Wednesday, May 29, 2024   
Is now the time for a Downtown Jackson rebirth? See what the experts say
If there were ever a time for there to be a migration of business back into the Downtown Jackson area, it may be now. At least that is the opinion of some experts, who say that office space in buildings in the suburbs has hit a brick wall. The last area building built specifically for non-medical office space was built nearly four years ago in Ridgeland. That means if there are businesses needing significant high-end space, they will need to head into Jackson. That would be a departure from recent years where businesses have fled Downtown Jackson for other places. Developers across the country, particularly in the Northeast U.S., are choosing not to build the suburbs because of skyrocketing construction costs. That leaves businesses the option of going back into downtown areas where the costs are more affordable. "Look, no one is going to build new office buildings. It's just not going to happen," said Tracy Hadden of the Brookings Institute. With the possibility of as many as 800 people living in Downtown Jackson by the end of the summer, Downtown Jackson, the apartment scene could actually spur movement, according to Hadden. In Downtown Jackson, many of the people living there have ties to education, whether that be the Mississippi College Law School, University of Mississippi Medical School or the Mississippi State University School of Architecture. For Jassen Callender, the director of the MSU architecture program in Downtown Jackson, he believes the more of his students he can get to live in the Downtown area, the better the area will be and the better his program will be.
Crime, potholes, homelessness: Jackson turns to data for answers
Jackson is laying the groundwork to use data across city departments and use it to address, initially, youth crime, homelessness and infrastructure needs. Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba is a member of the Bloomberg Philanthropies City Data Alliance, which trains mayors to understand data and use it to make decisions that can improve city services. James Anderson, head of government innovation programs for Bloomberg Philanthropies, said the mayor joined the program last year with an ambitious application that articulated a vision of changing a work culture that did not use data before. The use of data, including in city settings, has been a trend for the past decade, but the Bloomberg program is looking for mayors who want to take greater steps, Anderson said. A program like the City Data Alliance can help cities make policy decisions, streamline services and look forward, said Dallas Breen, the executive director of the John C. Stennis Institute of Government and Community Development at Mississippi State University, which provides research, training and services to municipalities, counties and government agencies. Like Jackson is doing, Breen said it is helpful to work with a data scientist who can help city leaders and staff and understand the data they are looking at and how to collect it. "The more data you have, the more informed your decisions will be," Breen said.
Butterfly paradise: How to make your yard the perfect home for butterflies
Summer isn't officially here, but it might as well be. Flowers are blooming, the days are warm and butterflies are effortlessly floating from flower to flower. Butterflies are likely among our most admired insects with their whimsical flight and palette of colors and if you want to attract more of them to your yard all it takes is a little effort and a little knowledge to make them feel right at home. "You want to have a plant that produces nectar for the adults and a plant that produces foliage for the offspring as a food source," said Eddie Smith, Pearl River County extension agent and host of Southern Gardening. "You want to have plants the babies feed on. Those are host plants." Like many other butterfly offerings, Smith's primary host plant recommendation is native to Mississippi. Smith said it's important to keep in mind that host plants will be eaten, so plant plenty. He said he mixes host plants in with those that provide nectar and also has one bed that is dedicated to host plants. For more information on planting for butterflies, visit
Proceedings From the 2024 National Floriculture Forum Conference Now Published
Proceedings from the 2024 National Floriculture Forum, held Feb. 22-24 in Biloxi, MS, have been published on the American Floral Endowment's website. The event was attended by 39 floriculture faculty, industry members, and students. The National Floriculture Forum, dating back to the early 1990s, brings together industry leaders, faculty, researchers, and graduate students from across the nation. This year's forum, themed "Participant Driven Research, Teaching, and Extension," was hosted by Drs. Christine Coker and James DelPrince of Mississippi State University's Coastal Research and Extension Center, and included 10 special floriculture research presentations, along with 17 graduate student presentations. Many of these presentations were made possible by travel grants awarded by the Fred C. Gloeckner Foundation, now the Fred C. Gloeckner Foundation Research Fund within AFE. The published proceedings contain abstracts from the faculty and graduate student participants on a wide range of floriculture topics. From cutting-edge research on breeding and production techniques to practical solutions for nutrient disorders, the proceedings offer valuable insights for the floriculture community.
Expect fewer projects: MDOT's request for dedicated revenue stream not approved
We first reported in February that the Mississippi Department of Transportation wanted the legislature to change the way the agency is funded. Right now, they say what they're getting isn't enough, and they can't plan ahead as much without more certainty in the funding. Lawmakers did direct dollars to MDOT this year. Executive Director Brad White says it was a good session for the agency but makes this note. "The thing is, it's one-time money," described White. "So this time next year, we'll be back at the well with our hands out, needing an infusion of funds to keep our programs going." See, White and the commissioners had made requests for a dedicated revenue stream. He'd suggested diverting a percentage of the unobligated use and gaming taxes to MDOT, but that idea didn't pick up the steam they'd hoped for during the session. What that means for you is pretty simple. "Less projects," answered White when asked what this would mean for drivers. "The money that we have is not going as far. The cost of asphalt has gone up. The cost of labor is going up. So, as our money is flat, you're gonna see fewer projects being done because the money simply doesn't go as far and that's just on the maintenance side." However, new construction faces the same fate for now. "When you get over into our capacity construction, we try to add efficiency to the system by building a four-lane from a two-lane or a bypass, etc.," added White. "Those projects will ultimately be shelved again."
