along the coast of Mississippi, a new structure will open, celebrating the recovery of the area. The $98 million Mississippi Aquarium will open in Gulfport. Though located on the Coast, the public-private facility will tell the story of Mississippi's aquatic resources from the Delta wetlands and marshes, down the Mississippi River to the coastline. The facility was funded through a public and private partnership, with 90 percent of the funding from city of Gulfport bonds, Mississippi Development Authority grants and federal sources. The other 10 percent will come from private donations through the Mississippi Aquarium Foundation. The aquarium includes more than 80,000 square feet of interactive exhibits, a Shores of Mississippi exhibit, an outdoor boardwalk, an aviary, and habitats for various wildlife, including alligators, river otters, river fish, dolphins, stingrays and shorebirds and other species.
Pearl River Resort to reopen one Mississippi casino Friday
The Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians is planning a phased reopening of its Pearl River Resort amid the coronavirus pandemic. The tribe said its Bok Homa Casino in Sandersville is opening its doors Friday. Golden Moon Hotel & Casino in Neshoba County will open a week later, on Aug. 14. Reopening has not been set for Silver Star Casino, which is across a highway from Golden Moon and is connected by a pedestrian bridge. The Choctaw casinos have been closed for more than four months because of the pandemic. Mississippi's state-regulated casinos along the Gulf Coast and the Mississippi River closed about two months, and many reopened in late May. The Choctaw-owned Geyser Falls Water Theme Park in Neshoba County will remain closed the rest of this summer.
Bok Homa Casino reopens doors to public
The only casino in the Pine Belt is reopening its doors to the public. The Bok Homa Casino shut down four months ago due to the COVID-19 pandemic. At noon Friday, it will welcome guests back to play the slots and roll the dice. In addition to game changes, sanitation measures are being taken to keep players safe. "We have chip cleaning machines for those who like to play table games those chips are cleaned and sanitized before you ever sit down," said Bok Homa Casino Public Relations Director Erica Moore. "Our slot machines, we have techs that are walking around, they will sanitize those machines for you prior to play. We have an air filtration system that we've installed. This place is going to be extremely safe for you to come into." According to officials, Lucky's Restaurant inside the casino will be open but only for to-go orders. Masks must be worn inside at all times, so there will be no eating allowed inside the facility.
Store closings, bankruptcy cases pile up for business wear retailers during COVID-19: Are dress clothes gone for good?
Dressing up is being dressed down -- and that's bad news for retailers that specialize in traditional office clothes. After years of business attire becoming increasingly casual, the sudden transition to working from home for millions of Americans has undermined retailers that sell dress clothes. Men's Wearhouse, Jos. A. Bank, Brooks Brothers, Lord & Taylor, Ann Taylor, Loft and Neiman Marcus are among the retailers whose parent companies have entered Chapter 11 bankruptcy in recent weeks, having experienced a sudden drop-off in sales due in part to what industry leaders are calling "casualization." While most nonessential retailers have posted sales declines due to temporary store shutdowns and a sharp drop in foot traffic during the COVID-19 pandemic, companies that specialize in dress clothes are in the worst shape -- especially menswear shops. The pandemic has simply accelerated an ongoing pivot toward more casual wear in business, said Ray Wimer, an assistant professor of retail practice at Syracuse University's Whitman School of Management. "Instead of having casual Fridays, it's become the casual workweek," he said.
U.S. Employers Added 1.8 Million Jobs in July, Unemployment Rate Fell to 10.2%
Employers added 1.8 million jobs in July, and the unemployment rate fell to 10.2%, so far recovering less than half of the jobs lost due to the coronavirus pandemic. July's job growth followed May and June's combined payroll gain of 7.5 million as many states lifted lockdown restrictions on businesses. There are now about 13 million fewer jobs than in February, the month before the coronavirus hit the U.S. economy. Last month's jobless rate showed Americans were returning to work. The Labor Department said job gains occurred in hospitality, government, retail, business services and health care. Still, unemployment remains historically high. Before the coronavirus drove the U.S. into a deep recession this year, the unemployment rate was hovering around a 50-year low of 3.5%. New job postings are increasing in three main categories, according to ManpowerGroup: jobs that are transforming business, such as software developers; jobs that are moving things, such as delivery drivers; and jobs that are helping people, such as physicians.
