Friday, September 24, 2021   
Worker shortage causes football rivals to join forces off the field
SEC football is back in Mississippi. LSU visits Mississippi State Saturday with an 11 a.m. kickoff as Davis Wade Stadium prepares to welcome people from all over the state. Including the Ole Miss campus. The state's two conference rivals are working together to provide their fans with the best possible game-day experiences even amid a shortage of workers. One of those ways is to share available workers when possible. While the Bulldogs play Saturday, the Rebels are off until next week when they play at Alabama. "We're still working to finalize this week's game, but if all goes well a bus will leave Oxford with staff to come down and support," Jay Logan told the Daily Journal earlier this week. Logan is the executive athletics director for internal operations for Mississippi State. While the action is new, the concept isn't. Such cooperation has been discussed by athletics staffers at the two campuses for some time. College football isn't immune to the shortage of workers for many lower-wage jobs, a problem that has heightened during COVID-19. "We're kind of at a point now where necessity meets opportunity," Logan said. "We will reciprocate on dates that we're not playing at home." For now, sharing of workers between MSU and Ole Miss deals mostly with temporary workers or third-party employees of businesses the schools have contracted with for game-day services such as security and concessions. Logan said the athletic staff members at both schools understand the challenge of putting on a home football game. It's possible that bus from Oxford to Starkville -- or vice versa on a weekend soon -- could one day include Ole Miss athletics staffers coming to help. "It's not gotten to that point, but I wouldn't rule that out," Logan said.
Starkville businesses prepare for crowds as MSU hosts first SEC opponent of 2021 season
It's beginning to feel a lot like Christmas in Starkville as Mississippi State University prepares to take on its first SEC opponent this season, the LSU Tigers. Fans started filing into Mississippi's College Town on Thursday afternoon. Whit Stuckey is the owner of Moe's Original Bar-B-Que in downtown Starkville. He said he's expecting to have two to three thousand receipts this weekend. The barbecue joint usually sees around one thousand. "We'll have a line out the door," he explained. "The place will be full and it just kind of stays like that all through the weekend, so any time we have SEC conference play, it's awesome." He said conference football showdowns are big weekends for the town. With kickoff at 11 AM, Stuckey encouraged anyone wanting some food before, during, or after the game to call ahead to availability to help the restaurant.
Vowell's Marketplace to shut its doors
By the end of October, Starkville will be down one less grocery store. After seven years of filling customers' pantries, Vowell's Marketplace on 118 Highway 12 is permanently closing its doors. When it came down to this decision, storeowner Todd Vowell found little to no ease in making it, and he said he'll miss the friends he and his family have made during their time in town. "Despite our best efforts, we were unable to get in the position where we needed to be," said Vowell. "Starkville is a very special place to our family, so this was a very difficult decision, and we will greatly miss all the great folks of Oktibbeha County." Reflecting on the time owning the store, Vowell described Starkville as "a great city and a great example of the famous Mississippi hospitality." "We were welcomed from our first day in business, and we hope that we have made some lifelong friends that we will retain, despite us no longer being in business in Starkville," Vowell said.
A momentous day for three area businesses
Thursday was a big day for the Greater Starkville Development Partnership. Three different businesses within Starkville began new chapters with joyous celebrations. While two businesses joined the Partnership with ribbon cuttings, another business officially broke ground to begin building. Proof Bakery and Right Track Medical Group held their ribbon cutting ceremonies yesterday as they joined other local businesses in the Partnership, the city's chamber of commerce. Walk-On's Sports Bistreaux was the one business on Thursday who broke ground in front of a large and excited crowd. The new restaurant will be the 68th one of its name and it will offer a new kind of sports bar experience. Its home in Starkville will be on Highway 12 East in front of La Quinta, just past the Neighborhood Walmart. "We are 75 percent food and 25 percent alcohol, which is different from other sports bars who are 25 percent food and 75 percent alcohol," Walk-On's co-founder Brandon Landry said.
Sweet potato farmers taking advantage of fall weather for harvesting
Some folks think of this as Pumpkin Spice Season, but in Mississippi, it's Sweet Potato Season. Sweet potato farmers across North Mississippi are taking advantage of the Fall-like weather to begin this year's harvest. Demand is still good for the crop, which has long been the root of Calhoun County's farm economy. But this year's supply may suffer from what might be considered too much of a good thing. "The harvest is going to be, from what I am hearing from a lot of our growers, is that it is going to be a fair crop. It's a little too early to tell, because we are seeing a lot of impact from early June rains we had. My gauges show we got probably 30 inches of rain, but it's too early to tell how the whole crop is going to turn out as a whole," said Caleb Englart, President of the Sweet Potato Council. According to the Mississippi State University Extension Service, the Beauregard is the leading commercially grown sweet potato variety in the state.
New tech installed at SOCSD helps with teaching through masks
Starkville High School student Peyton Willoughby sat in his 10th grade English class Thursday not worried about struggling to hear his teacher because of new technology installed in the classroom. As his teacher discussed poems and literary elements, information flowed throughout speakers across the entire room, giving Willoughby the assurance that he was obtaining all of the necessary material. "For me, I really love (this new technology)," Willoughby said. "I think it's absolutely amazing because the teacher can be up and vocal and moving around while still maintaining that audibility ... it makes the teaching much more engaging and more enjoyable." Starkville-Oktibbeha Consolidated School District recently installed audio enhancement electronics, an innovative technology to strengthen the learning experience, throughout 12 classrooms and the library at SHS, as well as 12 classrooms at Armstrong Junior High. This technology allows teachers to clearly project through masks, offering all students a learning environment free of miscommunication. SOCSD received a $100,000 grant from the Governor's Emergency Education Relief Fund to pay for the technology. The relief fund was established in 2020 to help schools negatively impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. The technology works with speakers installed in the ceilings evenly dispersed throughout the classroom. A teacher wears a microphone fob around their neck, and their voice comes out of the speakers.