Four die in crashes over holiday weekend
Four Mississippians died on state highways over the three-day Memorial Day weekend, according to the Mississippi Highway Patrol. Troopers issued more than 7,000 citations, made 118 arrests for impaired driving, and cited 864 motorists for seatbelt violations. MHP also investigated a total of 135 crashes resulting in 53 injuries. That included fatal crashes in Benton, Tunica, Itawamba and Harrison counties. Troopers were called to a single-vehicle crash on Highway 4 in Benton County around 6 a.m. Friday May 24. A 2006 Chevrolet Silverado driven by Dwight Holcomb, 48, of Lamar, was traveling east on Highway 4 when the vehicle left the roadway and collided with a utility pole. Holcomb received fatal injuries from the crash and was pronounced dead on the scene. Two days later, troopers were called to Highway 25 in Itawamba County for a fatal wreck. Kenneth G. Cook, 59, of Smithville, was headed north on Highway 25 when his 2006 Toyota Prius left the roadway and overturned. Cook received fatal injuries from the crash and was pronounced dead at North Mississippi Medical Center in Tupelo. While there was one more fatality than the 2023 holiday enforcement period, the overall numbers were down more than 20%, compared to the total of 8,945 citations issued in 2023.
Canadian boat manufacturer to locate $8 million facility in Clarksdale
A Canadian boat manufacturer is opening shop in Clarksdale. Connor Industries announced on Friday that its new location in the Mississippi Delta will enable the company to manufacture and test boats year-round on the Mississippi River. Connor Industries' product line includes commercial, luxury, and emergency response vessels that operate under the trademark name, STANLEY. The $8 million project will involve the construction of a 48,600-square-foot facility, as well as public infrastructure improvements in north Coahoma County such as a new road over the river levee and a river dock landing. The project is expected to bring with it 56 jobs upon completion. The Mississippi Development Authority is providing assistance for site development and infrastructure costs while additional support for Connor Industries' Clarksdale location is through grants from the U.S. Economic Development Administration and Delta Regional Authority. Coahoma Electric and Cooperative Energy was also key in landing the project as the company defrayed electric connections costs for the project through a $50,000 grant. Gov. Tate Reeves, who recently played an instrumental role in bringing a $10 billion Amazon Web Services project to Mississippi, touted the Connor Industries project as the next step in further private-sector investments.
Key Republican calls for 'generational' increase in defense spending to counter US adversaries
The top-ranking Republican on a Senate committee that oversees the military is calling for a "generational investment" in America's defense, saying aggressive and significant spending increases are necessary to deter coordinated threats from U.S. adversaries like Russia, Iran and China. Sen. Roger Wicker, a Mississippi Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, told The Associated Press that he will seek an additional $55 billion in defense spending over the limits that were forged in the deal to suspend the nation's debt limit a year ago. Wicker explained his position in global terms, saying there has "never been such a level of cooperation and coordination among an axis of aggressors" that aims to challenge U.S. dominance. The plan lays down a significant marker for Senate Republicans as they enter into a new round of budget fights with Democrats in the heat of a closely fought election year. The White House has proposed $850 billion in defense spending, adhering to the debt limit deal by proposing a 1% increase from the previous year. That plan is unlikely to keep pace with inflation and would seek to reduce the military's costs by retiring older ships and aircraft. Wicker acknowledged it would be "a hill to climb" to convince Congress to break from the spending caps at a time of deep political upheaval. Washington is still grappling with divisions over support for Ukraine, the aftershocks of two long wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and a presidential election between two presumptive candidates -- Biden and Republican Donald Trump -- who espouse vastly different visions of America's role abroad.
America's Military Is Not Prepared for War -- or Peace
U.S. Senator Roger Wicker, R-Mississippi, the ranking member of the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee, writes in a guest essay for The New York Times: "To be prepared for war," George Washington said, "is one of the most effectual means of preserving peace." President Ronald Reagan agreed with his forebear's words, and peace through strength became a theme of his administration. In the past four decades, the American arsenal helped secure that peace, but political neglect has led to its atrophy as other nations' war machines have kicked into high gear. Most Americans do not realize the specter of great power conflict has risen again. It is far past time to rebuild America's military. We can avoid war by preparing for it. When America's senior military leaders testify before my colleagues and me on the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee behind closed doors, they have said that we face some of the most dangerous global threat environments since World War II. Then, they darken that already unsettling picture by explaining that our armed forces are at risk of being underequipped and outgunned. We struggle to build and maintain ships, our fighter jet fleet is dangerously small, and our military infrastructure is outdated. Meanwhile, America's adversaries are growing their militaries and getting more aggressive. ... On Wednesday I am publishing a plan that includes a series of detailed proposals to address this reality head-on. We have been living off the Reagan military buildup for too long; it is time for updates and upgrades.
A fight over SNAP funding could derail the farm bill
A partisan fight over federal food support programs is posing a major challenge to both chambers as they try to craft a mammoth farm bill ahead of an early fall deadline. Congress has just four months until a Sept. 30 deadline to finish work on the bill, after both parties agreed to kick the can last year on the bill. Last year's failure to pass a five-year farm bill amid ferocious divides represented just the second time in the program's nearly centurylong history that Congress failed to pass the legislation. This year, a successful bill must walk a tightrope across the stark divisions between a Democrat-controlled Senate and a sizable far-right contingent in the House. In the House side, Agriculture Committee Chair Glenn Thompson (R-Pa.) is pushing to increase welfare payments and insurance subsidies to commodity farmers, primarily those growing cotton, rice and peanuts. Thompson wants to pay for these increases in part by freezing the ability of the U.S. Department of Agriculture to spend more money on food aid in the future -- a measure that Democrats consider a dealbreaker. "The question is, you know, do members want to do the right thing and support which is a really good bipartisan chairman's mark to move us ahead, or do they want to play politics?" Thompson asked The Hill. "And I can't make that choice for them." Last week, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack warned accused House Republicans of "robbing Peter to pay Paul" by funding their proposed subsidy increase with back-door cuts that wouldn't cover the difference. Now both sides are digging in their heels over changes pertaining to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), previously known as the food stamps program.