Legislature to reconvene Monday amid battle with Gov. Tate Reeves
The Legislature plans to reconvene Monday afternoon amid a battle with Gov. Tate Reeves, who has vetoed bills and refused to call lawmakers back into session, saying too many of them might still have coronavirus. On Wednesday Speaker Philip Gunn and Pro Tem Jason White, the top two leaders of the GOP-controlled House, sued Republican Reeves over his line-item vetoes of much of the public education budget and parts of a federal COVID-19 relief spending bill for health care providers. They said Reeves does not have the constitutional authority to selectively pick and choose such items to veto in legislative spending -- a long-running battle between the Legislature and governors, in which lawmakers have generally prevailed in court. Reeves this week noted that lawmakers' ability to call themselves back into session is very limited, per the Legislature's own resolution. Lawmakers were notified the session would reconvene at 1 p.m. on Monday.
State Board of Education reduces attendance requirement by 10 days
The Mississippi State Board of Education voted to allow school districts to waive up to 10 days of the 180-day instruction requirement for schools during a special called meeting on Thursday morning. The decision was made to help districts that independently decided to delay their return to school or were ordered to delay by Executive Order 1517, which was signed by Gov. Tate Reeves on Tuesday and required grades 7-12 in eight specific COVID-19 hot spot counties to delay opening until Aug. 17. "The purpose of this is to acknowledge that our administrators who are impacted by delayed starts are trying to reset their academic calendar," SBE Chair Dr. Jason Dean said. Dean acknowledged that allowing the waiver of up to 10 days may create issues around pay for teachers, administrators and hourly employees. Those matters will be addressed at the board's Aug. 27 meeting.
These local legislators battled COVID-19 and have warnings for Coast as cases spread
Once he got COVID-19, State Rep. Charles Busby was so tired he couldn't stay awake. "I probably slept 18 out of 24 hours a day for four straight days," Busby said. "I could stay up for maybe three hours at a time, then I had to go back to bed." Busby is among at least 30 Mississippi legislators and 11 others to contract coronavirus during the recent legislative session at the state Capitol in Jackson. The Pascagoula resident is also among the growing number of South Mississippi residents to contract COVID-19. Jackson and Harrison counties have seen drastic increases in cases in the last month. Besides Busby, at least four other Coast lawmakers contracted the virus during the legislative session, including state Rep. Hank Zuber, who -- along with two of his colleagues -- initially tested negative for the virus. Zuber's two colleagues went back and tested positive for the virus as their symptoms continued to deteriorate, but by then Zuber said he was so sick he didn't feel like he needed to go back for a second test because "I already knew I had it."
Courts take another look at felony hearings by videoconference
The Mississippi Supreme Court plans to reevaluate the possibility of allowing plea hearings in felony cases to be done by video-conference to reduce the spread of COVID-19. The state's highest court rejected a late March request to allow felony plea hearings to be done through interactive audiovisual equipment. On Wednesday, Chief Justice Mike Randolph asked Mississippi Attorney General Lynn Fitch and State Public Defender Andre de Gruy to provide the court with more information through supplemental briefs on why the court should allow felony plea hearings by video-conference. Officials have two weeks to get the information to Randolph. In his order to reconsider plea hearings by video-conference, Chief Justice Randolph noted that federal courts have been using the technology for various criminal proceedings, including felony pleas, since the CARES Act was signed on March 27.