Mississippi negotiators reach proposal on medical marijuana
Mississippi House and Senate negotiators said Thursday that they have agreed on a proposed medical marijuana program. Leaders are expected to ask Republican Gov. Tate Reeves to call the Legislature into session to put the plan into law. The step comes months after the Mississippi Supreme Court tossed out a medical marijuana initiative that voters approved last November. Justices ruled in May that Mississippi's initiative process was out of date and the medical marijuana proposal was not properly on the ballot. The legislative proposal is not identical to the voter-approved initiative. The proposal would allow local governments to limit where the marijuana could be grown, processed or sold. That was not in Initiative 65. The two lead negotiators -- Republican Sen. Kevin Blackwell of Southaven and Republican Rep. Lee Yancey of Brandon -- said Thursday that passing a bill would take a three-fifths majority because of tax provisions, and leaders of the House and Senate believe they have have enough votes lined up. Yancey said the proposed program would help people with debilitating illnesses such as epilepsy, multiple sclerosis or cancer. "This is compassionate relief," Yancey said. "This is not a recreational thing."
Lawmakers receive details on medical marijuana bill from House leadership
Legislative leaders have agreed on a draft of medical marijuana legislation that includes opt-out provisions for local governments and bars legislators from having any type of financial stake in a medical marijuana business. Lawmakers are delivering the draft of the bill to Republican Gov. Tate Reeves and anticipate his response soon. Details of the marijuana legislation began to emerge after House leaders caucused the GOP members together this week. Bailey Martin, the spokesperson for the governor, said that Reeves is "looking forward to reviewing the Legislature's work and working together on getting this done." State Rep. Lee Yancey, one of the engineers of the legislation, said the governor could advise legislative leaders of any changes before or after he calls a special session. he Department of Revenue, Department of Health and the Department of Agriculture and Commerce would all have a role in administering and overseeing portions of the program. This final piece could prove problematic; Agriculture Commissioner Andy Gipson remains opposed to having his state agency regulate any part of a medical marijuana program. But Gipson's opposition is apparently having little sway in the current negotiations. When asked what bearing Gipson's opposition was on the legislative process, state Rep. Shane Aguirre was blunt in his response: "None."
Gunn: Lawmakers in agreement on medical marijuana bill, but need special session to make it law
Mississippi Speaker of the House Philip Gunn said Thursday lawmakers have reached an agreement on a proposed medical marijuana bill, ending months of negotiation between the state house and senate. Speaking to conservative radio host Paul Gallo, Gunn, R-Clinton, said he and Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann would meet and inform Gov. Tate Reeves the two chambers are ready to meet for a special session. For the bill to become law before the 2022 legislative session, Reeves would have to order a special session of the legislature. He's indicated in the past he is willing to do so. "We are looking forward to reviewing the legislature's work and working together to get this done," Reeves said in a statement Thursday afternoon. The bill will allow marijuana patients to smoke cannabis in addition to using edibles. It will impose a 7% sales tax and an additional excise tax based on weight. The bill only allows marijuana to be grown indoors, Gunn said. Counties and municipalities will be allowed to opt out of the program within 60 days of the bill becoming law, Gunn said. However, voters can opt their towns back in through the petition process.
Lawmakers reach long-awaited medical marijuana deal. Here are the details.
Legislative negotiators and leaders have agreed on a draft of medical marijuana legislation, and are anticipated to ask Gov. Tate Reeves as early as Friday to call the Legislature into special session, sources close to the negotiations said Thursday. Legislative leaders on Thursday released some details of the proposal -- which had been kept close to the vest for months -- such as that cities and counties will be allowed to "opt out" of having medical marijuana cultivation or dispensaries, although local voters can override this. (See below in story for further details of proposal). Negotiations have dragged on throughout the summer on crafting a medical marijuana program to replace one passed by Mississippi voters in November but shot down in May by the state Supreme Court on a constitutional technicality. House Speaker Philip Gunn in a Thursday interview on a Supertalk radio show said he believed the House and Senate leadership and negotiators are "in agreement" on a draft bill, and he believes both chambers have the votes to pass such a measure. He said he planned to get together with Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann, then barring any last minute glitches "inform the governor we are ready." Other sources close to the negotiations on Thursday told Mississippi Today they anticipate that request to the governor would happen as soon as Friday.
Is a medical marijuana deal near? Natchez legislators say 'devil is in the details'
Mississippi lawmakers have reached an agreement on medical marijuana legislation and will soon ask Gov. Tate Reeves to call a special session of the Legislature to act on it. House Speaker Philip Gunn on Thursday in a radio interview said he thinks the state House and Senate leadership agree on a draft of medical marijuana legislation and the he thinks enough votes exist to pass it in the both chambers, reports a story in Mississippi Today. Rep. Sam C. Mims V., who represents District 97 including Natchez and Adams County in the state House, agreed the measure seems to have agreement, but that a number of details remain to be settled. "I do believe the governor has been clear that he wants to have agreement between the House and the Senate and he wants to look at the legislation and have some input as well," Mims said. "We have had lots and lots of meetings over the last several weeks and done lots of work on this issue. The last thing we want to do is go to the Capitol and sit there for day after day." He said the state legislature has a responsibility to Mississippi citizens to act on the medical marijuana issue. State Sen. Melanie Sojourner, R-Natchez, urged caution as relates to any agreement. Sojourner said lawmakers have a responsibility to enact the will of the people, no matter the challenges of the issue. "Medical marijuana is complex. But, it is clear Mississippians believe they should have access to such treatments. Our job is to respect the wishes of the people and to make sure they don't suffer in the process."