Biden campaign makes a 'guerrilla-style' pivot on the Trump trial
After six weeks of staying clear of the courthouse at 100 Centre Street, Joe Biden's campaign on Tuesday showed up to hold their own event -- a dramatic reversal of the president's strategy in the final days of Donald Trump's trial. The change comes as Biden tries to catch up with Trump, who has been leading in most key battleground state polls even as he has been mostly confined to New York for the duration of the trial. Much like Trump has done through part of the trial, Biden's campaign team brought their own set of surrogates to parade before the mob of television cameras that have camped out outside the courthouse each day to hear from Trump's allies. Asked by a reporter why the president's reelection campaign decided to hold an event at Trump's trial, his communications director had a simple answer: "Because you all are here," Michael Tyler said. "You've been incessantly covering this, day in and day out," Tyler continued, later saying the Biden team would seek to remind voters of "the stakes of this election." The Biden campaign decided over the weekend to authorize a "guerrilla-style" campaign event near the courthouse in an effort to break through the non-stop cable news coverage of the Trump trial, according to two people familiar with plans and granted anonymity to describe them. When a reporter asked about the Biden campaign's decision to make the most of all the press gathered for Trump's trial, Karoline Leavitt, another Trump spokesperson, muttered "they're pathetic" as she walked away.
Democrats Plan $100 Million Push on Abortion Rights to Win House
The super PAC supporting Democrats' effort to win back the House majority is launching a $100 million fund focused on abortion rights, the latest sign that the party is leaning heavily on the issue this fall to help counter concerns about the economy and immigration policy. In a memo to donors, the House Majority PAC outlined the Reproductive Freedom Accountability Fund, which it said will be spent in swing districts across the country for advertising and voter mobilization. The fund will also focus on voter outreach in House districts where there aren't competitive presidential or Senate races, such as in New York, California, Oregon, Washington and Virginia. The battle for the House majority is expected to be a dogfight, with the current balance of the House at 217 Republicans and 213 Democrats, with five vacancies. The nonpartisan Cook Political Report rates 11 seats held by each party, or 22 total, as tossups, meaning they could go for either party. Several dozen more are also seen as competitive, though leaning toward one party or the other. With the focus on abortion rights, Democrats are seeking to overcome President Biden's weak poll numbers and Republicans' advantages in surveys on combating inflation and better controlling the border. Many Republicans back limits on abortions, while former President Donald Trump, the presumptive Republican nominee for president, has said abortion laws should be left up to the states.
Auto parts suppliers fear a crash with shift to EVs
Anxiety over a transition to electric vehicles in America is high in the thousands of businesses, large and small, that have long supplied parts and equipment for cars and trucks powered by internal combustion engines. ICE vehicles have many more parts than EVs, including radiators, fuel injectors, spark plugs and exhaust systems that aren't needed in battery-powered vehicles. A Tesla, for example, has only about 20 moving parts in the power train, including a single-speed transmission without gears, compared with hundreds of parts in a gasoline-powered car. The Specialty Equipment Market Association, which represents 7,000 mostly small suppliers, says about a third of its products are "ICE dependent." Though gas-powered vehicles may be on the roads for decades, parts suppliers are starting to plan for a decline in annual sales, which totaled $52 billion in 2023 and translated into $337 billion of economic output, SEMA says. "We're not anti-EV," said SEMA CEO Mike Spagnola, who led his members on a week of Capitol Hill lobbying earlier this month. But he argued that EPA regulations finalized in March, which aim to cut vehicle emissions of greenhouse gases in half by 2032, push the industry only toward EVs and not other options such as gas-and-electric hybrids, clean diesel and hydrogen vehicles. "We just think there are multiple technologies based on your driving conditions and based on consumer demand," he said. "To say it's one technology and one style only, we think that's a dangerous proposition."
Home prices have reached new records, yet consumer confidence rose. What gives?
This is a big week for economic indicators. Later in the week, we'll be getting retail inventory numbers, pending home sales and the Federal Reserve's preferred inflation measure, the personal consumption expenditures price index. ​We also got a couple of big numbers Tuesday. The first one probably won't surprise you: The S&P CoreLogic Case-Shiller Home Price Index went up again in March -- 6.5% nationally -- so those high housing costs that have been driving inflation are still a thing. Meanwhile, consumers are actually feeling more confident about the economy, according to The Conference Board's Consumer Confidence Index, after three months of steady pessimism, which seems a little weird. The Conference Board asks consumers two things: how the economy is now, and how will it be in a few months. Senior economist Stephanie Guichard said consumers didn't exactly say they think things are getting better. "We saw an improvement that is mostly driven by fewer consumers expecting things to deteriorate," Guichard said. In other words, gas and food expenses are still high, but consumers don't think they'll get much worse. But overall, they are still pessimistic. "Over two-thirds of consumers are worried about a recession in the next 12 months. That's high," Guichard said.
Busy times for Mississippi's universities
Dr. Alfred Rankins Jr., Mississippi's commissioner of higher education, writes: It's been a busy spring for Mississippi's public university system. The close of the 2024 legislative session saw a total appropriation for FY25 of nearly $893 million, which represents a modest 0.4% increase over FY24. Within the total appropriation, a 6.5% increase was included for campus operations to address rising costs related to health insurance, employer retirement contributions, inflation, and salaries. The state's continued investment in our system demonstrates confidence in the work our universities are doing and the return on investment that has been seen over the years. These funds will be utilized to reinforce existing programs and kick off exciting new initiatives in data science and artificial intelligence. They will be put into bricks and mortar projects to provide students and faculty with the spaces needed to live, teach, and learn. They will reinforce our efforts to provide students from across the state (and beyond) with the skills to excel in the new industries that are coming to Mississippi ... Looking back over the past four months, I am struck by the volume of important work done during the legislative session, and I am grateful for the work of our elected officials in their ongoing support for their Mississippi's universities.