Pure privatization of state's liquor warehouse could require a tax hike to remain revenue neutral
Mississippi lawmakers could have some big decisions to make next session when it comes to deciding whether to fully privatize the state's alcohol distribution system, switch management of it to a state-chartered corporation like the Mississippi Lottery or largely keep the status quo with a few changes. A possible increase in excise taxes levied on spirits could be considered since privatization would cut off the revenues received from the warehouse in Gluckstadt. In the last decade, Alcoholic Beverage Control board transfers to the general fund have averaged more than $73 million annually, with fiscal 2020 setting a record with $89 million in revenue. One of the reasons why the state-chartered corporation option is gathering steam is the perception that a tax increase on spirits won't likely be required and it might have the shortest and easiest transition time. "I'm in favor of making changes to the distribution system and right now, that seems to be the best alternative, "state Rep. Brent Powell, R-Flowood, said. "I should learn more about it when the study committee on it meets."
Magnolias, Beer Cans and Football: Mississippi Is Designing A New State Flag
After Mississippi lawmakers voted in June to remove the Confederate battle emblem from the state's flag, they asked people to send in designs for a new flag -- and received nearly 3,000 submissions. Most of the designs "are leaning towards the state flower, which is the magnolia, but we got some beer cans and a lot of other football items," says Reuben Anderson, the chair of the Commission to Redesign the Mississippi State Flag. "But overall it's coming along." "I grew up in Mississippi in the '40s and '50s and I've been challenged by that flag most of my life," Anderson tells NPR's Stacey Vanek Smith. "This flag has been a challenge to 40% of the people of Mississippi for a long time." Now, he says, there's no specific design that he likes best. He's just excited that there will be a new flag -- something he never thought would happen in his lifetime. "When we took down that flag, that was a pleasing moment for me," Anderson says. "So, anything new is a thrill."
Four poultry plant execs indicted after 2019 immigration raid
our executives from two Mississippi poultry processing plants have been indicted on federal charges tied to one of the largest workplace immigration raids in the U.S. in the past decade. U.S. Attorney Mike Hurst and the acting director of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Matt Albence, announced the indictments as the documents were unsealed Thursday. Their announcement happened a day before the one-year anniversary of the raids in which 680 people were arrested at seven poultry plants in central Mississippi. Hurst and Albence also scolded journalists for reports that focused on the arrests separating children from immigrant parents who were sent to detention centers. "If a parent puts their child in that position where they commit a criminal act that subjects them to being arrested and detained ... that responsibility falls on them," Albence said.
Virus aid talks teeter on brink of collapse
Negotiations between Democratic leaders and top Trump administration officials began to fall apart Thursday night following a three-hour meeting, putting another coronavirus relief package in serious jeopardy. After nearly two weeks of discussions, it's unclear if Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer will meet again Friday. That's the deadline administration officials had set for a breakthrough in talks before President Donald Trump attempts unilateral action to provide some temporary aid. Mnuchin said there remains a wide gap on state and local aid. Pelosi concurred with Mnuchin's assessment of the stalemate: "We are very far apart. It's most unfortunate." Senators left Washington earlier Thursday amid the ongoing impasse over a pricey aid bill that neither party wants to leave hanging until after Labor Day. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said he's staying in town, but anyone choosing to head home would have 24 hours' notice before floor votes.
Bill Gates on Covid: Most US Tests Are 'Completely Garbage'
For 20 years, Bill Gates has been easing out of the roles that made him rich and famous -- CEO, chief software architect, and chair of Microsoft -- and devoting his brainpower and passion to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, abandoning earnings calls and antitrust hearings for the metrics of disease eradication and carbon reduction. This year, after he left the Microsoft board, one would have thought he would have relished shedding the spotlight directed at the four CEOs of big tech companies called before Congress. But as with many of us, 2020 had different plans for Gates. An early Cassandra who warned of our lack of preparedness for a global pandemic, he became one of the most credible figures as his foundation made huge investments in vaccines, treatments, and testing. He also became a target of the plague of misinformation afoot in the land, as logorrheic critics accused him of planning to inject microchips in vaccine recipients. (Fact check: false. In case you were wondering.)