CDC leader adds people with risky jobs to COVID booster list
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Thursday endorsed booster shots for millions of older or otherwise vulnerable Americans, opening a major new phase in the U.S vaccination drive against COVID-19. CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky signed off on a series of recommendations from a panel of advisers late Thursday. The advisers said boosters should be offered to people 65 and older, nursing home residents and those ages 50 to 64 who have risky underlying health problems. The extra dose would be given once they are at least six months past their last Pfizer shot. However, Walensky decided to make one recommendation that the panel had rejected. The panel on Thursday voted against saying that people can get a booster if they are ages 18 to 64 years and are health-care workers or have another job that puts them at increased risk of being exposed to the virus. But Walensky disagreed and put that recommendation back in, noting that such a move aligns with an FDA booster authorization decision earlier this week. The category she included covers people who live in institutional settings that increase their risk of exposure, such as prisons or homeless shelters, as well as health care workers.
Civility in Congress has turned into a joke. This panel is taking it seriously
The "Fix Congress" committee got so much out of its first two hearings this year on the elusive goal of civility, it agreed to hold a third. "In my first year in Congress, and when there was minimal back and forth, it was nasty," said Select Committee on the Modernization of Congress Vice Chairman William R. Timmons IV. "We need to have legitimate conversations on the challenges facing the American public, and we can't do that in the current structure." "We've proven that," added Timmons, a South Carolina Republican. Despite a storm of partisan rancor brewing on Capitol Hill with just a week to go before a possible government shutdown, Thursday's committee hearing looked unique. The members sat interspersed -- Democrat next to Republican -- around a conference table in an effort to encourage discussion as they heard from three experts on collaboration in the workplace and in Congress. The previous civility hearings focused on organizational psychology and the sources of political polarization. This one was squarely focused on how the committee can make recommendations to help lawmakers finally get along --- or at least pretend to. With so much cynicism in Washington, the word "civility" has become more like a running gag than an actionable goal, but on Thursday the witnesses did their best to offer concrete steps to take, however small. "When I tell people I study collaboration in Congress, it usually prompts a joke ... How can you study something that doesn't exist?" said Alison Craig, a former congressional staffer who is now an assistant professor at the University of Texas at Austin. The staffer-turned-academic is working on a book about how rank-and-file members of Congress work together to craft successful policy.
Iowa GOP Sen. Chuck Grassley to Seek Re-election
Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa said Friday he plans to run for an eighth term, a decision that should boost Republican prospects of holding his seat and potentially gaining control of the chamber in 2022. "It's 4 a.m. in Iowa so I'm running. I do that 6 days a week," the 88-year-old wrote on Twitter. "Before I start the day I want you to know what Barbara and I have decided. I'm running for re-election -- a lot more to do, for Iowa." Mr. Grassley easily won in 2016 and has been one of the most popular politicians in recent Iowa history. Former Rep. Abby Finkenauer is one of the Democrats planning to compete for the nomination to challenge Mr. Grassley in next year's general election. An Iowa Poll poll released earlier this week by the Des Moines Register and Mediacom found Mr. Grassley leading Ms. Finkenauer, 55% to 37%, in a hypothetical matchup. Mr. Grassley, a powerful figure in the Senate who has been able to deliver for Iowa's rural interests on trade as well as ethanol and wind energy, said in a Wall Street Journal interview this summer that he would be running for a final term, if he did seek re-election. "I don't plan on being a Strom Thurmond and serving until I'm 100 years and three months old," he said, referencing the late South Carolina senator who holds the record for membership age in the Senate. Upon completion of another six-year term, Mr. Grassley would be 95 years old. Heading into 2022, Republicans are optimistic about their prospects to retake the Senate because the party that doesn't control the White House typically makes gains in midterm elections. A departure by Mr. Grassley from a chamber currently split 50-50, with Democratic Vice President Kamala Harris casting the tiebreaking vote, would have made their efforts more challenging.
Black Democrats outraged with Biden over Haiti deportations, policy failures
President Biden's relationship with Black leaders and activists has rapidly deteriorated, as many have condemned his treatment of Haitian migrants and grown angry with his failure to overhaul policing and enact sweeping laws protecting voting rights. White House officials are scrambling to try to repair the damage, holding meetings with Black congressional leaders and civil rights leaders. Black voters were a cornerstone of the coalition that powered Biden to the Democratic nomination and the White House last year, and they are expected to play a crucial role in next year's midterm elections. Outrage among Black leaders about Biden reached new highs this week, creating fissures with potentially far-reaching implications. Biden's deportations of Black Haitians seeking asylum at the Southern border while images and videos of White Border Patrol agents grabbing and shouting at them went viral drew sharp rebukes from normally supportive Black allies. The official collapse of policing negotiations on Capitol Hill this week also all but extinguished dim hopes of ushering in new laws the year after George Floyd was murdered by a Minneapolis police officer. And lingering uncertainty over the fate of a long-shot push to expand voting rights has created growing anxiety about future elections. First midterms have historically been bad for the party of the president, and Democrats can ill afford to have many Black voters -- who tend to vote strongly Democratic -- sit out the election.