University names Oxford native new Assistant Vice Chancellor for Marketing
The University of Mississippi has named Ryan Whittington to a new position as assistant vice chancellor for marketing. The position, housed in University Marketing and Communications, is designed to help bring Ole Miss up to par with other SEC universities, said Jim Zook, vice chancellor for marketing and communications. "The creation of this role is an important expression of the heightened importance of marketing in the highly competitive higher education sector and for our university," Zook said. "Further, the creation of an assistant vice chancellor within our team puts our organization more on par with other SEC central 'marcomm' offices." Whittington, an Oxford native with more than a decade of experience in the field, said he hopes to use the experiences he has gained working for his alma mater to bolster student voices and tell the university's story. Whittington previously served six years as director of the marketing and brand strategy team, where Zook said he has, "demonstrated wide-ranging abilities and marketing savvy, extensive understanding of university operations and deep insight into how best to express our university's distinctive personality." Before being named director, Whittington served as a communications specialist for university communications and as project coordinator for the Division of Outreach and Continuing Education.
Officials combating nurse burnout with special programming, workforce funding
Especially during COVID-19, overwhelming and complex patient care demands led to burnout in medical professionals. Nationally, a significant number of nurses retired early or left the profession, further exacerbating the existing nursing shortage. The University of Mississippi Medical Center in Jackson has several available resources to help nurses deal with stress and provide superior care. "Our Office of Well-being provides 24/7 support for our team through the Resilience in Stressful Events (RISE) program, one-to-one peer support, an employee assistance program and Code Lavender resources," said UMMC Chief Nursing Executive Dr. Kristina Cherry. "Code Lavender is a self-care cart on wheels that is deployed to health care areas experiencing high stress or trauma. These are all best-practice programs that are just a phone call away. In addition, we have employee health and lifestyle resources to support healthy employee programs. Our leaders help to create a healthy work environment by encouraging staff to take uninterrupted breaks, vacation time and team-based care." For new hires and graduates, UMMC has a preceptor program. The new team member gets paired with an experienced UMMC employee to help transition to practice and/or the organization. Depending on the specialty, this relationship can last up to almost a year.
New retirement benefits a 'massive win' for employees
Thousands of faculty and staff at Louisiana's 28 public higher education institutions now have access to more flexible and lucrative retirement benefits, under a new law signed into effect by Republican governor Jeff Landry on May 21. Sponsored by Representative Barbara Freiberg -- a Republican whose district includes the flagship Louisiana State University -- the legislation was designed to minimize brain drain and retain quality faculty and staff members in a state that ranks significantly lower than most in both base compensation and retirement contributions. For years, new higher education employees in the state have been granted 60 days to decide between an optional retirement plan, which allows them to take their accrued benefits if they choose to leave Louisiana for another job, and a more remunerative, fixed state-pension plan. Now, under the new law, current employees who have been on the job for more than five years will be granted a 12-month window to switch plans; employees of four years or fewer have until their fifth anniversary to make the switch. Faculty and staff senate representatives, who had passed multiple resolutions in support of the bill, called the legislation a "massive win" -- especially because Louisiana is one of 15 states that does not enroll public employees in social security. Louisiana lawmakers hope that offering more flexibility in choosing a retirement plan will encourage faculty and staff to stick around.
U. of Florida employee, students implicated in illegal plot to ship drugs, toxins to China
A University of Florida research employee and students have been implicated in an illegal, multi-million dollar scheme investigated by the Justice Department to fraudulently buy thousands of biochemical samples of dangerous drugs and toxins that were delivered to a campus laboratory then illicitly shipped to China over seven years, according to federal court records. Among the students tied to the scheme was the president of UF's Chinese Students and Scholars Association. The group openly protested a Florida law signed by Gov. Ron DeSantis last year that limits universities from recruiting students and faculty from China -- and bans employing such students from working in academic labs without special permission. That student, Nongnong "Leticia" Zheng, confirmed Friday in an interview that a federal prosecutor notified her last year in writing she was the target of a grand jury investigation, and the Justice Department was preparing to seek criminal charges against her. She said she has been assigned a federal public defender, Ryan Maguire of Tampa. She said government agents have threatened to imprison or deport her. It wasn't otherwise clear whether the UF research employee or other students -- identified in court records as co-conspirators -- been charged or arrested yet. The UF employee worked in the stockroom of one of the university's research labs, prosecutors said.
Preventing falls can be a lifesaver: U. of Missouri Extension seeks to do just that
For nearly 20 years, Stephen Ball, a University of Missouri professor in physical therapy and state fitness specialist, has dedicated his career to helping older adults continue to stay active and strong through physical activity. In 2005, he was one of the creators of an MU Extension program called Stay Strong, Stay Healthy, an eight-week strength training program that helps build muscle, increase bone density and decrease the risk to age-related bone and muscle conditions like osteoporosis and sarcopenia. "It's using bodyweight, dumbbells and ankle weights to improve strength, flexibility and balance to maintain independence," Ball said. Gary Miller, one of the participants, said the program has helped him get into "much better shape and (be) healthier." He has arthritis and experiences constant pain, but the exercises have helped with his mobility. "I could sit around, do nothing and hurt, or I can be active and hurt," Miller said. "The pain doesn't go away, but as I get more mobility, I could move better." Over 14 million older adults in the U.S. report falling each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Ball said a hip fracture from falls for older adults can be life-threatening. "If you fall later in life, it is a serious event that a lot of folks don't come back from," he said.