UMMC vice chancellor Dr. LouAnn Woodward discusses COVID-19 pandemic
The number of coronavirus cases in Mississippi has physicians and hospital administrators alarmed. Intensive Care Units are filled to capacity across the state and Mississippians are dying every day. UMMC Vice Chancellor Dr. LouAnn Woodward said the pandemic has shown how vulnerable many people in the start are, with the number of pre-existing health conditions that make fighting COVID-19 extremely difficult. "We also started in a place where a number of our citizens in the state have the co-morbid conditions that we have all heard about all around the country that predict a worst outcome when you do get infected with the coronavirus: diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, obesity," said Dr. Woodward.
USM president has message for students as they return to campus
University of Southern Mississippi President Rodney Bennett said he's looking forward to students, faculty and staff returning to campus. Bennett said the university has been preparing since last spring to reopen by deep cleaning and implementing social distancing guidelines. "I'm excited about what's been put into place. There are a lot of things that still have to come together," Bennett said in a video message to students. "There's a lot of personal responsibility and accountability that has to take place in order for the plans that we have worked on and that are in the process of implementing to really work out." He said it's not the same when students and staff are not there. "We just need some positive energy on campus," Bennett said. "I think we've all been in a place of feeling just overwhelmed by the circumstances of the pandemic. I think it's time for us to sort of start smiling more and being a little more upbeat and be a little more encouraged about our future."
ReSkill Mississippi initiative has community college officials excited
The ReSkill Mississippi initiative announced by Gov. Tate Reeves has community college officials excited. They say it fits right into their core value: job skills training first, last and always. And it gives an opportunity for workers displaced by COVID-19 not only to get back on their feet quickly but to get running with a new career. "While we have suffered loss in one part of our economy, there's opportunity in other parts of the economy, especially as it relates to those middle-skills jobs and blue-collar type work," said Dr. Jonathan Woodward, Executive Vice President of Teaching and Learning at Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College. Woodward said the college is expected to get several million dollars of the $55 million appropriated statewide through the CARES Act. Rebecca Brown, Community and Economic Development Coordinator at Pearl River Community College, has already seen a big reaction from the public. "We had inquiries coming in while the Governor was still speaking yesterday announcing this," said Brown.
Alabama revises campus reentry form after concerns it waived legal rights
The University of Alabama has amended the language in an acknowledgement form required for students, faculty and staff to return to campus. The students, faculty and staff took issue with the original version, saying it read more like a legal waiver that absolved the school of any responsibility should they become infected with COVID-19 on campus. UA confirmed the language was revised and while not all concerns are alleviated from students and faculty/staff, the changes were viewed as a positive step by those interviewed by The original acknowledgement form required for campus return stated individuals "voluntarily assume such risk" associated with on-campus learning in a pandemic. The new version removes that language. The acknowledgement in question was part of the COVID-19 education each student, faculty and staff member must complete to return to campus.
U. of Arkansas, Fayetteville raises $1.4B, creates new scholarships, support funds
More than $1.4 billion raised during an eight-year fundraising campaign by the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville surpassed the university's goal and created more than 1,000 new scholarships and other support accounts for students, the university announced Thursday. Broken down by areas receiving gift support, $525.5 million out of the $1,449,703,813 total raised is going toward student scholarships and academic programs, according to UA. That amounts to 37% of the total. Chancellor Joe Steinmetz, in a statement, referred to the ongoing pandemic while emphasizing the help the gifts provide to students and for university programs. "We realize many of our fellow Arkansans and others around the country are facing difficulty at this moment. We hope to be able to do our part in helping students and their families overcome their financial obstacles, support faculty who are involved in innovative research, restore economic development for our region and our state, and offer vital programs on campus to keep our students on track for success, all thanks to Campaign Arkansas," Steinmetz said.
UGA students, staff and faculty held a 'die-in' in protest of reopening plans during the COVID-19 pandemic
Photos: Students, staff, and faculty hold a "die-in" in front of the University of Georgia Administration Building to protest the university's reopening plans during the COVID-19 pandemic on Thursday, August 6, 2020. The protest was organized by UGA graduate students and supported by members of the United Campus Workers of Georgia. Protest organizers attempted to present an open letter to UGA president Jere Morehead which was taken by a staff member at the admin building. The open letter included demands, such as allowing instructors and teaching assistants to opt out of face-to-face instruction, free COVID-19 testing for all employees and students, hazard pay and guaranteed paid leave for employees that are required to quarantine after contracting COVID-19. The letter was also sent to the Board of Regents.
