Thursday, October 8, 2020   
Sweet potato time: Harvest goodness from one of Mississippi's premier crops
Travelers through Calhoun County -- about an hour "up the road" -- may have noticed an uptick in traffic lately, especially near the family-run sweet potato packing sheds around the small town of about 1,300 people. No surprise. It's harvest season in this place called "the sweet potato capital of the world." The area's output helps keep the Magnolia State one of the top growers of sweet potatoes in the nation. Fueled by consumer demand, sweet potato acreage in the state has increased 35 percent in the last decade, according to an Aug. 14, 2019, article in Mississippi Farm Country. In 2018, about 89 farms in Mississippi planted approximately 29,000 acres in sweet potatoes. The harvest of 540 million pounds of potatoes was valued at $118 million, per the Mississippi State University Agriculture, Forestry and Natural Resources Fact Book. A big part of that harvest is grown in the five-county area around Vardaman. In January 2019, Mississippi State Extension Service dietetic intern Emily Faquin told Farm and Family, "Like the name suggests, sweet potatoes can be cooked in ways that bring out the natural sugars and sweetness of the vegetable. To do this in a healthy way, I recommend baking the sweet potatoes in the oven. Then put them in a bowl with a little bit of butter and cinnamon and mix with a hand mixer to get the perfect mashed sweet potato dish."
Aldermen decide to keep Starkville mask mandate indefinitely
Starkville's requirement for people to wear protective face coverings in city buildings and businesses remains in place indefinitely after aldermen decided at Tuesday's meeting not to vote on a resolution that would have rescinded it. Ward 1 Alderman Ben Carver proposed the resolution, despite the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, and spent several minutes explaining why he wanted the board to approve it. But his motion died when no one seconded, even after Mayor Lynn Spruill asked three times. Spruill told The Dispatch after the meeting that she believes the board should "revisit the issue" around Thanksgiving, when the fall semester at Mississippi State University will end and most students will leave town. Until then, she said, the city should follow the guidance of state and national medical experts. "That is where I rest my reliance, on those who still say to continue to wear masks as a way to fight this virus," Spruill said. As of Monday, 54 people in Oktibbeha County have died of the virus, as well as 3,027 statewide and more than 210,000 nationwide.
Gov. Tate Reeves issues state of emergency for Mississippi as Hurricane Delta moves through Gulf
Gov. Tate Reeves issued a state of emergency Wednesday ahead of Hurricane Delta as it begins to move through the Gulf of Mexico. The declaration comes a day after Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards and Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey both declared states of emergency. Current models show Delta making an impact on Louisiana's southern coast, possibly along the Louisiana-Texas border, late Friday afternoon. "Watch the weather reports and get prepared," Reeves said in a statement. "We are tracking this closely and operators are getting ready for action. Prep for the worst. Pray for the best. God bless and stay safe." In a recorded statement Wednesday, Mississippi Emergency Management Director Greg Michel said the impact on southwestern Mississippi counties depends on Delta's strength when it makes landfall. In Hattiesburg, officials have estimated the area could see between 1 to 2 inches of rain with the possibility of spin-up tornadoes. A Flash Flood Watch was also issued Wednesday afternoon for portions of the Jackson metro area until 1 p.m. Saturday.
Delta Council welcomes Development Department Director Jerry Chavez
Delta Council Development Department Chairman Wade Litton has announced the new Delta Council Development Department Director, Jerry Chavez. Chavez comes to the Delta from Plymouth, Indiana, where he served as President and CEO of the Marshall County Economic Development Corporation since 2014. Prior to that, Jerry spent over twenty years working in economic development in North Dakota, Montana, and in his home state of Arizona. "Jerry exhibits great strength and character as a leader in economic development," said Wade Litton of Greenwood. "We feel very confident in his ability to lead the Development Department and Delta Strong, especially as it relates to recruiting and retaining industry, as well as improving workforce opportunities. He has an extensive background working in rural communities, and he has demonstrated effective strategies for producing results in all of them."
Masks a 'matter of preference' at the Mississippi State Fair
Preparations for the Mississippi State Fair's grand opening moved forward Wednesday amid criticism that masks will not be required at the event after the governor repealed the statewide mask mandate. Commissioner of Agriculture and Commerce Andy Gipson took to social media throughout the day to post photos of fair workers setting up concession stands: one was selling roasted corn, another -- the 'Beef Barn' run by the Mississippi Cattlemen's Association -- was decorated with a life-size cow on its roof emblazoned with the American flag. Dozens of people posted in the comments of Gipson's social media post about their plans to attend the fair. Others said they were choosing not to attend because of safety concerns associated with the coronavirus pandemic. "If you've ever been to the Mississippi State Fair, you already know: social distancing is practically impossible," said Zeke Morgan, a student at the University of Southern Mississippi who grew up in Jackson attending the fair. "This will be a super-spreader event and that's something that Mississippi can't handle."
