Friday, December 1, 2023   
User-friendly plaza coming this spring to HUB
Work is ongoing at the Mississippi State University Research and Technology Corporation's Downtown Innovation HUB to convert its plaza into more green space and make it more user-friendly. RTC Director Marc McGee told The Dispatch the $340,000 project began in mid-November to demolish the concrete plaza facing Main Street and replace it with new grass areas, sidewalks, park benches and tables, along with a new Americans with Disabilities Act compliant entrance to the front of the building. "We're updating it to make it more attractive downtown because we do want the plaza to be used," McGee said. "I mean, it was a lot of concrete, and from our standpoint, it needs to be refreshed." RTC also received a $250,000 grant from the Small Business Administration in 2022 to help fund the project. RTC purchased the Innovation HUB from Cadence Bank in 2019 and completed an interior renovation project by spring 2022 to create a space for new and research-based companies to locate downtown. Some of those businesses include Babel Street, Retail Strategies and Cadence Investment Services, to name a few. McGee said the plaza remodel is the final leg of that renovation and expects the project to be complete by April. While construction continues, McGee said the HUB can be accessed through the rear parking lot entrance.
Mississippi, MSU recognized for success in expanding access to K-12 computer science education
The state of Mississippi and Mississippi State University's efforts to expand access to K-12 computer science education are being recognized on the national stage. During's annual CSEdCon, Mississippi was recognized for leading the nation in increasing access to computer science education. The recognition is based on Mississippi's 18% growth in high schools offering computer science foundational courses. MSU's Center for Cyber Education has been a main driver of this increase, leading educator training for teachers across the state so they can return to their schools and teach computer science. The work is made possible by financial support from C Spire and the Mississippi Legislature. "Computer science literacy and skills are critically important to today's K-12 students as they prepare to live and work in a digitally driven world," said MSU Center for Cyber Education Director Shelly Hollis. "I am proud of the work we have done to expand access to computer science education across the state and appreciate the support of our great partners such as the Mississippi Department of Education and C Spire."
Mississippi's winter wheat crop expected to be very small
The extreme drought in Mississippi is expected to significantly reduce the state's winter wheat crop, but recent rain may help what was planted. The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimated that, as of November 26, 82% of the state's wheat had been planted, 71% emerged, and only 50% was in good or excellent condition. Erick Larson, grain crops agronomist with the Mississippi State University (MSU) Extension Service, expects the state to have few acres of cropland with planted wheat for the 2024 harvest. "Mississippi experienced exceptionally dry weather this fall," Larson said. "We expect rainfall will recharge soil moisture during the winter, but the drought restricted or delayed wheat planting in many cases. Farmers often change intentions when weather conditions present uncertainty and risk." "We are running out of time to plant wheat," Larson said. Wheat can be planted until about December 10 in north Mississippi and December 15 in south Mississippi. "It's a difficult time of the year to try to get field work and planting done," he said. "It typically rains every seven to 10 days in December, and reduced air temperatures prevent soil from drying out as quickly as usual."
Atlantic hurricane season ends with none recorded in Mississippi
The Atlantic Hurricane Season has finally come to a close in the Magnolia State, with the Mississippi Emergency Management System (MEMA) reporting that it was an above-average season this year. A total of 20 storms were named in the Atlantic Ocean, including seven hurricanes of which three intensified to be major. The major hurricanes were reported as being a Category 3 or higher: Hurricane Lee, Category 5; Hurricane Franklin, Category 4; and Hurricane Idalia, Category 3. MEMA reports that throughout the entirety of the season, which spans from June 1 to November 30, Hurricane Idalia was the only U.S. landfalling hurricane in 2023. In late August, Hurricane Idalia quickly grew to a Category 2 system before progressing to its peak strength as a Category 4. The hurricane dropped back down to a Category 3 system shortly after as a storm surge containing heavy rainfall and winds ranging between 70 mph to 130 mph traveled near Cedar Key, Fla. The storm then moved through Georgia and South Carolina before returning to the Atlantic Ocean several days later.