Hand count in audit affirms Biden beat Trump, as Maricopa County said in November
A monthslong hand recount of Maricopa County's 2020 vote confirmed that President Joe Biden won and the election was not "stolen" from former President Donald Trump, according to early versions of a report prepared for the Arizona Senate. The three-volume report by the Cyber Ninjas, the Senate's lead contractor, includes results that show Trump lost by a wider margin than the county's official election results. The data in the report also confirms that U.S. Sen. Mark Kelly won in the county. The official results are set to be presented to the Senate at 1 p.m. Friday. Several versions of the draft report, titled "Maricopa County Forensic Audit" by Cyber Ninjas, circulated prematurely on Wednesday and Thursday. Multiple versions were obtained by The Arizona Republic. The Cyber Ninjas and their subcontractors were paid millions to research and write the report by nonprofits set up by prominent figures in the "Stop the Steal" movement and allies of Donald Trump, but Cyber Ninjas CEO Doug Logan said that would not influence their work. The draft reports reviewed by The Republic minimize the ballot counts and election results and instead focus on issues that raise questions about the election process and voter integrity. Maricopa County Board Chairman Jack Sellers said the overall results in the draft report confirm "the tabulation equipment counted the ballots as they were designed to do, and the results reflect the will of the voters." "That should be the end of the story," he said. "Everything else is just noise."
Fed's optimism about economy is balanced by delta variant and slow job growth
Make no mistake -- the Federal Reserve and most economists don't see a stall-out or recession coming soon. In fact, many see an economy that is still growing strongly and recovering from the deep depths of the pandemic downturn. The pace of recovery is not as strong now as it was a few months ago, however, and there are distinct obstacles to a smooth and steady recovery. A key wild card is COVID-19, said Joseph Brusuelas at consulting firm RSM. The coronavirus delta variant and any new variants "could cause consumers to pull back, business to slow," he said. "I'm out on the road on business travel again. The airplanes are half full and the hotels aren't full." Job growth has already slowed, according to the Economic Policy Institute's Heidi Shierholz. "We added over 700,000 jobs a month for six months in a row earlier this year. But then delta hit, and we added only about a third of that amount in August," she said. Then there are global supply chains disrupted by COVID-19 outbreaks and driving up prices. Not to mention the increasing troubles in China's real estate market. But Eric Freedman at U.S. Bank Asset Management isn't too concerned. "We're not anticipating a significant contagion effect from the issues in China right now," Freedman said. "They have a significant set of reserves to allay some of these concerns." Closer to home, a political risk is looming, Brusuelas said: If Congress doesn't raise the debt ceiling and the U.S. defaults, "that's a politically induced artificial crisis. There is a cost. You'll see an equity selloff, you'll see consumer and corporate confidence erode," he said.
Top US agri official: Mini deals with EU more realistic than full trade pact
U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said the U.S. and the EU should focus on striking smaller trade deals on agricultural products because Brussels is not keen on a broader agreement. "I don't think you give up on this. I think you just understand that there are multiple ways to potentially expand access to markets," Vilsack told POLITICO's Future of Food and Farming summit. Vilsack said there are "opportunities where individual issues are resolved by give and take ... and that's what we're engaged in now," such as the mini EU-U.S. deal on lobster. Vilsack said the U.S.'s $17 billion agri-trade deficit with the EU meant "we do not have ... a balanced trade relationship in agriculture." Though he said it would "absolutely" be nice to have a grand deal, he questioned whether there was really willingness in Brussels and how long it could take to negotiate. Vilsack warned that the French push for aligning the EU's internal food standards with its outward-facing trade agenda could stifle innovation, reduce consumer choice and push up food prices. Vilsack insisted the U.S. hasn't given up on striking a broader deal including agriculture with the EU. "We're going to keep pushing for a trade relationship that's more balanced and even."
Many hurdles for families with food challenges: AP-NORC poll
Many Americans struggling to feed their families over the past pandemic year say they have had difficulty figuring out how to get help and had trouble finding healthy foods they can afford. A poll from Impact Genome and The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research finds 23% of Americans say they have not been able to get enough to eat or the kinds of foods they want. Most of those facing food challenges enrolled in a government or nonprofit food assistance program in the past year, but 58% still had difficulty accessing at least one service. And 21% of adults facing challenges meeting their food needs were unable to access any assistance at all. The most common challenge to those in need was a basic lack of awareness of eligibility for both government and nonprofit services. The poll results paint an overall picture of a country where hundreds of thousands of households found themselves suddenly plunged into food insecurity due to the economic disruption of the COVID-19 pandemic. They often found themselves navigating the intimidating bureaucracy of government assistance programs and with limited knowledge of local food banks or other charitable options available.
USM installing outdoor sculpture exhibition
On Thursday, USM began installing its 2021 biennial Outdoor Sculpture Exhibition. It features four different sculptures across campus. They will be displayed until March of 2023. A committee of a student and faculty and staff members from the College of Arts and Sciences selected the pieces from dozens of entries through a blind jury process. Kelsey Wishik is a USM alum and one of the artists. "I'm just really touched that this place continues to support me even though I've flown the coop, and I love that I'm in front of a building that says, above all nations is humanity, that really touches my heart and it fits in with my personal philosophy very well so I'm really pleased to be here," Wishik said. Her sculpture, "Portal," was the first to be installed and unveiled on Thursday. Two more sculptures titled "Action and Reaction" and "When One Door Closes, Another Door Opens..." will be installed on Friday. "Yellow Roses," the final sculpture will be put in sometime this month. Wishik said she hopes students and staff who see the art are inspired to follow their passions.
Mississippi student test scores decline in math, English
The number of Mississippi students learning at or above grade level in math and English decreased across almost every age group during the first statewide assessments amid the COVID-19 pandemic, according to results released by the Department of Education on Thursday. Still, the state's top education official said she was "very thankful that we did not fall further behind than we did." The scores reflect a trend across the country of decreased academic performance in standardized testing as schools deal with almost two years of disrupted learning due to the pandemic. Math and English were subjects where students had steadily improving test scores in Mississippi since 2016, when the Mississippi Academic Assessment Program (MAAP) was first implemented. But the number of students learning at or above grade level in math declined from 47% in 2019 to 35% in 2021 -- a 25% decrease. The number of students at or above grade level in English declined from about 41.6% in 2019 to 34.9% in 2021 -- a 16% decrease. "The disruption and stress caused by COVID-19 has had an impact on student performance in every state in the country," said Carey Wright, Mississippi's state superintendent of education. Rachel Canter, executive director of Mississippi First, a nonprofit working to improve access to education in Mississippi, said the biggest question of the 2021 data would be "whether the forward progress Mississippi has been making for many years will be halted -- or worse, reversed -- by the disruption of the pandemic."