Dr. Dobbs Warns Of COVID Surge, as State Fair Opens Without Mask Mandate
Only a week after Gov. Tate Reeves lifted the state's mask mandate, Mississippi's coronavirus numbers have reversed course, showing the first consistent signs of a new surge in what would be the third spike in the pandemic in the Magnolia State. The Mississippi State Fair opened its gates Wednesday, with Commissioner of Agriculture Andy Gipson releasing a Tuesday statement that confirmed mask wearing would be a matter of "personal preference" at the state fair, which will limit attendance to 21,000 people at a time. Gipson's statement directly contradicts both Gov. Reeves and State Health Officer Dr. Thomas Dobbs. Last Wednesday, shortly after announcing an end to the statewide mask mandate, Reeves assured the press that he had reviewed the plans for the state fair and that "my understanding is that their plan requires individuals to wear masks at all times. ... My understanding is also that they're not going to let you in the fair without a mask." Dr. Dobbs agreed, lauding the State Fair Commission for its dedication to public health and safety. "I am aware that their safety protocols include masking at this event, and I'm supportive of that."
COVID-19 cases climb in Mississippi: 'Our equilibrium is unraveling,' top health expert says
One week after Gov. Tate Reeves lifted a statewide mask mandate, State Health Officer Thomas Dobbs has taken a look at rising COVID-19 numbers and said in a Wednesday morning tweet: "Our equilibrium is unraveling." On Tuesday, new COVID-19 cases in Mississippi topped 900 for the first time since Aug. 22, when that state had 906. Dobbs said in his tweet that some of Tuesday's new cases, which came in at 975, were from late reporting. Mississippi hasn't topped Tuesday's number since Aug. 19, when 1,348 new cases were reported. Hospitalizations are climbing as well, Dobbs noted. The State Health Department reported Tuesday that 588 patients were hospitalized with confirmed or suspected COVID-19 cases. A large part of the reasoning for a mask mandate, Reeves has said, is to avoid overwhelming hospitals. In his tweet, Dobbs added that the state has more than 300 new COVID-19 cases in K-12 schools, which are still under a mask mandate, and more than about 6,000 students under quarantine.
No mask mandate at Mississippi polls
In Mississippi, those entering a school, a Wendy's or a Walmart must wear masks to prevent the spread of COVID-19, but those entering packed polling places don't have to don one. "This is absolute insanity," said Dr. Claude Earl Fox III, a Mississippi native and former head of public health in Alabama. "What's to be gained by a no-mask requirement on Election Day?" Mississippi Secretary of State Michael Watson says masks can't be mandated at the polls because it's a federal election. Assistant Secretary of State Kendra James explained that while their office recommends wearing masks, "the governor, nor anyone else, may impose requirements on voting. No entity other than Congress, the Mississippi Legislature or a validly enacted constitutional amendment may place requirements, such as wearing a mask, on voters." That hasn't stopped some governors from stepping in. Minnesota's governor ordered voters to wear masks to polling precincts. Some groups challenged that mandate, saying that wearing a mask violates the First Amendment, but a federal judge dismissed the challenge, saying, "There is no question that Minnesota has the constitutional authority to enact measures to protect the health and safety of its citizens." Spokesman Parker Briden said Tuesday that Reeves “strongly encourages mask usage and believes that Mississippians should wear one when they go to the polls and vote.”
'We Are Losing Parts of Our Culture': Virus Tears Through Choctaw Community
Through last month, Neshoba County, where most of the tribe's residents live, had the highest death rate per capita in Mississippi from the coronavirus, according to data tracked by The New York Times. And despite making up 18 percent of the county's residents, tribal members have accounted for more than half of the county's virus cases and about 64 percent of the deaths. "We aren't just losing family members or an aunt or uncle, we are losing parts of our culture," said Mary Harrison, interim health director for the Choctaw Health Center. "We've lost dressmakers, we've lost artists, elders who are very fluid in our language -- so when you think about an individual we've lost, these are important people in our community." While communities of color have been disproportionately affected by the virus, it appears to be especially deadly in some tribal nations, where poverty, multigenerational housing and underlying health conditions such as diabetes and heart disease have been contributing factors.