Mental health assistance in Mississippi is just a phone call away
Brevity is key when creating a service people will remember and utilize. For instance, everyone knows that if there's an emergency such as a fire, they should dial 911. A similar thought is why 988 went into effect to connect those dealing with mental health issues with trained crisis counselors. In the spring of this year, 988 officially went into service in Mississippi. While mental health assistance has been available in the state of Mississippi, and across the country, in the form of lifeline call centers for decades, efforts to establish a nationwide three-digit service gained steam when Congress passed the National Suicide Hotline Improvement Act of 2018. The federal Act mandated a study that resulted in the passage of the National Suicide Hotline Designation Act of 2020, which designated 988 as the universal number for a nationwide mental health crisis hotline network. To ensure the calls are fielded by personnel knowledgeable of local resources, call centers are localized by state. In Mississippi, two existing call centers were folded into the 988 lifeline network. Prior to 988, reaching the call centers involved dialing a 1-800 number. Mississippi Department of Mental Health Chief of Staff Katie Storr said it was fortunate this state already had a crisis lifeline system in place prior to the establishment of 988. The largest call center in Mississippi, CONTACT the Crisis Line, covers 74 of the state's 82 counties, while the second, CONTACT Helpline, covers the remaining eight counties around Columbus and Starkville, said Brenda Patterson, Executive Director for CONTACT the Crisis Line. While the two have coverage areas, the centers work together to take calls when the volume outpaces available crisis counselors at either location.
Supreme Court temporarily halts state's efforts to set Manning execution date
The Mississippi Supreme Court wants to resolve a Death Row inmate's latest appeal attempt before setting an execution date. Thursday afternoon, the state's highest court issued an en banc order to hold in abeyance, or temporarily suspend, any actions concerning Attorney General Lynn Fitch's request to set an execution date for Willie Jerome Manning, 55, who was convicted of two counts of capital murder and sentenced to death in 1994. In late September, Manning filed a motion asking to be allowed to appeal his capital murder convictions based on new evidence that includes two witness recantations. In early November, the state asked for more time to respond and was given until Dec. 29. Just two days after the Supreme Court granted the extension, Fitch filed a separate motion Nov. 9 asking the high court to set an execution date, claiming Manning had "exhausted all state and federal remedies." In the two-page order issued Nov. 30, Supreme Court Justice Robert Chamberlain said that the state has until Dec. 29 to respond to Manning's appeal request. And, Manning then has 15 days to reply. Manning was convicted of two counts of capital murder in Oktibbeha County in November 1994 for the deaths of Mississippi State University students Tiffany Miller, 22, and Jon Steckler, 19, who were kidnapped in December 1992 and found dead the next day.
In Spirited Debate, George Santos Dares House Colleagues to Expel Him
As the House of Representatives opened the floor on Thursday to debate the fate of George Santos, Republican of New York, the arguments over whether to expel him took an immediate and indecorous turn. Mr. Santos's use of Botox was invoked several times, even by those defending him. His detractors pointed to falsified ties to the Holocaust and to his claims, contradicted by paperwork, that his mother was at the World Trade Center on Sept. 11. The final speaker calling to expel Mr. Santos concluded with the briefest of remarks: "You, sir, are a crook." The dramatic floor debate was, perhaps, a fitting culmination to a political career that has been defined by spectacle, scandal and lies. In an unusual turn, the Republican chairman of the Ethics Committee, Michael Guest of Mississippi, spoke in his personal capacity to give a passionate defense of the committee's report. Armed with large posters printed with some of the report's findings, Mr. Guest noted that Mr. Santos had previously said that he "looked forward to seeing the Ethics process play out." Mr. Guest, who introduced the current resolution to expel Mr. Santos, said that the process had been completed after months of investigation, concluding with a plea that. "all members vote to support the expulsion of Representative Santos."