'Tremendous response': Hundreds of UGA employees jump at early retirement incentive
Hundreds of University of Georgia employees have signed up for a voluntary retirement incentive program the University System of Georgia announced last month as a way to ease the financial crunch UGA and other public colleges face this year. UGA announced the program July 16 as one solution to "a unique set of budgetary challenges for our institution." Lawmakers cut allocations for UGA and other public universities by 10 percent this year. At the same time, UGA lost millions of dollars in student housing, dining and other revenues when the university shut down in mid-March as the coronavirus pandemic began to take hold in Georgia. UGA has also spent millions on face masks, sanitizer, plexiglass shields and other expenses related to UGA's plans to bring students back beginning Aug.20. The university system is offering a third of a year's pay to those who take the offer, plus retiree benefits. "There has been a tremendous response to this program, with hundreds of applications received," wrote UGA Associate Vice President for Human Resources Juan Jarrett in an email Wednesday to UGA faculty and staff.
LSU Lab School among the first to reopen with in-person classes; here's how it went
LSU Lab School started the new school year Wednesday, becoming one of the first schools in Baton Rouge to get back to in-person instruction since the coronavirus forced schools across Louisiana to shut their doors in mid-March. "It just feels wonderful to have the students back in this school," said Amy Westbrook, superintendent of the lab school. Well, not every student. Not yet. To minimize the risks from COVID-19, only half of the school's 1,400 students, Group A, were back Wednesday. The other half, Group B, is set to show up Thursday. The two groups will come to this tuition-charging public school on the LSU campus on alternating days, except on Friday, when both groups will learn virtually at home. It's a hybrid of in-person and distance learning, with students spending only two days a week on campus. School districts throughout Louisiana, including several in the Baton Rouge region, will soon experiment with their versions of a hybrid reopening.
University faculty across Florida renew appeal for online-only
Faculty at Florida's universities and colleges are continuing their pleas to the governor's office and state education leaders to move fall semester online. Leaders from the United Faculty of Florida -- with representatives from all 12 of the state's public universities -- said they've received no acknowledgment of their request to the state to begin fall semester remotely, and called the inaction "callous." "It is apparent to UFF that these concerns after four consecutive days of record deaths last week and surges nationwide and worldwide require attention," wrote UFF Executive Director Marshall Ogletree. "To not take any action and ignore the pleas of the public is both callous and reckless." In a new batch of letters to Gov. Ron DeSantis and Florida Department of Education officials, the faculty union reiterated their request from July 27 to move the state's colleges and universities to remote learning. Representatives from the governor's office did not respond to requests for comment on Thursday.
UF study: Mental health a priority for students this school year
While debate roils over how K-12 students will resume their studies this fall, education experts are advising one thing must be addressed before classes begin again: student's lingering mental health needs from the onset of the pandemic. In a new policy brief by the University of Florida's education research hub the Lastinger Center for Learning, researchers analyzed interviews and surveys with students, parents, teachers and school administrators about the approaches taken by education programs, from birth to 12th grade, during the COVID-19 pandemic. Through the interviews and more than 4,600 respondents to an online survey, officials from the Lastinger Center found that the biggest need among teachers and families were addressing the stressors felt by students from the sudden school closures this spring. "This is a moment in time where we can acknowledge there's been some kind of trauma felt by everyone, so let's leave some space for humanity before diagnosing what learning losses will be and how much students may have fallen behind," said Phil Poekert, executive director of the Lastinger Center, part of the College of Education.