Longshot Mike Espy campaign sees national boost in weeks before election
Mike Espy's longshot run for the Senate in Mississippi is garnering national attention in the weeks before Election Day, raising questions about whether the Democrat might have a shot in the deep red state. Espy faces a steep uphill climb in the Magnolia State. To win, and become the first Black person to represent the state as a senator in over a century, he would need historic Black turnout combined with significant support from other constituencies. But Democrats point to several things that could help with that. Above him on the ballot is Joe Biden who has had enormous success turning out Black voters in the south. Below him are a number of candidates strategists say could galvanize the voting bloc. And there's Espy himself, who has had the past two years -- since losing a special election for the seat in 2018 -- to build on and focus his campaign infrastructure. "This time, he's retooled his team. He has been raising money, and taking a more direct approach to meeting the voter where they are, and not so much running a media-kind of campaign," veteran Mississippi Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) told The Hill.
Mike Espy needs historic Black voter turnout to win U.S. Senate race. How's he doing?
Democrat Mike Espy said to defeat Republican Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith in the U.S. Senate race on Nov. 3, he will need a historic surge in Black voter turnout. Espy, the first Black Mississippi congressman since Reconstruction and the first Black U.S. secretary of agriculture, lost to Hyde-Smith by more than 7 points in a 2018 special election runoff. But some 2020 polls have Espy as close as 1 point to Hyde-Smith, and Espy has raised more money than Hyde-Smith in all but one reporting period this year. We asked several members of the Mississippi Legislative Black Caucus, who represent a majority of Black Mississippians and remain in close touch with the constituencies across the state, how they think Espy is doing this year and whether they sense enthusiasm in their districts for his candidacy. Sen. Angela Turner Ford, D-West Point, chair of the Mississippi Legislative Black Caucus, said Espy also was effective at an event in her hometown that she attended. But she said the caucus has not officially endorsed Espy. “Many individual members have endorsed him,” said Turner Ford. “In terms of a group, we have not endorsed candidates -- at least during my years as chair we have not.”
Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith: A Calling and Commitment To Serve
The first woman ever elected as Mississippi's Agriculture Comm-issioner, the first woman to represent Mississippi in Congress through appointment and the first woman from Mississippi elected to Congress, Cindy Hyde-Smith puts a higher power as "first" in her personal life. "Terrible things are happening in our country right now," says Senator Hyde-Smith. "But, God must be placed first and He is in control. This belief has been a guiding principle throughout my life and career, and I think it has served me well. And, I also think that great things are ahead for this nation." Born and raised in Monticello in Lawrence County, Mississippi, Hyde-Smith spent her formative years in the house where her mother still lives today. "It was a very wholesome, faith-based, Christian atmosphere I was fortunate to grow up in," says Hyde-Smith. "My parents were wonderful, hard working people." Hyde-Smith says she would rise at daylight picking okra, squash, peas and other vegetables as well as performing other chores the family needed and expected of her. This upbringing instilled a work ethic that has served Hyde-Smith well throughout her life and career.
Mike Pence, Kamala Harris have civil debate, but do not answer questions on COVID and other topics
With plexiglass barriers on stage to help shield the participants from coronavirus droplets, pandemic response was a predictable focus of Wednesday night's vice presidential debate. But while Vice President Mike Pence and Sen. Kamala Harris were more civil with each other on a stage at the University of Utah than President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden were with each other last week in Cleveland, many of the key questions were left hanging. Pence did not answer whether the American people deserve detailed information on Trump's medical records, though he did offer praise for White House doctors. The question avoidance was not unique to the vice president. Harris followed the lead of Biden in avoiding an answer about whether she would support increasing the size of the Supreme Court. The Biden campaign has argued that is a hypothetical question. Pence did not answer when asked whether he would encourage his home state of Indiana to outlaw abortion in all forms if that happened. Harris, likewise, would not say whether she would encourage California, where she previously served as attorney general, should allow unrestricted access to abortion.
President Trump, out of sight, tweets up storm, says he 'feels great'
President Donald Trump remained out of sight for a second day Wednesday recovering from COVID-19, but he returned to work in the Oval Office and made his presence known on social media as he tweeted broadsides against Democrats, floated false disease figures and pushed lawmakers to take up piecemeal economic aid proposals after nixing negotiations on a broader assistance package. It was Trump's first visit to the Oval Office since being discharged from Walter Reed National Military Medical Center on Monday. While there he was being briefed on Hurricane Delta, which is bearing down on the U.S. Gulf Coast, and on economic stimulus prospects. Amidst the national public health crisis, a personal one, and warning flares from leading economists that the virus-scarred economy badly needs stimulus, Trump pushed out more than four dozen tweets by midday praising supporters and eviscerating his opponents.