State tests show Mississippi student learning declined during pandemic
State test results from the spring paint the first picture of how the pandemic has affected Mississippi students' learning -- and overall, it's not good. The results from the spring administration of state tests, or the Mississippi Academic Assessment Program (MAAP), show the percentage of students who passed the tests dropped 9% in English and 14% in math statewide. These assessments measure student achievement in grades 3-8, and high schoolers also take an English II and Algebra I test. These results, presented to the Mississippi State Board of Education Thursday, offer a snapshot of the effect the pandemic has had on K-12 education in the state. State tests were not administered in 2020 because of the virus, which shut down schools in spring of that year. This also marks the first time proficiency levels, or the percentage of students who scored at the two highest levels on the tests, dropped since the test was first administered in 2016. But Carey Wright, state superintendent of education, said she was "pleasantly surprised" the numbers did not decrease more than they did. She also praised schools for ensuring that around 96% of students came into buildings and participated in testing in the spring, even when some were learning entirely virtually.
Conflict over proposed COVID-19 no-confidence vote flares at UF Faculty Senate meeting
Tension was high at the University of Florida Faculty Senate meeting Thursday afternoon due to ongoing conflict over a proposed resolution of no confidence in the university's fall 2021 COVID-19 plan. Mark Hostetler, a professor in the UF Wildlife Ecology and Conservation Department, has been promoting the no-confidence resolution that has yet to be voted on or heard as its own agenda item. It states that "the university's fall 2021 plan falls short of faculty expectations and does not create a sense of safety and confidence among our faculty, staff, and students," referencing a need for greater transparency and UF's lack of mandates for COVID-19 vaccines, testing and masking. Hostetler had pushed for the no confidence resolution to be debated at the semester's first Faculty Senate meeting in August. Yet, because of procedural snags, it did not make it as an approved agenda item then or for this month's meeting. During the Thursday meeting, UF President Fuchs and Faculty Senate Chair David C. Bloom took time to speak about COVID-19 and the proposed resolution, with Fuchs going first and Bloom revisiting it at the meeting's end. After reviewing the latest case numbers and local, state and national statistics, Fuchs told the senators no one at UF has the authority to mandate vaccines, masks or move classes online because of final decisions from the state government. The president said UF cannot change those decisions. Open disagreement with Gov. Ron DeSantis would hurt the positive connection between the university and the state government, Fuchs said.. He specifically spoke against a no-confidence vote and said such a move "would fracture that relationship" with the government, damaging it for many years.
Faculty call for reinstatement of acquitted professor at U. of Tennessee
Professors at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville are calling for the reinstatement of a former tenured professor who was acquitted this month of fraud-related charges. Anming Hu, a former associate professor in UT Knoxville's Department of Mechanical, Aerospace and Biomedical Engineering, was the first professor to go to trial under the auspices of the Department of Justice's controversial China Initiative, which was launched by the Trump administration with an ostensible focus on prosecuting economic espionage and trade secret theft but which has also targeted more than a dozen academics accused of lying on grant applications or other federal forms. Hu was accused by federal prosecutors of concealing ties to a Chinese university from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, which funded his research. After a trial ended with a hung jury, U.S. District Judge Thomas A. Varlan issued a 52-page opinion earlier this month acquitting Hu on all counts, ruling that no rational jury could conclude Hu planned a scheme to defraud NASA. Now faculty leaders at UT Knoxville are asking questions about the circumstances of Hu's firing and calling for him to get his tenured professorship back, with back pay. And they're raising concerns about what they understand to be the university's voluntary cooperation with the Federal Bureau of Investigation in its investigation of Hu, a Canadian citizen originally from China.
Group of UGA faculty determined to impose mask mandate
The University System of Georgia is trying to fend off a rebellion from a group of University of Georgia faculty determined to impose a mask mandate in violation of system policy. A letter from Jeffrey Bennetzen, a geneticist at UGA, dated Sept. 20 served notice of plans for the mask mandate to discourage the spread of COVID-19. "In order to protect our students, staff and faculty colleagues, we will wear masks and will require all of our students and staff to wear masks in our classes and laboratories until local community transmission rates improve, despite the ban on mask mandates and the USG policy to punish, and potentially fire, any faculty taking this action," the letter stated. Georgia Democrats are siding with the faculty on the issue. Democratic members of the state House Higher Education Committee called on Gov. Brian Kemp last week to drop his opposition to mask mandates on university system campus and leave the decision to local administrators at the system's 26 colleges and universities. Kemp has consistently opposed both mask and vaccine mandates as divisive, instead urging Georgians to wear masks and get vaccinated voluntarily.
Workload guidelines met with resistance from Missouri Faculty Council
Faculty workload guidelines being developed met resistance Thursday from the University of Missouri Faculty Council. The MU administration has directed university departments to develop their own guidelines for faculty workloads. The meeting was held over Zoom and in Memorial Union. The discussion began when there were across-the-board salary cuts during the pandemic, said Provost Latha Ramchand. "We don't have the information granularly to tell me why this person is doing more and this person is doing less," Ramchand said. "To me, it's a question of equity." She asked the faculty to engage in the conversation. Faculty member Peter Wilden said he's seen this before. Faculty workload guidelines were developed in the 2000s and worked well for a few years, then dropped. "This looks like that all over again," Wilden said. "We're re-creating the wheel." It's essential that the guidelines come from the departments, said Chris Riley-Tillman, associate provost. Some situations don't make sense, he said. "We see cases where chairs or deans have made deals," Riley-Tillman said. "I don't know how else to say it." Developing the guidelines themselves represent work, said faculty member Rabia Gregory. "You are creating a tremendous amount of work for everyone on campus," Gregory said. "The vast majority of faculty on this campus are hard-working and competent."
