Tuesday, July 1, 2014  SUBSCRIBE   
Landscape architect professor writes about Crosby Arboretum, a place of haunting beauty
Bustling cities enclosed within the shadows of soaring skyscrapers are inspiring for some. Others are thrilled by the sight of majestic mountains or sweeping plains. For Bob Brzuszek, it's a longleaf pine forest blanketed in fog or standing on the edge of two enviroments. Brzuszek, an associate professor of landscape architecture at Mississippi State University, is the author of the recently published "The Crosby Arboretum: A Sustainable Regional Landscape" (Louisiana State University Press). The Crosby Arboretum shows our "ancestral landscape," he said. "It's a way for people to be in touch with the place they came from."
MSU Announces 2014 Men of Color Summit Speakers
The presidents of three Mississippi higher learning institutions will speak in late summer at Mississippi State's 2014 Men of Color Summit. The free, public lectures, panel discussion and other activities will take place at the university Aug. 28 and 29. "Global Competitiveness: Exploring Pathways Toward Academic Attainment" is this year's theme. Participants will hear from MSU President Mark E. Keenum; Alfred "Al" Rankins Jr., newly named president of Alcorn State University; and Valmadge T. Towner, president of Coahoma Community College. Both Keenum and Rankins are MSU alumni.
Watermelon, blueberry crop hurt by weather, disease
Party planners may have a hard time finding Mississippi-grown watermelons and blueberries for July 4th celebrations this year. Unfavorable weather slowed maturity and increased disease pressure for both crops. Much of the state's blueberry crop is grown in south Mississippi, and most of its watermelons are grown in the southeast quarter of the state. Acreage for both crops remains steady. Blueberry producers grow about 2,700 acres, and watermelon growers have about 2,400 acres. David Nagel, a horticulture specialist with the Mississippi State University Extension Service, said wet conditions and cooler-than-normal temperatures set harvest back for watermelons and increased the occurrence of fungal diseases.
Starkville School District re-branding effort yields new website
Starkville School District unveiled its redesigned website Friday in hopes of better branding the school system and helping improve communication efforts for students, teachers and parents. More than 60 SSD stakeholders identified promoting "the Starkville Spark" through various advertising and re-branding efforts last year during months-long strategic planning efforts. A new marketing campaign was subsequently launched to help better tell the school system's story. "The brand and the story give us a conversation that we can have not just with prospective parents, but also with our own, invested parents and the community as a whole. We want to encourage all of our stakeholders, parents, teachers and administrators to share their stories and experiences with their children's education," said SSD Public Information Officer Nicole Thomas.
Police warn Starkville businesses of counterfeit scheme
Starkville businesses are being warned to be on the lookout for counterfeit checks. Police say counterfeit checks have been turned into two businesses already. The checks have the appearance of being valid, with contact information for Performance Contractors Inc. on them. Though Performance Contractors Inc. has legitimate payroll checks, police say businesses cashing a payroll check drawn on this business are asked to contact the business and verify whether the check is legitimate or counterfeit. Authorities are looking for three suspects in connection with the crime.
Testing operations underway at CalStar
An official ribbon cutting for the new CalStar plant has not been set, but operations are already taking place there. Construction of the facility at the Golden Triangle Regional Global Industrial Aerospace Park wrapped up late last month. CalStar, whose home base is in Racine, Wisconsin, manufactures bricks and pavers from recycled industrial byproducts as opposed to clay, which emits about one pound of carbon dioxide per brick. One such material used to make the pavers and bricks includes fly ash, which is a byproduct of electric power generation. Funding for construction came from a 20-year, $5.35 million loan to Lowndes County through the Mississippi Development Authority plus $5 million in private investment raised by CalStar.
It's showtime for MAGIC as state launches single accounting system
MAGIC starts today but state officials aren't relying on abracadabra stuff to make the $100 million accounting system work as designed. A dozen years of work, including around the clock shifts in recent weeks, went into today's launch of MAGIC, officially known as Mississippi's Accountability System for Government Information and Collaboration. If all goes as planned in the start up, the MAGIC system designed by SAP Public Sector Software will integrate and manage Mississippi state government's finance, procurement, fleet management, inventory management, grant management and data warehouse control. Becky Thompson, DFA deputy director over the MAGIC project, said today's launch provides a more effective and efficient way for the state to do business and deliver services electronically.