'I'm not going to waste my time': President Trump says he won't do virtual debate against Joe Biden
President Donald Trump said Thursday that he would not participate in the second televised debate with Democratic nominee Joe Biden next week after the nonpartisan commission responsible for producing the forums announced that it will be conducted virtually. "I'm not going to waste my time on virtual debate. That's not what debating is all about," Trump said in an interview on Fox Business. "You sit behind a computer and do a debate. It's ridiculous, and then they cut you off whenever they want." The remarks from Trump came shortly after the Commission on Presidential Debates revealed Thursday morning that the town hall-style event on Oct. 15 would feature the two candidates participating "from separate remote locations." The town hall participants and moderator Steve Scully of C-SPAN will be located as planned at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts in Miami, the commission said. The shift to a virtual format comes as Trump continues treatment for Covid-19 at the White House, after being discharged from Walter Reed National Military Medical Center on Monday evening.
Coast's Vietnamese community rallies for President Trump in Biloxi. 'We don't like communism.'
More than 100 Vietnamese Americans, some from the Coast and others from across the United States, stood together in Biloxi on Wednesday for a rally to support President Donald Trump. Waving U.S. and the Republic of Vietnam flags, the men and women wore Trump hats and bright red T-shirts. Some wore face masks with the stars and stripes of the American flag and the yellow and red stripes of the RVN flag. "Four more years," they chanted before parading in their cars down U.S. 90. The rally, held at the Latimer Community Center, was the Biloxi pit stop where Coast supporters joined dozens of people in a caravan from California to Washington, D.C., to support the president. Many of rally attendees, some wearing a shirts that said "Vietnamese Americas for Trump against communist," said they believe Trump understands dangers of communism like they do. Many of them fled to the U.S. as refugees after the communist government of North Vietnam wiped the Republic of Vietnam off the map during the Vietnam War. "One thing we learned from the war, never trust the communist regime," said Thomas Vu, an Ocean Springs resident and one of the coordinators of the rally. "We're refugees. We don't like communism. That's why we support President Trump."
Alabama's Doug Jones is Senate's most endangered Democrat. Can he pull off another electoral upset?
Sheila Gilbert has seen the crowds increase at her gathering of Democrats outside the Anniston Army Depot, where close to two dozen people arrived one day last week and waved signs and cheered in support of incumbent Democratic Senator Doug Jones. Some passersby honked their horns in support. But there were plenty of scowls and shouts of "Trump 2020." After all, Calhoun County backed Republican Roy Moore by more than 10 percentage points during the 2017 special Senate election which was won by Jones. But the campaign and get-out-the-vote efforts will continue undeterred until November 3, when Jones looks to become the first incumbent Democrat to win re-election to the Senate since 1992. Jones is considered the Senate's most endangered Democrat because he represents a state that, aside from his victory in 2017, had not elected a Democrat to statewide office since 2008. Jones is also trailing in the limited polling that has occurred ahead of the race. So how can Jones reverse the course of this race in the final month, and score another unlikely win? Kyle Kondik, managing editor at Sabato's Crystal Ball -- which also predicts Alabama as a likely Republican gain -- said there are three things needed to occur for Jones to win: Tommy Tuberville must make mistakes. Jones needs "great Black turnout." Trump will have to "significantly underperform his 2016 showing in Alabama."
Layoffs are still way up as 840,000 seek unemployment aid
The number of Americans seeking unemployment benefits fell slightly last week to a still-high 840,000, evidence that job cuts remain elevated seven months into the pandemic recession. The latest sign of a flagging recovery comes two days after President Donald Trump cut off talks over a new rescue aid package that economists say is urgently needed for millions of unemployed Americans and struggling businesses. A failure to enact another round of government aid would crimp household income and spending, and some economists say it would raise the risk of a double-dip recession. Thursday's report from the Labor Department said the number of people who are continuing to receive unemployment benefits dropped 1 million to 11 million. The decline suggests that many of the unemployed are being recalled to their old jobs. But it also reflects the fact that some have used up the 26 weeks of their regular state benefits and have transitioned to extended benefit programs that last an additional three months.