MU engineers' software can replace faces in social media photos with synthetic facial images
Whether it's an unflattering shot taken at a bar or a scenic photo revealing someone's location, privacy control has become an increasing concern for social media users. Currently, platforms like Facebook have limited options for individuals to dictate where their face ends up online, especially in photos taken without their consent or knowledge. When looking through the settings options on social media apps, users are forced to go either all in or all out: either entirely open your profile to the public, or selectively filter through your followers to maintain privacy within your inner circle. But what if there was a way for users to find a happy medium by replacing their face with a synthetic facial image in the backgrounds of images posted by others? University of Missouri Associate Professor Dan Lin's work in the I-Privacy Research Lab aims to expand the realm of possibilities for facial image recognition and privacy protection. Lin and her team in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science received a grant of more than $700,000 from the National Science Foundation to pursue their work in using a face-swapping method to replace the faces of users found in the backgrounds of photos without compromising the integrity of the photos.
UT Austin's Liberty Institute? What's that, professors ask
Faculty members at the University of Texas at Austin still have lots of questions about the Liberty Institute, a think tank apparently coming to campus. That's even after the university provost addressed the matter at a recent Faculty Council meeting. What more do professors want to know? "Everything," said Domino Renee Perez, chair of UT Austin's Faculty Council and associate professor of English. "The faculty need to hear directly from the president, since he is the one who identified this as a priority for the university." Most professors first learned of the Liberty Institute idea late last month, via a Texas Tribune investigation finding that university leaders had been working with private donors and Texas Republican lieutenant governor Dan Patrick for eight months to launch it. Not all professors are so skeptical of the Liberty Institute, as they understand it thus far, however. Richard Lowery, an associate professor of finance, said during the council meeting that he was confused by some of the criticism, as the university already funds various programs that are "explicitly political," including social justice and diversity, equity and inclusion efforts.
Notre Dame requiring all students to get free flu vaccine this fall
The University of Notre Dame is requiring all students to get a free flu shot this fall. In a news release, the university said the requirement will minimize cases on campus and preserve testing resources for COVID-19. Jay Caponigro is the university's senior director of community engagement in the office of public affairs. During a Tuesday meeting of South Bend's Community Campus Advisory Coalition, he said the shots will be offered for free to students, faculty and staff. "That will continue to help protect folks on campus, and have a good residual for protecting others around us in the community," Caponigro said. All students must get the flu vaccine by Nov. 1. During the Tuesday meeting, Caponigro also said 98 percent of Notre Dame students are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, with similar numbers for faculty and staff.
White House unveils 'most diverse' science advisory panel. What does that mean?
What's your definition of diversity? The 30 members named yesterday to an enlarged President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) constitute the "most diverse" roster in the panel's history, according to a White House press release. The statement says the demographic mix of presidential appointees, which includes an equal number of men and women, "will help the council bring to bear a wide range of perspectives to address the nation's most pressing opportunities and challenges." The press release emphasizes two categories traditionally used to measure diversity in science -- gender and race. "For the first time, women make up half of PCAST," it says, adding that Maria Zuber and Frances Arnold, two of the three previously announced co-chairs, are the first women to head the group since its inception in 1957. It also notes that "people of color and immigrants make up more than one-third of PCAST." By delving into their bios, ScienceInsider came up with a more precise tally of 12 members who fit one or more of those categories: four Black people, two Latinos, and three Asian Americans, as well as individuals born in Australia, Argentina, and Iran. However, gender and race/ethnicity aren't the only way to measure diversity. For example, the press release is silent on whether anyone identifies as LGBTQ. Highlighting the value of diversity also raises the broader question of what metrics to use in assessing diversity. Only two PCAST members work in the social and behavioral sciences---Jennifer Richeson, a social psychologist at Yale, and Jonathan Levin, a Stanford economist. A third member, Cathy Woteki, is an agricultural and food scientist. By the White House's count, seven members are computer scientists, five others are engineers, and five work in the biological and life sciences, including three with medical degrees. Three are physicists, a discipline traditionally overrepresented on PCAST.

Colvard Union Food Court to open for MSU vs. LSU
The Colvard Student Union Food Court (first floor level only) will be open this Saturday [Sept. 25] for the MSU vs. LSU football game. Scheduled eateries and times are: Starbucks: 8 a.m.-5 p.m. State Fountain Bakery: 8 a.m.-Noon. Chick Fil-A: 9 a.m.-8 p.m. Union POD (store): 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Panda Express: 11 a.m.-8 p.m. The Marketplace at Perry cafeteria (adjacent to the Union) will also be open from 9 a.m.-1 p.m.
'Where I belong': Defensive end Randy Charlton's winding path to Mississippi State
Randy Charlton and his mother, Gigi Harper, climbed into the car on a warm January day, ready to hit the road. Charlton was about to start his football career anew at Mississippi State. That called for a road trip. Along with Charlton's father and sister, they left their home in Goulds, Florida, on Jan. 3, five days before Charlton needed to arrive in Starkville. They stayed with Harper's brother in Daytona Beach; they spent time with her father-in-law and her brother-in-law in Atlanta. On Jan. 8, they arrived at Charlton's new home. Already, Harper could tell her son would fit in. "She felt like I needed this," Charlton said. "She felt like this is where I belong." For the former UCF defensive lineman, that arrival signaled the end of a much more painful trip -- a path filled with fear, confusion, disappointment and depression. Not all of it has been easy to leave behind. Charlton still carries the weight of it on his broad shoulders. But with his family by his side, he's found a much-needed second chance in Starkville. "They love it in Mississippi," Charlton said. "I love it, too." Starting at defensive end, Charlton leads Mississippi State in quarterback hurries with three, has 11 total tackles and owns a sack through three games. "One of the things he always says when we talk about that situation is that he's grateful that he has another chance to get on the field and do what he loves to do," Harper said.