Poverty grows across country; Mississippi sees surge in hardship
Since 2000, the number of people living in poverty has risen, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Numbers released Monday show that 14.9 percent of the total population lived in poverty in 2010, but those people aren't spread out evenly across the nation. In the South, the number of people living in high-poverty neighborhoods climbed from 21.8 percent in 2000 to 30.8 percent in 2010. In 2000, only four states -- including Mississippi and Louisiana -- saw at least 30 percent of their residents living in high-poverty communities, but by 2010, 15 states had reached that higher percentage.
Maps: A fourth of Americans live in poor neighborhoods
A fourth of all Americans live in what the Census Bureau calls "poverty areas," neighborhoods where at least 1 in 5 have incomes below the poverty level, according to a new report. "Various researchers have found that living in communities with a large concentration of people in poverty adds burdens to low-income families," according to the report. In Mississippi, nearly half the population ---48.5 percent --- lives in a poverty area. The same is true for at least 1 in 3 residents in 11 other states.
Mississippi enacting dozens of new laws Tuesday
New Mississippi laws provide pay raises for teachers, require closer monitoring for concussions in school sports and attempt to limit the cost of obtaining public records. Dozens of new laws take effect today, including a comprehensive measure designed to make the criminal justice system more efficient and less expensive. Mississippi had the second-lowest teacher pay in the nation in 2013 at $41,994. The pay raise law gives a $1,500 increase during the budget year that starts Tuesday and a $1,000 increase in the budget year that starts July 1, 2015. Merit pay raises become available in the 2016-17 school year for teachers in districts with high academic performance.
Nunnelee moved to Johns Hopkins, begins chemo this week
U.S. Congressman Alan Nunnelee, a Tupelo Republican, has been moved to Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore as he continues to recover from surgery, according to a press release. Nunnelee, who had a small intracranial mass removed from his brain on June 9, has seen his speech and left-side mobility continue to improve. He had been hospitalized in Houston, Texas, the past few weeks. He will continue to undergo speech and mobility rehabilitation in Baltimore and will begin chemotherapy and radiation treatment this week.
School district nurse practitioner told to pay $16K for unreported days off
The State Auditor's Office has issued a demand against a Rankin County School District nurse practitioner accused of taking unreported days off. State Auditor Stacey Pickering said Monday that a demand of $16,108.13 has been issued against Melanie Harrell Garner, a Nurse Practitioner, on Friday. Investigators determined that Garner took numerous days off that were not reported on leave records. Garner's father is school board attorney Freddie Harrell. During the course of its investigation, the Auditor's Office discovered that despite being hired as a nurse practitioner, Garner never actually treated any patients.
Lawmakers grill Mississippi Department of Education officials
Lawmakers grilled Mississippi Department of Education officials about everything from recent cheating allegations and state testing irregularities to school funding and the role of the department. Rep. Becky Currie asked State Superintendent Dr. Carey Wright about her handling of cheating allegations in Clarksdale and other school districts, including the timeline of the outside firm's investigation into testing irregularities flagged as possible cheating incidents. Republican Rep. Randy Boyd questioned Wright about the number of employees and the overhead expenses in the department. Wright told Boyd there are about 250 to 300 employees of MDE "proper," and though she didn't have an exact number for overhead expenses, she described them as "small."
State considers more cheating probes
A state investigation into potential cheating at a Clarksdale elementary school could be the first of many such probes by the Mississippi Department of Education as it confronts testing irregularities statewide. State Superintendent of Education Carey Wright said Monday she's considering other investigations into schools whose statewide assessment scores raised red flags. Although she didn't mention specific sites, she said it's a decision the state will make jointly with Caveon Test Security. "When we get done with Clarksdale, we might have to add another investigation," Wright said. "We're already looking at other areas of the state."
Mayfield family plans lawsuit, charges against Madison
Mark Mayfield's family plans to sue or bring charges against the city of Madison, its police department or "anyone responsible" after Mayfield's apparent suicide Friday. Mayfield's relatives, already angered over his arrest in May in the U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran photo scandal, say Madison police were trespassing when they showed up at his home in Ridgeland after he apparently shot himself. They say Mayfield's arrest was politically motivated by supporters of Cochran and drove him to suicide. "The funeral is (Tuesday), but the first of next week, we will be suing the city of Madison," said Mayfield's nephew, Ridgeland Alderman Wesley Hamlin. "It's the highest degree of abuse of power."
Chris McDaniel isn't going to win any challenge to the Mississippi results
There are two arguments that advocates of Chris McDaniel are using to suggest that the results of Tuesday's Republican Senate run-off election in Mississippi should be overturned. First, they argue that voters who voted in the Democratic primary and the Republican run-off should be eliminated from the total. And, second, they argue that Mississippi law prevents someone from voting in a party primary who won't support the general election candidate. Neither argument will work. "Saying that the McDaniel camp has a slim chance of overturning the election overstates his chances." That's the summary of the situation from Matt Steffey, professor of law at the Mississippi College School of Law.