12 of 1,600 students test positive for COVID-19 on U. of Kentucky campus
Twelve University of Kentucky students tested positive for COVID-19 in the first batch of results from campus screenings, UK announced Thursday. The university tested 1,600 students Monday, and 12 positives amounted to a 0.7 percent positivity rate, UK aims to test every student that arrives on campus as it establishes a baseline. The data will be shared with the Lexington-Fayette County Health Department and the state. During his Thursday COVID-19 briefing, Gov. Andy Beshear said that one of the students who tested positive "supposedly went to a party." At the time of the briefing, Beshear said he hadn't seen the UK numbers yet. Students interviewed at the Kroger Field testing site on Tuesday said their testing experience was smooth and easy, but many still had some reservations about the potential spread of the contagious respiratory virus at off-campus events and parties during the upcoming semester. Employees are not required to get tested -- a point that employees and students have criticized. The university does offer free testing to employees who are symptomatic.
Texas A&M University names J. Mike Johnson as new police chief
Texas A&M University has named J. Mike Johnson its next police chief. Johnson, who has served in the University Police Department for nearly 25 years, most recently as assistant chief, will take over Sept. 1 following the retirement of Chief J. Michael Ragan. Chris Meyer, associate vice president for the university's office of safety and security, said Johnson's experience and leadership made him the best choice for the next police chief. "As a longtime resident of this area and Aggie graduate, he knows and is committed to this community and, particularly, to the university," Meyer said in a press release announcing the promotion. "I am confident that Mike will lead the University Police Department to yet higher levels of achievement in its ongoing efforts to protect all A&M students, faculty, staff and visitors." Johnson graduated from Texas A&M with a bachelor's degree in 2000 and a master's degree in 2006.
President Trump may use executive powers to help student loan borrowers
President Trump said in a tweet Thursday that he is looking into using his executive powers to continue providing help for those with student loans during the pandemic. It's unclear if he has the authority or if it was simply a move to try to break the logjam in congressional negotiations over another coronavirus relief bill. As congressional leaders have struggled in recent days to resolve differences over unemployment benefits in the next aid package, the president had signaled that he is considering using his executive powers to continue providing help for those without jobs, delay collecting payroll taxes and continue a moratorium on evictions. But he hadn't mentioned student loan borrowers. Trump, however, didn't explicitly say he'd continue to excuse borrowers from making federal student loan payments. The moratorium, created in Congress's last coronavirus aid package, the CARES Act, is set to expire Oct. 1.
Sens. Tom Cotton, Mitch McConnell Introduce College Campus Free Speech Act
Senator Tom Cotton (R., Ark.) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) introduced a bill to ensure that public universities properly comply with students' First Amendment rights. Cotton and McConnell, along with Sens. Kelly Loeffler (R., Ga.) and Kevin Cramer (R., S.D.), introduced the Free Speech Restoration Act on Thursday. The bill will block federal funding to public schools that do not comply with federal regulations on such practices as free speech zones and speech codes. The bill allows the federal government to revoke funding to private universities that are insufficiently transparent about their own expression policies. The bill also proposes a reporting process allowing students to file complaints if private universities fail to comply with their own speech codes. If the evidence of a violation is sufficient, these complaints could trigger a federal investigation. The bill, however, contains exemptions for religious institutions of higher education.
Housing developer reminded universities about project debt as they mulled fall plans
Corvias is a privately owned company based in East Greenwich, R.I., that contracts with higher education institutions and the U.S. military as a housing developer and landlord. The company counts more than 100,000 beds and 48 million square feet of space under management at over 30 properties across the country. Its portfolio of college and university projects spans well over a dozen campuses mostly across the nation's capital, South and Midwest. But most of the campuses where it provides student housing services are within the University System of Georgia. The system hired the company to design, build, renovate, manage and maintain student housing under a decades-long agreement that was worth $517 million in 2014. Such deals between colleges and for-profit companies often are referred to as public-private partnerships, P3s, or privatized student housing. P3s aren't limited to the higher education space, but they've grown more common there in recent years. Privatized student housing projects' financial health during the COVID-19 pandemic has been of high interest in investor circles.