What the workforce will look like in 2025 as it morphs due to pandemic
The coronavirus pandemic has radically altered the way we work, and companies of all sizes are experimenting with new ways to manage their far-flung virtual organizations. According to experts, remote work is here to stay and even when the health crisis ends, a good portion of the workforce will remain working from home. The challenge is how to keep employees connected, drive innovation and collaboration, and keep a steady talent pipeline when people are geographically dispersed. Companies are prototyping new HR models to keep up with this rapid pace of change. Some are embracing artificial intelligence and automation to keep operations on an even keel, gather data-driven insights about their employees, improve the talent search and manage global risk. It's a daunting task and it's happening at a time when business leaders are already wrestling with economic shutdowns, health-care concerns, an upcoming U.S. presidential election and societal upheaval. What will the future of work look like in 2025?
Mississippi colleges change spring schedule due to COVID-19
It was the Spring Break that never ended. Last school year, when students left, most of them didn't return to class for the remainder of the semester. Now, colleges across the country, are trying to stop that from happening again. Ole Miss, Mississippi State, and The W have all opted to cancel their spring breaks entirely. They say the break has been canceled in order to complete the semester as quickly as possible. This decision will also help limit risks associated with traveling. Classes will end on April 19th for MSU, as for The W and Ole Miss, classes will end on April 23rd.
MUW also adjusts spring 2021 academic calendar
Mississippi University for Women modified its 2021 spring calendar due to the coronavirus pandemic. Classes will begin on Jan. 11 and end on April 23. The university canceled spring break. MUW will allow a mid-semester break from April 2-5. "The W will continue with a predominantly online course structure," according to a university release. "The response of our campus throughout this pandemic has been incredible," said Dr. Scott Tollison, provost and vice president of academic affairs. "We believe continued vigilance combined with a de-densified campus is the best strategy to sustain the health and safety of our campus community." Commencement is scheduled for April 24.
Petition for pass/fail grades gains attention of UM administrators and students
A petition urging the University of Mississippi to install a pass/fail grading system for fall semester has gained nearly 4,000 signatures. The petition calls on the university to ensure that students do not lose any academic progress they may have made by receiving poor grades this fall because of less than desirable course delivery methods. The petition, posted on by social work major Jay Lee, has gained 3,848 signatures of its 5,000 signature goal by the time of publication. Beneath the post, there is a section for signers of the petition to leave a comment explaining why they chose to leave their signature. The comments range from humorous quips such as "I can't read," from sports and recreation administration major Nevin Wells, to more serious concerns. Lee said that he has not been in contact with any university administration regarding the petition, but he has spoken to Associated Student Body President Joshua Mannery about it. Associate Provost Richard Forgette did not directly answer whether the university was made aware of the petition or if the university plans to respond to it. Instead, he noted that Z and P grade options were offered as a response to classes moving online mid-semester in the spring. Forgette said the university is continuing to listen to student concerns about course delivery.
USM's DuBard School training educators worldwide through virtual learning
COVID-19 has forced the DuBard School for Language Disorders on the University of Southern Mississippi campus to rethink the training of its educators. "We've had to move all of our professional development onto a virtual platform to meet the regulations that USM, as well as what the state has in place," said Alison Webster, professional development coordinator at the DuBard School. Webster said this meant the school's critical "DuBard Association Method" of teaching needed to reach far beyond the Pine Belt. "Our professional development offerings are for speech pathologists, teachers, educators throughout the world," Webster explained. Webster said educators as far away as Norway are taking part in DuBard's new virtual training. Webster said the virtual options give educators the time they need to complete the work. "We have changed to synchronous and asynchronous learning," Webster said. "So, synchronous learning would be where we meet face-to-face with our participants from all over the world, and meet with them live through some type of session. And then, our asynchronous is where we are doing it to where the professionals are able to meet their deadlines, but at their own pace."
JSU's Maxine Greenleaf joins Association of Public and Land Grant Universities Council
Maxine R. Greenleaf, executive director of Communications and Marketing in JSU's Division of Institutional Advancement, has earned an appointment to the Strategic Communications Executive Committee for the Association of Public and Land Grant Universities Council. It's the oldest higher education association in the country and aims to strengthen and advance the work of public universities in the U.S., Canada and Mexico. As an executive committee member on APLU's Council on Strategic Communications, Greenleaf will work with other professionals throughout the country to provide a forum that will bolster the work of senior campus leaders in communications and public affairs, as well as public relations.