Mississippi college GOP leader quits after Senate race to become Democrat
A young Republican in Mississippi is calling it quits after the raucous GOP primary in which six-term Sen. Thad Cochran defeated Tea Party challenger Chris McDaniel. Evan Alvarez, chairman of the Mississippi Federation of College Republicans, told the Clarion-Ledger in Jackson, Miss. that he "will be changing my party affiliation to Democrat in the next few days." The political science major at Mississippi State University had been in his post since March, according to his LinkedIn profile.
Hobby Lobby Made Fight a Matter of Christian Principle
For the family behind Hobby Lobby, fighting the Affordable Care Act's contraceptives mandate all the way to the Supreme Court was a calling, not a choice. Since the company's creation in 1972, Christianity has infused the culture of the chain of craft shops, dictating everything from its hours of operation to the choice to remain privately controlled. "We believe wholeheartedly that it is by God's grace and provision that Hobby Lobby has been successful," David Green, the company's chief executive and founder, said in September 2012, announcing the company's plans for a lawsuit. "We simply cannot abandon our religious beliefs to comply with this mandate." Hobby Lobby's fight against the contraceptive coverage mandate is not the first example of the company's culture clashing with secular America.
Public confidence in Supreme Court at historic low, poll suggests
It's no secret that the American public distrusts Congress, but this distrust is seeping into the public's view of the government's other branches, according to a recent poll by Gallup. Only 30 percent of Americans have a "great deal" or "quite a lot" of confidence in the Supreme Court. That's the lowest figure since Gallup began measuring in 1973. Recently, the report notes, confidence in the presidency and in the Supreme Court have been closely tied to each other. The presidential confidence rating, which stands at 29 percent according to Gallup, is at a six-year low.
In Backlash Over Facebook Research, Scientists Risk Loss of Valuable Resource
It was a remarkable result: By manipulating the news feeds of thousands of Facebook users, without their knowing consent, researchers working with the goliath of social media found that they could spur a significant, if small, effect on people's behavior in the world beyond bits. The year was 2010. The scientists were poking at voting patterns in the U.S. midterm elections. And when the results came out two years later, in Nature, there was barely a peep about questionable ethics. As you may have heard, a more recent study, conducted by Facebook and co-designed by researchers at Cornell University, has kicked off a vigorous debate about the influence of Facebook's algorithms over our lives and, more specifically to academe, whether researchers should be more careful in how they collaborate with the social-media giant.
Washington state goes in circles over drone regulations
State agencies in Iowa can't use drones to enforce traffic laws. It is illegal to use the unmanned aircraft in Tennessee to conduct video surveillance of hunters or fishermen without their explicit permission. In Wisconsin, it is against the law to own a drone outfitted with a weapon. In Washington state, it is too soon to tell how the effort to regulate the versatile but controversial aircraft will end up. The Legislature's first try was vetoed in April. A task force charged with taking another stab at creating controls met for the first time Monday and focused on privacy issues. And after three hours of polite but often circular discussion about the gadgets -- which can fight fires, film movies, bomb enemies and, perhaps, someday deliver goods to your door == only one thing was abundantly clear: Something has to be done.
Summer Program Attempts to Fill Gap in Civil Rights Education
Twenty-seven teenagers from across Mississippi piled off a tour bus on Rock Cut Road. It's 91 degrees. The sun is blazing. Fifty years ago, three young civil rights workers were murdered here by the Ku Klux Klan. But most of the teenagers on today's tour say they knew nothing about this history. The tour is part of a nine-day summer program run by the William Winter Institute for Racial Reconciliation at the University of Mississippi. The goal is to teach students about civil rights history along with providing leadership training. Several teenagers on the tour say school lessons on the civil rights era were superficial, covering only "Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King, the basic stories."
Bomgar to host scholarship fundraiser for Belhaven
Bomgar Corporation will host a scholarship fundraiser Tuesday, 11 a.m.-1 p.m., at the company's Ridgeland headquarters. Money raised will go toward funding an annual scholarship established by Bomgar employees that will go to a rising senior majoring in business at Belhaven University. The recipient is expected to have an "excellent academic history" and be "entrepreneurially minded," according to the company. Fundraiser attendees will have the opportunity to dunk company managers and interns into a tank of water.