Harvard adopts a policy of silence on public matters that don't 'affect the university's core function'
After months of controversy over the Israel-Hamas war, Harvard University said Tuesday that its administration will no longer issue official statements about public matters unless they directly affect "the university's core function." The school made the announcement more than a month after an Institutional Voice Working Group was established to consider whether Harvard should stop taking positions on weighty social and political matters. It comes as institutions around the country debate whether to adopt such policies, and at the end of an academic year in which many campus communities have been torn apart by division over the war. "The integrity and credibility of the institution are compromised when the university speaks officially on matters outside its institutional area of expertise," the working group said in its report, which was accepted by Harvard's administration. Harvard was engulfed in controversy last fall over what to say about the Oct. 7 attacks by Hamas and Israel's deadly counteroffensive in Gaza. Then-president Claudine Gay was widely criticized for issuing a statement on the attacks that many saw as late and weak, especially compared with Harvard's unequivocal statements after other wrenching world events, such as Russia's invasion of Ukraine. A chorus of professors and administrators proposed a simple solution: silence. In the months since, momentum built inside Harvard and at other universities to embrace some form of "institutional neutrality." Institutional neutrality is not a new idea. In the modern academic era, it dates to 1967, when the University of Chicago adopted a policy of neutrality to avoid taking sides over the Vietnam War.
Yale Names Stony Brook President Maurie McInnis as New Leader
Yale University named Maurie McInnis, currently president of Stony Brook University and a Yale trustee, as its next president. McInnis, 58 years old, will take the helm of the New Haven, Conn., school in July. She will be the first woman to hold the role on a permanent basis. McInnis, a historian whose academic research focuses on slavery, ascends to the top spot at Yale at a time of tremendous upheaval for American higher education. Schools are facing growing doubts about the value of a degree, questions over their roles as moral arbiters on hot-button issues, concerns about the leftward tilt of their faculties and increasingly fraught relationships with major donors who want more say in university operations. Like many other colleges around the country, Yale has been roiled by student protests calling for a cease-fire in Gaza and divestment from companies that do business with Israel. "True freedom of expression demands that we acknowledge the rights of others to hold and express beliefs that are different from our own, but we also have to ensure the safety and well-being of our campus community," McInnis said in an interview about her Yale appointment. "That's been tested this year. It will likely be tested as we return in the fall." McInnis has been president at Stony Brook, a Long Island campus of the State University of New York system, since 2020. She earlier served as provost at the University of Texas at Austin, and before that was an administrator at the University of Virginia for a decade.
The Education Dept. Tried to Draw a Line Between Free Speech and Discrimination. It's Still Blurry.
When the Office for Civil Rights issued a letter this month reminding colleges that federal law bars discrimination on the basis of shared ancestry and ethnic characteristics, reactions ranged from celebration to concern. Where some saw the letter as a sign that the U.S. Department of Education won't tolerate the antisemitic incidents that have multiplied on campuses since the October 7 Hamas attack on Israel, others warned it could be used to justify a crackdown on protests that have criticized Israel's response to the attack. "This letter is a signal to colleges that OCR is very much open for business," said Kenneth L. Marcus, a former assistant secretary of education for civil rights under President Trump and the founder of the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law. "It shows that it is actively pursuing antisemitism and other ethnoreligious cases." But Jonathan Feingold, an associate professor of law at Boston University, worries that the letter will legitimize what he sees as a "false narrative" that pro-Palestinian protests are driving the rise in antisemitism, and "provide cover" to universities that have been violating the rights of their students to peacefully protest. He views the letter as an attempt to appease advocates like Marcus, who have been pressing the department to include anti-Zionism in its definition of antisemitism.
Report finds a 'great misalignment' between credentials and jobs
A new report from the Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce found a "great misalignment" between projected job demand in many local labor markets and the mix of credentials available to workers seeking jobs requiring more than a high school diploma but less than a bachelor's degree. The report, released on Wednesday, focuses on "middle-skills credentials," which include sub-baccalaureate certificates and associate degrees, in 565 local labor markets across the country. It noted that, as of the 2020–2021 academic year, there were nearly 4,800 providers of these kinds of credentials, including community colleges, nonprofit and for-profit colleges, private work training organizations, and technical and cosmetology schools. In the coming years, these providers will be tasked with training a lot of workers in the right industries, and in the right geographic areas, to sufficiently fill local workforce gaps -- and they have a long way to go, according to the report. The report highlighted that of the 18.5 million annual job openings projected nationwide through 2031, about 31 percent or 5.8 million of them are expected to go to workers with an associate degree, certificate or some college credit but no degree. (Half of those roles are projected to be in blue-collar jobs, sales and office support, and half are expected to be in fields that include food and personal services, education, healthcare and STEM jobs.) The report found that in 283 of the 565 local labor markets studied, at least half of middle-skills credentials would have to be offered in different fields than currently offered to satisfy projected job demand.
Students, parents and voters agree -- higher ed costs too much
Higher education's value has come under public scrutiny in recent years, with less U.S. adults confident in the benefits of a college degree. "For voters and people who are interested in pursuing and want to pursue a higher education -- we've spent many years asking them that exact question: how do you define value? And overwhelmingly, not to oversimplify, but it is primarily economic," said Angela Kuefler, a partner at Global Strategy Group, at a panel discussion at Third Way's Value in Higher Ed Summit. When evaluated further, a sticking point for most Americans is they don't believe higher education is worth the cost students are paying -- or the debt they're accruing -- compared to the salaries they're earning. New data from Pew Research Center, released May 24, finds almost half (47 percent) of Americans only believe college is worth it if students don't take out loans. A recent Student Voice survey by Inside Higher Ed, conducted by Generation Lab, found the majority of students believe their education has value but only 7 percent agree higher education institutions, in general, offer good value for what they charge for an undergraduate degree. A college degree still holds its historic value in boosting a young person's earnings, and those with a degree are less likely to be in poverty, but high costs of entry prove a barrier to access and enrollment for many.