Johns Hopkins Goes Fully Remote for Fall, Urges Students Not to Come to Campus
The Johns Hopkins University on Thursday reversed plans to bring undergraduate students back for in-person classes, housing, or activities, urging them to stay away from Baltimore for the fall semester. Employees, the campus said, should expect to work from home through the end of the year. Previously Hopkins said an in-person undergraduate experience would be available "to all who want it." Thursday's announcement is the latest shoe to drop in a late-summer wave of announcements, one after the next, of scaled-back reopening plans. The decision by Johns Hopkins -- with its deep endowment, breakthrough research on and tracking of the virus itself, and close ties to world-renowned medical services -- demonstrates that even higher education's heaviest hitting research universities may see their in-person plans stymied by Covid-19.
New Citadel cadets arrive on campus this weekend. An online petition is trying to stop it.
Saturday is Matriculation Day. It's the rite of passage from being a high schooler to joining The Citadel community, when over 700 cadets arrive on campus for the 2020-21 school year this weekend. But it will look a lot different this year. As the COVID-19 pandemic grips South Carolina, the historic military college in the heart of downtown Charleston has set up guidelines such as mandatory masks, limited class sizes and restricted travel for students. The safeguards aren't reassuring for some parents, faculty and alumni who don't think it is enough, and many say it's only a matter of time before the campus is shut down again when the virus spreads among the corps of cadets. A petition on with more than 500 signatures calls for the campus to offer remote classes instead of in-person instruction. John Dorrian, a spokesman for The Citadel, said the petition was "riddled with misinformation" and misrepresents the authorship by claiming to be a college-sponsored effort.
Students Aren't Just Leaving Greek Life. They Want to End It.
When Zena Abro came to the University of Richmond in 2018, she wasn't excited about the idea of joining a sorority. She did it only because her friends joined, and she didn't want to feel left out on a campus where more than half of undergraduate women are in sororities. From the get-go, Abro (above), who is Asian American, felt disconnected from Pi Beta Phi. Several days after George Floyd, an unarmed Black man, was killed in police custody, Pi Beta Phi leaders penned what Abro felt was a meaningless, poorly worded statement acknowledging police brutality. She stepped in and helped draft a better version, but it wasn't published until nearly two weeks after Floyd's death. She took that as a sign that her sorority didn't understand the gravity and importance of the moment. In July, Abro and 17 other women of color wrote an "Open Letter of Group Disaffiliation," in which they vowed to quit their sororities. More than 130 of the university's sorority members have now signed the letter and pledged to leave their chapters. Richmond students are part of a new movement to abolish predominantly white fraternities and sororities that has gained traction at more than a dozen campuses this summer, driven by the national reckoning over racial injustice.
Apple Expands Partnerships With Historically Black Colleges and Universities
At a time when whole industries have shifted online in response to the coronavirus, historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) are deepening their coding education through a partnership with Apple. The tech giant recently expanded ties with HBCUs as a part of its Community Education Initiative, launched last year. Apple will support an additional 10 HBCUs, now 35 in total, to develop coding programs for both their students and their surrounding communities with the goal to create "regional hubs" for coding education. To participate, Apple selected Morehouse College, Dillard University, Claflin University, Lawson State Community College, Arkansas Baptist College, Central State University, Fisk University, Prairie View A&M University, Southern University and Tougaloo College. The Apple initiative is one of a few overtures made by major companies to HBCUs this summer amid national protests against police brutality and racial inequality.

Mississippi State coach Nikki McCray-Penson on flag: 'It was time for change'
The month of June was a roller coaster for first-year Mississippi State women's basketball coach Nikki McCray-Penson. On June 19, the NCAA banned states with prominent Confederate flag symbols from hosting postseason tournaments. On June 25, McCray-Penson stood on the steps of the state Capitol calling for the removal of the state flag, which had flown with a Confederate symbol for more than a century. Two days later, the governor of Mississippi, Tate Reeves, signed a bill into law to remove the flag. In her own words, McCray-Penson explains the significance of the flag's removal and her experience with the Confederate symbol.