U. of Alabama names Steven Hood interim vice president for student affairs
The University of Alabama has named its student housing director as interim vice president for student affairs. UA President Judy Bonner announced the appointment of Steven Hood on Monday. Hood assumes the role Tuesday. Hood has served as executive director of housing and residential communities at UA since 2011. He supervised the Community Service Center from August 2012 until December 2013. He replaces Mark Nelson, who was named dean of the UA College of Communication and Information Sciences in June and is scheduled to begin the new role Tuesday.
Architects, engineers team chosen for LSU lakes project
Plans to salvage and revitalize the slowly dying Baton Rouge lakes inched closer to reality with Monday's selection of the team of architects and engineers that will spearhead the project. SWA Group, an international landscape architecture and urban design company, was selected from a group of four finalists that pitched their visions at a community meeting Monday. Kinder Baumgardner, president of SWA Group, says the company specializes in projects that promote healthy living. Baumgardner said it's not yet clear what method will be used -- whether dredging, draining or excavating -- to preserve the lakes. But he said the community and LSU will have input about the process.
U. of Florida law professor has been heavily involved in Hobby Lobby case
For the past two years, University of Florida law professor Steven Willis has been heavily involved in the Hobby Lobby case, filing a friend of the court brief before the Supreme Court and either writing or signing a brief for each Florida Circuit. "I feel vindicated," Willis said of Monday's 5-4 decision that a closely held company cannot be forced to provide free birth control or emergency contraception to its employees under the Religions Freedom Restoration Act. The case centered around a birth control mandate of the Affordable Care Act, which many organizations have objected to on religious grounds.
U. of Florida promoting voter registration
Florida's colleges and universities are getting together to get students to register to vote. They'll be using TurboVote, an online voter registration services, to try to get thousands of students to participate in the electoral process. Since 2012, it was used to register more than 11,000 students across the state. The Bob Graham Center for Public Service at the University of Florida is one location. Last year, the Graham Center was able to help 3,400 students register. "We have seen first-hand the substantial impact that can have on youth engagement," Graham said in a news release.
UGA Foundation adds new board members
The University of Georgia Foundation has elected four new trustees and added five new ex-officio board members. The university said the board also bestowed emeritus trustee status on four outgoing members at its recent annual meeting on St. Simons Island. The changes take effect Tuesday. The new elected trustees are: Dave Battle of Brooklyn, New York; Richard W. Courts IV of Atlanta; John Mangan Jr.; and Susan Donziger Sherman, of St. Louis, Missouri. The new ex-officio voting trustees are: Kelly Kerner, who becomes UGA vice president for development and alumni relations Tuesday, and David Shipley, a professor in the UGA School of Law.
Regents amend University System of Georgia retirement plan to include same-sex spouses
The state Board of Regents voted Monday to amend its Optional Retirement plan to include legally married same-sex partners in the plan's definitions of "spouse" and "surviving spouse." The change, enacted to be in compliance with federal tax law, affects minimum distribution rules and rollovers, which can affect the federal tax liability when a spouse dies, according to an announcement from the University System of Georgia. The policy change does not affect other benefit programs such as health insurance offered by the University System of Georgia, according to the announcement.
U. of Missouri-owned apartments close, demolition to begin shortly
The University Village parking lot was nearly empty, windows were boarded up and, even though it was 80 degrees Monday morning, most of the air conditioning units weren't running. The University of Missouri-owned apartments designed for older students, graduate students and students with families were scheduled to close Monday. Built in 1956, the complex's 14 buildings housed more than 100 residents. The complex was also home to the Student Parent Center day care. The buildings are set to be demolished once the university works through some last-minute details with a contractor, MU spokesman Christian Basi said. Two or three of the buildings are planned to remain open indefinitely for storage.
Study Finds Students Expect Both Safety and Privacy on Social Media
"I wish Gina would die!! aaaargh! I think I might kill her tomorrow! Stick a knife rihht in her! LOL!" Students, faculty members and administrators agree: If they came across a student spewing discriminatory slurs or physical threats on social media, the author should receive a warning or face some form of disciplinary action from his or her institution. But does that responsibility give colleges and universities the right to actively monitor students on social networks? No way, students say, according to a report that explores whether universities have a duty to involve themselves in online conversations to protect faculty, staff and students. The conflicting opinions in the report illustrate the thin line institutions must walk to balance student safety and privacy.