Against Miss. State, Ed Orgeron is coaching his biggest game since winning a national title
Scott Rabalais writes for The Advocate: After losing 16-14 to Wisconsin in Green Bay to open the 2016 season, followed by wins over Jacksonville State and Mississippi State, LSU's Week 4 game at Auburn became Les Miles' Waterloo. LSU lost 18-13 in quintessentially Miles-like fashion, having the skill to score the winning touchdown on the final play only to have it erased because the snap came after the clock expired. Then athletic director Joe Alleva fired Miles the next day and installed Ed Orgeron as LSU's interim head coach. Orgeron passed Alleva's "audition" by going 5-2 the rest of the regular season to become LSU's permanent head coach. Then he beat Louisville in the Citrus Bowl. Three years later, in January 2020, Orgeron stood beaming with justifiable pride on the floor of the Caesars Superdome after LSU beat Clemson 42-25 in the CFP National Championship Game. At his side was Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Joe Burrow, the straw that stirred the rich drink of the Tigers' success, the man Orgeron convinced to take a chance on LSU when he was looking to leave Ohio State. Less than two years later, Orgeron faces his most important test since Clemson as he takes his Tigers to Starkville for Saturday's 11 a.m. game with Mississippi State. A game that may ultimately prove vital to his future as LSU's coach.
MSU Comes Back To Earn Draw At Georgia
After surrendering a pair of early goals, Mississippi State battled back to earn a 2-2 draw at Georgia on Thursday night. Trailing 2-0 in the 20th minute, MSU (2-3-3, 0-1-1 SEC) flipped the match with two goals of its own before halftime. MSU outshot Georgia, 16-12, and earned eight corners to UGA's six. Georgia (7-2-1, 0-1-1 SEC) entered the match averaging 24.9 shots per game. Georgia opened the scoring in the 12th minute when Mollie Belisle, the nation's leading goal scorer, dribbled past State's goalkeeper, Maddy Anderson. Daniella Murguia picked up an assist on the play. Eight minutes later, the Georgia duo traded places as Murguia scored with an assist from Belisle. Just 17 seconds after going down two goals, Monigo Karnley got State on the board. Gwen Mummert played a long pass up the right side. Karnley held off her defender and slotted the ball calmly into the bottom right corner of the net. "Getting the goal back straight after we'd gone down 2-0 -- by two soft goals from our standpoint that weren't well-played defensively at our end -- was huge," head coach James Armstrong said. "In terms of the moment of the game, it definitely was the response of the young ladies to get back into the game changed the momentum for sure." The Bulldogs return home on Sunday, Sept. 26 for a 6 p.m. CT kickoff against Florida. State's SEC home opener will air on SEC Network+. The match will open a three-game home stretch for MSU.
A Five-Set Tussle At No. 17 Florida To Open SEC
Mississippi State's volleyball team dug deep to erase a two-set deficit and wiped away three match points in the fifth set to take No. 17 Florida [17-25, 11-25, 25-16, 25-18, 13-15] to the brink during the SEC opener for both teams on Thursday evening at Exactech Arena inside the Stephen C. O'Connell Center. The Bulldogs (9-4, 0-1 SEC) nearly captured their first win over the SEC's perineal power in eight-time NCAA Final Four participant and two-time NCAA National Runner-Up Florida (7-4, 1-0 SEC). It marked the first time that Mississippi State took the Gators to five sets. "What an incredible effort by our team tonight," head coach Julie Darty Dennis said. "I'm so proud of our response after that second set, and how we never backed down. This team is tough, resilient and has big energy. I love that we received some incredible performances off the bench. It's all about opportunity. They did a tremendous job of taking advantage of the touches and opportunities they got on the court tonight." The Bulldogs and Gators return to the hardwood on Friday at 6 p.m. CT for a nationally televised matchup by SEC Network. Mississippi State's SEC home opener is a weekend series with LSU on October 1-2. Friday's first serve is on-tap for 6 p.m. CT followed by a 4 p.m. CT tilt for Saturday. Admission is free for all home volleyball matches at the Newell-Grissom Building with gates opening one hour prior to first serve.
County bans alcohol on the beach for Georgia-Florida game weekend
On the weekend of the Georgia-Florida football game, St. Simons Island's East Beach becomes "Frat Beach," an open-air party teeming with thousands of highly inebriated college students. But the Glynn County Commission earlier this month said no more. For the second straight year, it is banning alcohol on the beach during gameday weekend, which this year is Oct. 29-30. Its primary goals: stanching the spread of COVID-19 cases that have ravaged the county and keeping students on the beach under control. "The binge drinking is so bad, some of them don't know where they are, and some of the girls don't even know someone is touching them, molesting them," said Commissioner Cap Fendig, who pushed for the beach booze ban during the University of Georgia Bulldogs versus University of Florida Gators showdown. In addition to COVID-19 concerns, the trial of three men facing murder charges for the Feb. 23, 2020, killing of Ahmaud Arbery will be ongoing during the big game's time frame. Jury selection begins Oct. 18. And the city of Brunswick and Glynn County are bracing for possible demonstrations, with officials worrying about police being stretched too thin.