Union push continues to impact the future of state's robust auto manufacturing sector
Columnist Sid Salter writes: After winning 73 percent of the vote on April 19 among workers in a Chattanooga, Tennessee Volkswagen plant to join the United Auto Workers union, organized labor leaders began to predict a growing erosion of decades of Southern state opposition to labor union membership. Specifically, union leaders began to predict victory in an upcoming union vote in Mercedes plants in Vance and Woodstock, Alabama. But Alabama auto workers rejected the UAW with a strong 56 percent vote against the union and in doing so, demonstrated that much of the pro-union momentum predicted by the UAW in the South may well be significantly overstated. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported in 2023 that "union membership in the South has been declining, reporting that unionization in the South was 4.5%, which is more than 8 percentage points lower than the national average. South Carolina had the lowest union membership rate in the country at 2.3%. "Some states in the South, like Florida, Mississippi, Virginia, and Louisiana, have seen a decline in union density. Unions in the South face many challenges, including a culture that resists collective bargaining, right-to-work laws, and political leaders who are hostile to unions," the agency said. Mississippi is indeed a right-to-work state by law. But that status hasn't stopped Mississippi from finding success in developing automobile manufacturing enterprises over the last 20 years that build a half-million new vehicles annually, according to the Mississippi Development Authority.

'Get Ready To Go:' Bulldogs set sights on finding success in Charlottesville
Entering last Sunday, like most everyone in Maroon and White, Mississippi State head coach Chris Lemonis believed his Bulldogs had done what they needed to do to make Dudy Noble Field an NCAA Regional host site. With a fifth-place finish in the Southeastern Conference, 20 wins against SEC foes, 16 quad-one wins and a top-10 KPI, it certainly appeared postseason baseball might be headed back to Starkville. By now, you know the rest of the story. MSU's road towards Omaha will instead begin away from home. State learned on Monday it'll be the No. 2 seed in the Charlottesville Regional hosted by the University of Virginia. The Dawgs will join a tough field that includes the top-seeded Cavaliers, as well as No. 3 seed St. John's and fourth-seeded Pennsylvania. Is it the hand the Dawgs felt they'd be dealt after an exciting regular season and SEC Tourney run? No. But don't for one second think State's dwelling on that now. The only thing that matters is the mission at hand. "It is what it is," Lemonis said of not getting to host. "We're past it. I told our kids, 'We're at zero and nothing else matters.' We're all even now and we just get ready to go." Here's the thing. Whether it's at The Dude or over in Virginia, it's the same ballgame. A regulation contest will still be nine innings and each team will have 27 outs to play with. The surroundings are what they are. It's just game on.
How Khal Stephen showed he could be Mississippi State baseball's ace from young age
Khal Stephen joined his family for dinner fresh off an intense basketball practice. His brother, Khayne, was on the varsity while Khal played junior varsity. The teams shared a practice gym so there wasn't a lot of privacy. Gathered around a table inside their Indiana home six years ago, Khayne figured he'd bring up what he saw and overheard. "Hey, what was going on during practice," Khayne asked. "Your coach was screaming and yelling at you guys. What did you guys do?" Khal was confused at first. But as Khayne added details, Khal realized what his brother was referring to. "Eh, he wasn't yelling at us," Khal responded. "He was educating us on how not to suck." His mother, Kris, looked at Khal, seeking clarity on the stunning response. "We were not dribbling and doing things right, so he had to teach us like we were little kids," Khal explained. That practice created displeasure from some players and their parents, but that wasn't the case for Khal. He viewed it as a learning moment -- a testament to what has molded Mississippi State baseball's right-handed ace. Perhaps it's the result of being the youngest of three siblings (Khal, Khayne, Khade) but Khal doesn't want anyone to beat him in anything.
Breaking down each team in Mississippi State baseball's regional in Charlottesville
After two years without postseason baseball following the 2021 national championship, Mississippi State is back in the NCAA Tournament. The Bulldogs finished fifth in the Southeastern Conference and were in contention to host a regional, but came out on the wrong side of the hosting bubble and will be the 2-seed in the Charlottesville Regional, hosted by No. 12 national seed Virginia. MSU is set to play St. John's in the opening round Friday. All regionals are double elimination, so the Bulldogs are guaranteed another game Saturday against either the Cavaliers or Penn. The St. John's Red Storm opened their season with a bang, beating then-No. 2 Florida on the road before the rest of the series was canceled due to rain. They come in hot after winning three tight games in the Big East Tournament, edging Georgetown 4-2 in the championship game after dropping two of three against the Hoyas at the end of the regular season. Catcher Jimmy Keenan paces the St. John's offense with a .341/.410/.615 triple slash to go along with 11 home runs and 55 runs batted in. Blake Mayberry, Garrett Scavelli and Ben Beauchamp are all threats at the plate as well, and the Red Storm have three players with double-digit stolen bases. But this is a team led by its pitching, with a 4.26 team ERA that ranks 16th in all of Division I baseball. The Bulldogs are likely to see right-hander Mario Pesca on Friday night. The Red Storm's ace is 6-1 with a 2.94 ERA in 70 1/3 innings pitched, holding opponents to a .227 batting average. Xavier Kolhosser (67 1/3 IP, 9-2, 3.61 ERA) and Evan Chaffee (67 IP, 3-0, 4.30 ERA) fill out the St. John's rotation, with Louis Marinaro, Tim Cunningham, Jed Boyle and Ben Adams all reliable options out of the bullpen.