Common Core Will Improve Education, Most District Chiefs Say
About two-thirds of district superintendents said they believe the Common Core State Standards will improve the quality of education in their communities, while 22 percent said the standards will have no effect, according to the results from a new poll. The survey, one of several conducted by the Gallup polling organization in partnership with Education Week over the last year, also found that two out of three superintendents believe the common standards are "just about right" in terms of difficulty for students. Fourteen percent, which cover English/language arts and mathematics, said the standards are too challenging, and just 5 percent said the standards are not challenging enough. Meanwhile, 43 percent of respondents strongly disagreed when asked whether they were receiving "adequate support" from the federal government to implement the common core.
BILL CRAWFORD (OPINION): Good-bye to open primaries
Syndicated columnist Bill Crawford of Meridian writes: "Once upon a time, Mississippians were fiercely independent. We didn't want any outsiders telling us what to do. We also wanted to 'vote for the man, not the party.' That has changed and is about to change more. Chris McDaniel's campaign to unseat Thad Cochran depended heavily upon outsiders telling us how to vote -- former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, former Texas U.S. Rep. Ron Paul, former TV host Chuck Woolery, the Club for Growth, the Tea Party Express and more. McDaniel and his Mississippi supporters welcomed these outsiders with open arms."
OUR OPINION: University trustees seek major funding increase
The Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal editorializes: "Mississippi's public universities' board of trustees voted Friday to seek a $76.3 million increase in state funding for the eight universities when the Legislature gathers in January 2015 to write the fiscal 2016 budget. ...It sounds like a lot, but Mississippi's universities still are recovering from years of state funding cuts and a dramatic decline in the percentage of their budgets that comes from the state. ...The board's plan is ambitious, but given the vital nature of higher education to Mississippi's economic growth and retention of the state's best young minds, the request should get a full and fair hearing."

Healthier roster pleases Mississippi State's Ray
Rick Ray's bench has been exceedingly thin during his first two seasons at Mississippi State. Ray has been limited to only a few scholarship players available as reserves suffering through back-to-back losing seasons -- 10-22 and 14-19, respectively. However, help appears to be on the way. The Bulldogs signed four players in 2014 and have two more from their previous class that are eligible, which will swell MSU's roster numbers to a competitive level in the Southeastern Conference. "We're finally getting to the point where we're going to have a full roster, and I think that bodes well for our upcoming season," Ray said.
Rick Ray on SEC Teleconference: MSU getting healthy
Mississippi State continues to heal in preparation for the 2014-15 season. As the calendar turns to July I.J. Ready isn't suffering any setbacks from when doctors cleaned out his left knee at the end of April. "He's had no problems at all with his knee. No set backs at all," MSU coach Rick Ray said on Monday. "He's at a 100 percent going forward; no limitations in the weight room or on the court."
Troopers: Alcohol use suspected in fatal wreck of Philip Lutzenkirchen
Georgia State Patrol officials responding to the scene of the single-vehicle accident that claimed the life of former Auburn tight end Philip Lutzenkirchen early Sunday morning believe alcohol was involved. The Georgia State Patrol released its complete crash report Monday afternoon, detailing the events of the crash that resulted in the deaths of Lutzenkirchen, 23, and the driver, 22-year-old Joseph Ian Davis, near the Big Springs Methodist Church shortly after 3 a.m. Sunday outside of LaGrange, Georgia. According to the report, officers had reason to suspect alcohol was involved for each of the four occupants of the 2006 Chevy Tahoe, but only drew blood to be sent for testing from Davis and Lutzenkirchen.
Vanderbilt rape case hearing turns combative
Monday's hearing in the Vanderbilt University rape case was heavy on bluster, light on results. In an ongoing battle between prosecutors and attorneys for Brandon Vandenburg, one of four former Vanderbilt football players accused in the June 23, 2013, rape of an unconscious student, Assistant District Attorney General Jan Norman upped the ante in a combative, all-day hearing. Norman, referring to a court filing by Vandenburg's attorneys last week, said the defense was guilty of "outrageous, egregious" violations of court rules and the state's rape shield laws by including evidence containing the victim's name, phone number, image and other information.
South Carolina, Texas A&M could pass new trophy
James Butler Bonham, the University of South Carolina-educated hero of the Alamo, will adorn a trophy that could be exchanged by the Gamecocks and Texas A&M starting this fall, according to a former S.C. Republican party leader working with governors in both states. The bronze sculpture, depicting Bonham on a horse headed back to the Alamo, is slated to be traded between USC and Texas A&M when they start their annual Southeastern Conference football games on Aug. 28 at Williams-Brice Stadium, said Katon Dawson, a former S.C. Republican party boss who chaired Texas Gov. Rick Perry's 2012 presidential run in South Carolina. The trophy is a collaboration between Perry, a Texas A&M graduate and history buff, and S.C. Gov. Nikki Haley.

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