Millsaps College announces Rhett Sapough as Director of Admission
Rhett Sapough has joined Millsaps College as director of admission. Sapough joins Millsaps from Wofford College in Spartanburg, S.C., where he served most recently as senior assistant director of admission and director of international and transfer admission. While at Wofford, he managed the college's largest market, where over the course of three years he achieved a 35 percent increase in application volume, a 6 percent increase in yield and a 55 percent increase in deposits. Prior to his time at Wofford, Sapough worked at Piedmont College and Greenville Technical College. He also brings experience as a Title IX investigator and an active member of NACAC and SACAC.
William Carey University, JPS create partnership to increase teacher employment
Jackson Public School District signed a new partnership with William Carey University in hopes to help employ more teachers. The two institutions signed a memorandum of understanding on Wednesday. The partnership is to create a sustainable program to qualify teachers for employment. "We've got to play chess, not checkers. We've got to be as aggressive as the engineers, the medical professionals and the IT professionals. We've got to be just as intentional about developing the interest and about developing the capacity and the pipeline for the next generation of educators," said JPS Superintendent Dr. Errick Greene. Ben Burnette, William Carey's Dean of Education, was present to sign the memorandum alongside Greene.
New Tutwiler Hall rises on campus at the U. of Alabama
The new Julia Tutwiler Hall is rising on the campus of the University of Alabama at the corner of 12th Street and 10th Avenue. The $145 million project will replace the existing Tutwiler Hall, which was constructed in 1968. The new dorm building, which will house more than 1,200 female freshmen students, will have four wings surrounding a central courtyard. Julia's Market, currently located inside the existing Tutwiler Hall, will be relocated to the new building to provide food service to student residents. The project, being built by general contractor B. L. Harbert LLC of Birmingham, will incorporate 1,284 beds in double-occupancy rooms. Each room will have an integral bathroom and the facility will also house a fitness center. As with most new campus construction projects, a 16,600-square-foot storm shelter will be built into the new structure. Funding for the new dorm is coming from a variety of sources including a $110 million from general revenue bonds, $31.5 million from housing and residential communities reserve, $2.9 million from food service reserves and $475,000 from university reserves.
U. of Florida students protest Reitz Union name
University of Florida students marched through the heart of campus Tuesday to support changing the name of the Reitz Union. "We wouldn't have to be here today, if UF kept its promises to change the name," said fourth-year political science student Ryan Wilder. J. Wayne Reitz, the fifth University of Florida president, stalled integration efforts and was cooperative in a nine-year push by the state Legislature, called the Johns Committee, to root out LGBTQ students and faculty. About 75 protesters, beginning at the large student union building named for Reitz, marched to the steps of the main administration building, Tigert Hall, at 300 SW 13th St. Along the way, students chanted "Black Lives Matter," and that Reitz was a racist and homophobe. The students also contended that the university has not upheld its promises on its anti-racism initiatives. In response, UF Crisis Communications Director Hessy Fernandez said efforts are underway to form a presidential task force that will "review and recommend values, principles and reasons for establishing and maintaining honorary namings, both historic and current."
President Michael Young proud of Texas A&M's response to COVID-19
Texas A&M President Michael K. Young said in an interview with The Eagle on Wednesday afternoon that he is proud of the university's response to COVID-19 and the school's declining number of active cases and testing positivity rates. Young said he thought mask use could improve at football games -- it appeared sporadic in some seating areas at Kyle Field during last month's opener -- and that distancing measures needed to be followed more closely by fans at Saturday's game against Florida. "We'd like to see everyone stay a little more in their designated areas rather than congregating, and we'd like to see masks," Young said. "We've got a very carefully worked-out plan by [Texas A&M] Athletics to keep people safe and to ensure that everyone is able to keep everybody else safe." Young noted that the positivity rate for A&M's random testing program has fallen from 3.3% in late August to 0.7% at the end of September. Young said student participation in the random testing program has been valuable because it helps identify potential virus hot spots. "We're halfway through the semester. I think there were a lot of doubters that we would get this far. I'm very encouraged, and I'm so very proud of the faculty, the staff and especially the students," Young said.
Protestors referred to U. of Missouri conduct office after Oct. 2 demonstration
Around 40 people were referred to the University of Missouri's Office of Accountability and Support after their Oct. 2 protest moved into Jesse Hall. The protest, which was organized to issue demands surrounding racial justice and MU, began on Francis Quadrangle and moved to the main administrative building, where protesters remained for around 90 minutes. The group marched through three of the building's floors, yelling and using profanities, which MU officials said violated the university's time, place and manner restrictions for protests. MU spokesperson Christian Basi said prior to and during the protest, the group was made aware of those restrictions by the Division of Student Affairs. "They ignored those policies and marched into Jesse Hall, were extremely disruptive, and proceeded to stay there and yell for 90 minutes," Basi said. "The university respects the right of free expression and free speech," Basi said. "We must ensure that the operations of the university that support the educational mission for thousands of students go on unimpeded."