Memphis president M. David Rudd appointed to Division I Board of Directors
University of Memphis president M. David Rudd has been appointed to the NCAA Division I Board of Directors, the school announced Thursday. Rudd will serve as the American Athletic Conference's representative. He is one of 24 members of the Board, which consists of 20 presidents and chancellors, including the 10 from the Football Bowl Subdivision conferences and 10 from the remaining 22 Football Championship Subdivision conferences. An athletics director, senior woman administrator, faculty athletics representative and student-athlete also are on the Board. Rudd's term as a member of the Board will expire in August 2025. In March, Rudd announced he would be stepping down as University of Memphis president effective in May 2022. He said at the time he planned to take a year-long sabbatical before returning as a faculty member in 2023. It is unclear whether Rudd's plans would preclude him from seeing through the entirety of his term on the Board. Neither the university nor the NCAA immediately responded to The Commercial Appeal's request for clarification, though Rudd's statement in the university's press release indicates he will serve the full term. The Board's next scheduled meeting is set for Oct. 27.
Athletics departments finding ways to deal with football game-day staffing challenges
2021 brought a welcomed sight back to college football: Fan bases nationwide, in full capacity, have returned to their weekend homes. The masses, though, have paired with the worker shortage in the service industry, forcing college athletics departments nationwide to cope with a lack of staffing for concessions and ticketing. College athletics programs typically lean on third-party vendors to provide those workers for game days, and programs around the state have worked with smaller workforces while bringing in big crowds again. The first month of the season has forced schools to be creative and communicative. N.C. State has acknowledged the issues early, encouraging Wolfpack fans to be prompt and patient ahead of a home matchup against Furman last weekend. Appalachian State and East Carolina both addressed game-day challenges afterward, either to ticket holders or on their athletics website. And it's not just in North Carolina: For Virginia Tech's home opener against North Carolina on Sept. 3, fans endured a stadium wireless signal that made using digital tickets complicated and encountered concessions stands staffed at 40 percent, the Richmond (Va.) Times-Dispatch reports. Virginia Tech reduced menu options at its next game and added beverage-only stands.
Sources: Oversight Committee Recommends Expansion of Signing Class Limit for 2022 Cycle
College football signing classes are one step closer to growing in size. The NCAA Football Oversight Committee has recommended that the annual 25-person signing limit immediately expand as a way for coaches to replace players they've lost to the burgeoning transfer portal. The recommendation is expected to be debated and potentially approved at the next Division I Council meeting on Oct. 5. The policy will take effect in the current 2022 recruiting cycle and is seen as a one-year waiver before a more permanent rule is created. Under the recommendation, schools can sign 25 new players while gaining additional signee spots for each player who transfers out of their program -- up to a limit of seven, sources tell Sports Illustrated. The transferring player must have left academically eligible. For instance, a school that loses five players to the portal can sign 30 new players. A school that loses 10 players to the portal can sign 32 new signees. Schools can only replace those who enter the transfer portal. They would not gain additional spots for players who retire from the sport or leave early for the NFL draft. Other proposals were debated among Oversight members, including increasing total signees to 30 or 35, but they settled on this compromise, as originally reported by SI in August. The impetus for immediate action on the topic is a result of policy changes that are leaving -- and will leave -- many schools well short of the overall 85 scholarship limit.
Big 12's newest members show that the conference lowered its standards
Ivan Maisel writes for They are celebrating these days at BYU and UCF, at Cincinnati and Houston. They are celebrating entry into the Power 5, the velvet rope held open for them to step past and into the collegiate athletic world of money, and clout, and money. This may be the closest that college football gets to the relegation system of the Premier League. Except for one thing. The newest third-to-be of the Big 12 knocked on the conference's door five years ago and the Big 12 said no thanks. The four programs didn't measure up. And now they do, not because the four have raised their programs -- although they have, and I'll get to that -- but because the conference has lowered its standards. Bringing BYU, UCF, Cincinnati and Houston into the Big 12 is as much confirmation as battlefield promotion, part merger and part upgrade, and how much of which we won't know until the TV networks start handing out money. Add the new Big 12 to NIL and the transfer portal and the expanded playoff on the check-back-with-us-in-five-years-to-find-out-what-it-means list. The power of a conference is derived from the revenue it generates, and until we can compare the Big 12 to the new Big Ten contract(s) and the new Pac-12 contract(s), all we're doing is making guesses. ... Let me go ahead and say it: The Autonomy Five is now the Autonomy Four and Change.
Ryder Cup pressure? Jim Gallagher felt it, big-time, but persevered
Mississippi sports columnist Rick Cleveland writes: Golf's Ryder Cup begins Friday in Wisconsin, and many millions of us will watch intently as men of normally steely nerve turn to jelly. Jim Gallagher Jr. of Greenwood remembers teeing it up at The Belfry in England in 1993, an untested Ryder Cup rookie on golf's biggest stage. "I was jerking I was so nervous," Gallagher said. "I couldn't get my right hand to stay still to put the ball on the tee and the tee in the ground, so I switched to my left hand. That didn't work either." Eventually, he managed to tee the ball, and he said a silent prayer that he still remembers, at age 60, these 28 years later: "Please, just let me be calm. Please let me be able to play my best." Golf history tells us Gallagher, now a Golf Channel commentator, busted that first drive 280 yards right down the middle of the fairway, that he was a winner in two of his three Ryder Cup matches, and that on Sunday of the Ryder Cup, in perhaps the most important of the deciding matches, he defeated the late, great Seve Ballesteros, Europe's all-time Ryder Cup hero, 3 and 2. History also tells us that the 14-12, come-from-behind U.S. victory was the last time the Americans have won the Ryder Cup on European soil. So, how does one deal with the immense pressure?

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