What to know about Virginia and its competition in the Charlottesville Regional
In the past, the days leading into the start of the NCAA baseball tournament were more frantic for Virginia coach Brian O'Connor. But the way he and his coaching staff prepare for the postseason has changed in more recent seasons. The Cavaliers (41-15) are the No. 12-overall seed in this year's field and are hosting Mississippi State, St. John's and Penn in the Charlottesville Regional, beginning Friday. "Scouting has really evolved over the years," O'Connor, now in his 21st at the helm of the Hoos, said. "It used to be the case that you find out who is in your regional and you call your friends that are out there and say, 'Hey, email me a scouting report.' That's really not done anymore." Instead, all the information typically included in a scouting report plus extra analytics are at the fingertips of college baseball coaching staffs. There's a service called Synergy, which provides video and data to clubs about their opponents. "You're able to go and watch every team that you can potentially play," O'Connor said, "every pitch of the whole season and they have spray charts that print out and tell you the opposing hitters and where they've hit the ball all year long. So, sometimes you see college baseball being played and they do these shifts and it's, 'Why do they do that? Do they see that on video?' No, it's these companies that offer these services that produce these reports." For the No. 1 seed in the Charlottesville Regional to advance through and win it, the Cavaliers will need for left-handed starter Evan Blanco to be at his best. He's 7-3 with a 3.50 ERA. But considering, Mississippi State has two high-level starters and the St. John's pitching staff has been steady all year, UVa must get at least one lengthy and quality start from its pitching staff. And if anyone will provide that, it's likely to be Blanco, who has turned in back-to-back starts of at least six innings in wins against Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech heading into regional play.
Madisyn Kennedy named D1Softball Second-Team All-American
Mississippi State fifth-year senior first baseman Madisyn Kennedy was named a Second-Team All-American by D1Softball on Tuesday after enjoying the best season of her career this spring. After starting at shortstop for the majority of her career, Kennedy shifted to first base this year to make room for freshman Kylee Edwards, and she finished her final season second in the Southeastern Conference in slugging percentage (.792), tied for fourth in home runs with 17 and sixth in runs batted in with 56. She was among the best hitters in college softball in March, with a .547 on-base percentage, 10 homers and 34 RBI in 19 games that month. Despite a cold stretch toward the end of the year, Kennedy still ranks among the top 30 players nationally in home runs, RBI and slugging percentage, finishing third in the SEC with a 1.222 OPS. She ended her Bulldogs career fourth in program history with 40 homers, and reached base in 25 straight games during the season. Kennedy will begin pursuing a doctorate in occupational therapy at Baylor University in January 2025.
SEC's Greg Sankey strives for balance in leadership role
As college athletics faces historic changes, SEC commissioner Greg Sankey said he's trying to find a balance between being a "statesman" and being "forceful" in his opinions, knowing his conference and the Big Ten have positioned themselves in leadership roles capable of influencing the future landscape. "There are times when I think I have a correct perspective that I'm clear in sharing, but I think this becomes a we issue," Sankey told reporters following the first day of SEC spring meetings. "I said to my presidents -- I was very direct -- 'You expect me to be a statesman, there's times you have be forceful,' and you have to find a balance in these leadership positions between both." The SEC formed an advisory group with the Big Ten in February, and Sankey said it was an "important opportunity," especially coming out of a series of national meetings in which progress was stalling -- including with the NCAA Division I Council. The advisory group was formed, he said, to "narrow that conversation" because "you don't solve really big problems with big rooms filled with people." The SEC football and basketball coaches, athletic directors and administrators began tackling those issues here following the landmark NCAA settlement of House v. NCAA and two related antitrust cases that will result in $2.7 billion in back damages and a new revenue-sharing model.
House v. NCAA settlement is the hot topic at SEC spring meetings for coaches and ADs
The good news for college football coaches, athletics directors and university presidents, among others? The topic of scheduling -- whether to play eight or nine conference games each year -- has finally taken a backseat at SEC spring meetings. The bad news? A new and perhaps even more polarizing issue has arisen. The NCAA, SEC, Big Ten, Big 12, ACC and Pac-12 all recently voted in favor of a settlement in the House v. NCAA case. In abbreviated terms, the settlement is set to result in the NCAA paying former athletes about $2.8 billion in back damages, according to the USA TODAY Network. It also sets the groundwork for schools to directly pay athletes moving forward as a term of the settlement stipulates that schools will share with them in revenue. "I think that's what we're here for, right? To try to figure that out," Georgia coach Kirby Smart said Tuesday at the first day of the 2024 SEC Spring Meetings. "There's a lot of speculation and a lot of narratives out there that are loose, that may not be true. We're here to figure that out." With athletes set to get a slice of the revenue -- at least $20 million to start, per the USA TODAY Network -- athletic departments are expected to take cost-cutting measurements to afford the new expense. An idea floated by some is to cut non-revenue sports. If applied, how does Title IX factor in? Texas A&M athletics director Trev Alberts, when asked if he could comfortably tell an athlete at his school that their program won't be cut, said it wouldn't be "wise" for anyone to make that promise as things currently stand, though he added he's not getting the sense from his colleagues that cutting sports is what they want to do.
How revenue sharing will impact Ole Miss, Mississippi State football salary cap, NIL
High-level college athletics put an end to its longstanding amateurism policies last week, leaving administrators at schools like Ole Miss and Mississippi State to find a way forward under the new order. The NCAA, Power Five conferences and lawyers representing plaintiffs in three antitrust cases agreed to a settlement that will obligate the NCAA to backpay nearly $2.8 billion in damages for current and former college athletes. The same agreement, which still requires the approval of a judge, will require universities to begin sharing revenue with their athletes -- with fall of 2025 reportedly targeted as a start date. What do these changes mean for Ole Miss and Mississippi State? Though the future of NIL is unclear, it seems certain that college athletics is headed toward a salary cap. If each university can distribute around $20 million to its athletes annually, how much of that is spent on football? Men's and women's basketball? Baseball? It's a challenging question, particularly for Mississippi State and Ole Miss, which have priorities that might not align with their peers. The Bulldogs and Rebels are two of the proudest baseball programs in the country. Do they take money out of football's budget to spend on baseball? Or do they invest everything they can in football, which is likely to remain the most financially competitive space? And what say will Title IX have in how the money gets allocated?
New arms race: How to circumvent the $22 million salary cap?