House debates Rep. George Santos expulsion ahead of Friday vote
The House set up a Friday vote that will determine whether Rep. George Santos will be thrown out of Congress, and the New York Republican used the eve of the vote defending himself against allegations, bashing other members and criticizing the process that got him to this point. At a cold early morning press conference in front of the Capitol, Santos sounded somewhat jaded by the third attempt to purge him as he leveled with the press and referred to himself in the third person. Rep. Marc Molinaro, R-N.Y., on the floor called Santos a "future former colleague" who "is divorced from reality" and who has "lost the right to serve in this House." And Ethics Committee Chairman Michael Guest, R-Miss., who authored the expulsion measure, said "George Santos has built his persona, his personal and political life, on a foundation of lies." Guest added that Santos spent campaign funds on "almost $3,000 on Botox treatments." Santos and those who oppose his expulsion say he has not been afforded due process and that expulsion should be reserved until a member is convicted. Guest, a former prosecutor, argued Santos was afforded due process because he was given adequate notice, along with the opportunity to be heard and to go before an impartial tribunal.
U.S. House votes to expel New York Congressman Santos, approving Mississippi Congressman Guest's expulsion resolution
The U.S. House of Representatives has voted to expel freshman Republican New York Congressman George Santos. He is the sixth member in U.S. history to be expelled from the chamber and the first Republican and first member without a conviction or who wasn't part of the Confederacy to be expelled. An expulsion resolution -- H.Res. 878 -- sponsored by Mississippi 3rd District Congressman Michael Guest (R), chairman of the House Ethics Committee, was presented in the House this week and voted on by the members on Friday. "This was a vote of conscience," Guest said after the vote. "I applaud leadership on the Republican side for not whipping against the vote." For expulsion to occur, two-thirds of the chamber had to vote in the affirmative to remove Santos. In total, 311 members voted to expel Santos, with 105 Republicans and 206 Democrats joining in the bipartisan vote. Voting no, or against expulsion, were 112 Republicans and 2 Democrats. Among those voting to expel the New York Congressman were Mississippi's Congressmen Guest and Bennie Thompson (D-MS 2). Voting against the resolution to expel were Congressman Trent Kelly (R-MS 1) and Mike Ezell (R-MS 4). Both Kelly and Ezell have expressed concerns over issues around due process with no conviction having been handed down as of yet.
Sandra Day O'Connor, first woman on the Supreme Court, dies
Retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, the first woman to serve on the court, died Friday in Phoenix, Ariz., of complications related to advanced dementia, probably Alzheimer's, and a respiratory illness, the court announced. She was 93 years old. O'Connor was appointed to the court by President Reagan in 1981 and retired in 2006, after serving more than 24 years on the court. O'Connor served on the court for a quarter of a century and, after that, became an outspoken critic of what she saw as modern threats to judicial independence. While on the court, O'Connor was called "the most powerful woman in America." Because of her position at the center of a court that was so closely divided on so many major questions, she often cast the deciding vote in cases involving abortion, affirmative action, national security, campaign finance reform, separation of church and state, and states' rights, as well as in the case that decided the 2000 election, Bush v. Gore -- a decision she later hinted she regretted. Her retirement allowed President George W. Bush to appoint a much more conservative justice, Samuel Alito, in her place, and that appointment took the court in a far more conservative direction. When she was appointed to the Supreme Court, O'Connor knew she would be a role model for women. She persevered even through a bout with breast cancer. For a year, she wore a wig, looked drained and wan, but never missed a court day. She presided over a period in American law when women moved from being anomalies in the courtroom to the majority of the graduates in many major American law schools. And she left a profound mark on the history of the Supreme Court and the nation.