New 2020 Southern Miss football schedule adds two home games, moves season opener up two days
Southern Miss football fans will be treated a couple of days earlier than expected this fall. The program announced changes to its 2020 schedule on Thursday afternoon. The Golden Eagles moved up the season opener two days in addition to hosting two more games at The Rock. Southern Miss athletic director Jeremy McClain said the change gives the program more time to evaluate how to provide the safest experience for fans between games one and two. "The move to Thursday night to open the season allows us more time to address health and safety concerns inside the stadium and with our student-athletes between game 1 and game 2," McClain said, according to a press release. "Our focus will continue to be on monitoring the situation daily, and moving forward cautiously towards the start of the season." The season-opener against South Alabama is now scheduled to be Sept. 3, the Thursday before Labor Day. The season kicks off at 7 p.m. in the first meeting between the two programs.
SWAC players not excited about spring football season
While many college football conferences discussed playing games in the spring due to COVID-19 concerns, few took the leap. But the Southwestern Athletic Conference did. The SWAC announced on July 20 that it was "formalizing plans" for a spring schedule. The plan includes a six-game conference schedule with teams having the option to play one additional game. Some SWAC players see the Power Five Conferences and others preparing to play in the fall -- albeit in a modified fashion -- and wonder why they can't also play then. "I feel like if other schools can play, those SEC schools and ACC schools, if they get the opportunity to play, I feel like we should be able to play," said Alcorn State defensive back Juwan Taylor. A Jackson native, Taylor played two seasons at Northeast Mississippi Community College before transferring to Lorman. He was the defensive MVP of the SWAC championship game last year with an interception, a forced fumble and a career-high 11 tackles. Taylor believes he needs more games like that to impress NFL scouts.
After Weeks of Delaying, the Fate of NCAA D-I Fall Championships Rests in a Fitting Place
The can has been kicked. It has been kicked again. And again. And again. By the end of this, there may be nothing left of the can -- the NCAA's decision to play or cancel fall championships -- other than a dented scrap of metal. But alas, the buck has been passed for the final time. The can landed in the lap of the Division I Council, sent there -- red bow and all -- by members of the Division I Board of Directors, which only had just received the can Tuesday night from the NCAA Board of Governors, which had spent weeks punting the can. For all this squabbling, the can has, in many ways, found its most sensible home. Its final resting place is the right one. Instead of having an academic-minded group of presidents and chancellors ruling on an athletic-related decision, the D-I Council -- primarily encompassed by athletic directors -- will determine the path forward for Division I fall sports. The group's bigger brother, the D-I Board of Directors, wants a recommendation by Aug. 21. And there is just one course they are taking.
Texas A&M student-athletes start organization for empowerment of Black students
The Texas A&M athletics department announced the creation of The B.L.U.E.print (Black Leaders who Undertake Excellence), a student-athlete-led organization with goals to provide leadership opportunities and a sense of community while empowering Black individuals to use their voice. The founding members are soccer's Karlina Sample (president), women's basketball's Ciera Johnson (vice president), women's track and field's Jean Jenkins (social media coordinator) and football's Keldrick Carper (community relations coordinator) and Chase Lane (treasurer).
NFL's Top Doctor Allen Sills On How Football Plans To Return
American football is famous for being a full-contact sport. That presents a challenge for trying to keep the coronavirus at bay. But the NFL is going for it, with some changes. The league started daily testing for the first two weeks of training camp, which began for all players on July 28. Testing frequency is set to change based on the positivity rate after that. "We expect to have positive cases," says NFL chief medical officer Dr. Allen Sills. "No matter how careful that we try to be and how many protocols we have in place, we know that this disease remains endemic in our societies and our communities and it's highly contagious." More than 80 players have reportedly been put on the NFL COVID-19 list, which means they have tested positive or come into contact with someone who has. Dozens of players are opting out of the season altogether. "We're all going to have to try to learn to live with this virus in a sense, because we don't think it's going away anytime soon," he tells NPR's Rachel Martin on Morning Edition.

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