The NCAA and power conferences approved the House settlement last week. A judge won't certify the agreement for a few months. And the new revenue-sharing model won't take hold until at least fall 2025. And yet, the focus has already shifted to one critical, forward-looking question: How can schools circumvent the $22 million salary cap? "The commercial NIL ecosystem is going to be an arms race," Tommy Gray, chief operating officer for Altius Sports Partners, told On3. "Providing athletes with an infrastructure and real tangible dollars that they can count on, on top of the cap, outside of the cap, is going to be very important to remain competitive at the highest levels of sports." Expect three compensation avenues for athletes: Schools, at their discretion, can share as much as $22 million annually with athletes. It remains to be seen how many schools will be willing and able to reach the salary ceiling and how exactly they will divvy up those dollars among athletes. Second, athletes can unlock organic commercial NIL opportunities with brands and companies. These can be facilitated either under a school's umbrella or by a third-party entity such as Altius. Third, donor-driven collectives will still exist, largely outside the university's umbrella, to add additional compensation in the pockets of marquee athletes for recruitment and retention efforts. Operating outside the parameters of the school, some legal experts say, enables collectives to avoid Title IX scrutiny.
Big changes for the NCAA likely to upend scholarship limits and roster sizes across college sports
Cody McDavis' life changed forever with a few strokes of a pen. McDavis grew up in a single-parent home where his mother worked three jobs to afford life's essentials. There was zero chance of paying for college if not for a basketball scholarship to Northern Colorado. "The assumption was if I didn't get a scholarship, I was not going to college," recalled McDavis, now an attorney for a Los Angeles-based firm. Scholarships are not going away in college athletics, but how many there are and which sports they will apply to in coming years are among the many questions stemming from a mammoth antitrust settlement and athlete revenue-sharing plan proposed by the NCAA and its five largest conferences last week. Nearly $2.8 billion in damages over 10 years must come from somewhere. Scholarship limits for individual teams are expected to be lifted. That could mean even more scholarships available from certain schools for money-makers like football or basketball. It could mean that programs like baseball and softball -- which have to slice and dice scholarships each season -- could be fully funded. But even the wealthiest schools may have to make tough choices when it comes to investing in which sports. The days of the straightforward national letter of intent, first implemented in 1964, are likely a thing of the past.
Trev Alberts decries 'dumb expense' issue in college athletics amid shift to revenue sharing
As Division I college athletics move toward a revenue sharing model with athletes, athletic departments are looking at their budgets anew, searching for margins to come up with a roster payroll. And it has Texas A&M athletic director Trev Alberts not bemoaning shortcomings in revenue, but money seemingly being thrown away. At SEC spring meetings this week, Alberts shared his perspective: The issue in college sports has not been pulling in enough revenue, but keeping expenses reigned in. "We've just always had enough increasing revenue to overcome dumb expenses," Alberts said, according to Brandon Marcello. "I've said it 100 times, and I'll say it again: We don't have a revenue problem in college athletics, we have an expense problem." And now, what qualifies as a "dumb" expense has likely changed, as schools are likely to be enabled to directly pay athletes for their time and work. Money that otherwise would've gone to paying players in the past was instead funneled to facilities upgrades -- think of all the palatial football locker rooms and weight rooms -- an inflationary market for coaches and their salaries and, in recent decades, hiring more and more administrative staff to the athletic department. And after years after having so much revenue to cover up some of the funny money that might've been handed out, Alberts is apparently wising up to the new reality: College athletic departments are going to have to budget a little smarter with players getting a cut.
With Payments to College Athletes, Another Fight Looms for Women
fter decades of striving, the growing popularity of women's basketball -- including a lucrative new television deal -- and recent gains in other sports have put women on closer to equal footing with men in college athletics. Yet that progress could be stymied by a proposed $2.8 billion settlement announced last week that would allow the first revenue-sharing plan for college athletes. The deal would resolve a class-action antitrust lawsuit between athletes and the N.C.A.A., along with its major conferences. Perhaps the biggest question about this landmark moment is a familiar one: Will the agreement be fair for women? The settlement in House v. N.C.A.A., which must be approved by a federal judge, has two main components whose full details are not yet public. Both components could invite scrutiny under Title IX, the federal law that prohibits sex-based discrimination in any school that accepts federal funding, according to lawyers and legal scholars who have followed the case. Administrators at two universities in major conferences said they wondered if Judge Claudia A. Wilken, the federal court judge overseeing the class-action lawsuit, might scuttle the settlement over concerns that it violated Title IX. The 1972 law, and lawsuits brought by athletes to ensure its enforcement, have played a role in many of the advances in women's college sports, which have accelerated lately at a breakneck pace.
Possible crack in Scheffler's case? County attorney to speak at court Wednesday
Neither side is sharing details publicly, but a significant development -- possibly a dismissal of charges -- is brewing in Kentucky's case against Scottie Scheffler, the world's top golfer. Jefferson County Attorney Mike O'Connell's office announced Tuesday he will be addressing the court at 1 p.m. Wednesday in Louisville. Also Tuesday, Steve Romines, Scheffler's lawyer, said in a text message he will hold a 1:30 p.m. news conference Wednesday outside the Jefferson County Courthouse. Neither side would elaborate, but Scheffler's arraignment is not scheduled until June 3. Louisville Metro Police Department arrested Scheffler outside Valhalla Golf Club early on the morning of May 17 and charged him with felony assault of a police officer and three misdemeanors for allegedly disregarding instructions from Detective Bryan Gillis and allegedly striking him with a vehicle. However a pole-mounted video from across Shelbyville Road did not appear to substantiate the detective's account. Three ESPN employees who were arriving at the scene to cover the PGA tournament also gave eyewitness reports that disputed it. Romines declined to say Tuesday whether Scheffler will stipulate there was probable cause for his arrest, which would keep him from suing the detective and Metro Louisville for his arrest.

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