U. of Memphis announces incoming staff reductions, $50 million loss due to COVID-19
The University of Memphis will begin staff reductions to offset a loss of $50 million due to the COVID-19 pandemic, President M. David Rudd told faculty and staff in an email Wednesday. The reductions will impact facilities management and support services along with the following auxiliary groups: housing, the Holiday Inn, parking and transportation services, Tiger Copy and Graphics, mail services, dining services, conference and event services and other "smaller units," Rudd said. Colleges, academics and research groups are not impacted by the reductions. Some administrative positions had already been consolidated and reorganized while some vacant administrative positions are also being eliminated. The core leadership team, such as the President's Council members, are taking a 10% salary reduction through the end of the fiscal year. Rudd is taking a 20% reduction through the end of the year.
Average amount of loans that bachelor's degree graduates hold relatively flat past few years
The average amount of student debt that 2019 bachelor's degree graduates took on was slightly down from the previous year. The percentage of those students who borrowed also decreased. This slight decrease and recent flattening of the upward trajectory of student debt measurements is welcome news, according to the Institute for College Access and Success. TICAS researches student debt and advocates for policy changes to help relieve this burden on students. It also advocates for greater accountability in higher education, particularly of for-profit colleges, and greater affordability. Its most recent report is the culmination of 15 years of annual analysis of the student debt situation in the United States. The institute presented the report at a virtual webinar with a panel featuring a who's who of higher education. The report this year looked back at the institute's 15-year history and the information it accumulated in that time to take a long view of how student debt has changed, and it found that the 2019 numbers still represent a stark increase from years past.
Amy Coney Barrett's path toward U.S. Supreme Court began at Rhodes College
Lie, cheat or steal at Rhodes College, and the case could make its way to the student-run Honor Council. The group reviews infractions like cheating and plagiarizing and can levy a range of punishments, up to expulsion. In 1994, her senior year at the private liberal arts college in Memphis, Amy Coney Barrett was elected to the council and served as its vice president. At the time, the council would hear cases within the week of the infraction being reported; trials lasted between 30 minutes and the full day. For one case, Barrett (then just Amy Coney) deliberated until 3 a.m. She slept for three hours, woke up and began deliberating again. Rhodes students took the code seriously -- a survey at the time found that of the respondents, 88% of faculty and 92% of students found the code "somewhat or very effective" -- and so did she. Barrett told as much to a reporter for a story in the college's magazine, published in 1994: "Presumed honest: A way of life at Rhodes" explores how the Honor Code became a culture. It was her time in Memphis at Rhodes College that put her on the path that would later qualify her for a lifetime appointment to the highest court.
Colleges Comb Diversity Programs for Content That Could Trigger Feds
Roberto E. Barrios, a professor of anthropology at Southern Illinois University at Carbondale, was looking forward to giving a virtual talk at a local community college about how this time of racial upheaval had prompted some soul searching about his own Hispanic identity. Last week he learned that his talk, and all other planned diversity efforts at John A. Logan College, had been abruptly halted. The college's president, Ron House, said it needed to put those programs on hold so it could review the implications of President Trump's September 22 executive order banning diversity training he considers "offensive and anti-American." The order has colleges nationwide scrambling to respond, or in some cases wondering how. The order bans certain topics from diversity-and-inclusion training programs provided by federal contractors and federal grantees. Specifically, it bans "workplace training that inculcates in its employees any form of race or sex stereotyping or any form of race or sex scapegoating." The executive order specifically calls out phrases like "critical race theory" and "white privilege" as problematic. But colleges that use a heavy hand to purge such phrases from diversity manuals and training run the risk of violating faculty and staff members' free-speech and academic-freedom rights, says Peter F. Lake, a professor of law at Stetson University.

How Brandon Ruiz won Mississippi State football's place kicking job
Imagine being as good at your job as anyone who has ever come before you. If you're an accountant, nobody has ever examined and filed financial accounts as efficiently and quickly as you have. If you're an engineer, nobody has ever programmed solutions as effectively as you have. Right on down the list to the best soft-serve ice cream cone maker in town. Then you're replaced from someone who moves across the country. Just like that, you're second-fiddle to a newcomer who has never worn the same logo as you. Meet Mississippi State kicker Jace Christmann. The senior's name is all over the Mississippi State record book. He's tied with Brent Smith for being the most accurate kicker in program history at 80%. He's fifth all-time in field goals made with 32. No kicker in school history has made more extra points than Christmann's 122. But when coach Mike Leach was hired in January, nobody's job was safe. Christmann narrowly lost a preseason training camp battle fair and square. Meet Arizona State transfer Brandon Ruiz.
Three matchups to watch when Mississippi State travels to Kentucky
Mississippi State is sitting at 1-1, but the adventure to this point has been anything but normal. In a year beleaguered by absurdity, MSU's .500 record consists of a win over then-No. 6 LSU and a loss to lowly Arkansas as the Bulldogs head into a Saturday date with Kentucky. For the Wildcats, losses to Ole Miss and No. 13 Auburn have stunted what was supposed to be a promising year for coach Mark Stoops in Lexington. With that, let's dig into some of the matchups to watch Saturday at Kroger Field: K.J. Costello vs. the Kentucky secondary. Mississippi State defensive line vs. Kentucky rushing attack. Mississippi State vs. third down.
Catching up with the Kentucky Wildcats
Josh Moore covers Kentucky for the Lexington Herald-Leader. He took some time to speak with The Dispatch ahead of Mississippi State's matchup against Kentucky on Saturday. In a conversation with The Dispatch that also will appear on the newspaper's podcast, Bully Banter, Moore discussed the Kentucky offensive line, Terry Wilson and more. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Freshman Francesca McBride grateful for 'second chance' at Mississippi State
Francesca McBride had already bought the binkies. The pacifiers -- gifts for her nephews -- were orange and blue, the school colors of the University of Florida. McBride, a tall, smooth right-side hitter, had been committed to play volleyball for the Gators since her sophomore year at Troy High School in the Detroit Area, and she was fully faithful in her choice. "I was just ready," McBride said. But during her junior year, she felt that opportunity was abruptly taken away, leaving McBride shocked and disappointed. Cautiously, she reopened her recruitment, looking for a school whose word she could trust. Enter Mississippi State, who'd recruited McBride under former head coach David McFatrich and showed interest again. "I was like, 'It must be fate if this is the second time around,'" McBride said. In the Bulldogs, the Michigan native found her second chance. She signed to Mississippi State in November and enrolled in January, leaving high school a semester early to ingrain herself in Starkville. And she's poised to bring her unique talent to the floor when the Bulldogs' season starts Oct. 17 at the Newell-Grissom Building.
Ole Miss-Alabama game could be rescheduled due to Hurricane Delta
Hurricane Delta is barrelling towards the Gulf Coast and could potentially affect Ole Miss' game against No. 2 Alabama on Saturday. The school as well as the Southeastern Conference office is monitoring the storm, which made landfall in Cancun, Mexico on Wednesday morning, and will enter the Gulf of Mexico sometime Wednesday evening. During his Wednesday press conference, head coach Lane Kiffin said three options are on the table regarding a postponement of the game, currently still scheduled for a 5 p.m. CT kickoff, including moving it to Friday, Sunday or sometime later in the week. "I don't think we'll know until (Thursday) for sure," Kiffin said. "I think they're kind of holding off for the most accurate weather we can get and figure it out. Nothing's changed so far." A source close to the situation told the EAGLE there is another meeting taking place on Wednesday between the SEC and the school, and also confirmed a firm decision may not come until Thursday morning.
Ex-UGA baseball player dismissed over racial slur files federal suit against university
A former University of Georgia star baseball player who was dismissed from the team for using a racial slur during a football game has filed a federal lawsuit against UGA and related parties. The suit was filed on behalf of John Doe, a name identifiable as Adam Sasser of Evans as the suit reports John Doe was the baseball player dismissed by UGA in October 2018. The defendants have not yet responded to the suit filed Sept. 29 in the U.S. Northern District in Atlanta. Sasser, a senior and starting first baseman for the team in 2018, was dismissed after other students attending a game between Georgia and Tennessee reported him using the slur in reference to quarterback Justin Fields. The suit, filed by Atlanta attorney Dorothy Spinelli, says the defendants violated Sasser's freedom of speech and equal protection under the law. The suit seeks a jury trial and punitive damages along with compensatory damages, stating the defendants' actions cost Sasser employment opportunities, including the chance of playing professional baseball "despite the proven ability and record."

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