DeSantis-Newsom Debate Shows the 2024 Campaign That Could Have Been
Unless something unexpected happens in the next few months, the 2024 presidential campaign is likely to feature two aging, retread candidates of whom Americans are thoroughly tired. On Thursday, however, a different reality was on display: two energetic partisans in their prime, holding each other to account on issues of substance and presenting a clear choice to voters. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican, and California Gov. Gavin Newsom, a Democrat, faced off in a no-holds-barred roughly 100-minute debate, moderated by Fox News's Sean Hannity and airing live on the cable network. The governors clashed on crime, immigration and the economy, sparring over their states' tax burdens and approaches to education and offering starkly different takes on the success of the Joe Biden presidency: Newsom gave the incumbent an unequivocal A grade, while DeSantis called him a doddering failure. Hannity styled the event as an epic clash of governing philosophies, with two of their respective parties' most prominent and combative figures making the case for their widely diverging approaches to policy. While both governors attacked the other and defended their state, it was DeSantis who offered the more focused and consistent vision, arguing that his ideological framework has improved Floridians' quality of life while California has become unaffordable and dangerous. Newsom accused DeSantis of using migrants as political pawns and cruelty as a political strategy. Yet he was frequently on the defensive, failing to clearly lay out a contrasting ideology of his own or a strong vision for human flourishing California-style.
America's Far Right Is Calling for Civil War in Ireland
"Ireland is on the brink of civil war," white nationalist Nick Fuentes declared Monday during his show on Rumble. "It's going to be ugly." Ireland is not on the brink of a civil war, but riots did break out in Dublin last week following a stabbing outside a school that left three children and two adults hospitalized. Despite an unknown attack motive, the situation spiraled. Ireland's far-right community quickly claimed that this proved immigrants pose an inherent danger to Irish society: Within minutes of the stabbing, far-right Telegram channels lit up with questions about the attacker's ethnicity. It was eventually reported that the attacker was a naturalized Irish citizen who came to Ireland from Algeria in 2003. Less than two hours later, well-known figures within the Irish far-right community were organizing their followers to meet up in Dublin's city center that evening. The riots quickly turned violent with police cars, buses, and trams set on fire. Dozens of shops were looted, and a number of police officers were injured. In total, 34 people were arrested on November 23. Ireland's own far-right community, like the far-right in the US, has been fueling anti-immigrant sentiments in the country for years. And this dark international alliance of far-right, anti-asylum American and Irish influencers is unsurprising. Some far-right influencers in the US have also pushed elements of the great replacement theory, a conspiracy claiming that a globalist elite is working with Western governments to force out native populations through immigration.
The AP Interview: Ukraine's Zelenskyy says the war with Russia is in a new phase as winter looms
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy says the war with Russia is in a new stage, with winter expected to complicate fighting after a summer counteroffensive that failed to produce desired results due to enduring shortages of weapons and ground forces. Despite setbacks, however, he said Ukraine won't give up. "We have a new phase of war, and that is a fact," Zelenskyy said in an exclusive interview Thursday with The Associated Press in Kharkiv in northeastern Ukraine after a morale-boosting tour of the region. "Winter as a whole is a new phase of war." Asked if he was satisfied by the results of the counteroffensive, he gave a complex answer. "Look, we are not backing down, I am satisfied. We are fighting with the second (best) army in the world, I am satisfied," he said, referring to the Russian military. But he added: "We are losing people, I'm not satisfied. We didn't get all the weapons we wanted, I can't be satisfied, but I also can't complain too much." Zelenskyy also said he fears the Israel-Hamas war threatens to overshadow the conflict in Ukraine, as competing political agendas and limited resources put the flow of Western military aid to Kyiv at risk. And those concerns are amplified by the tumult that inevitably arises during a U.S. election year and its potential implications for his country, which has seen the international community largely rally around it following Russia's Feb. 24, 2022, invasion.
Israel Plans to Kill Hamas Leaders Around the World After War
Israel's intelligence services are preparing to kill Hamas leaders around the world when the nation's war in the Gaza Strip winds down, setting the stage for a yearslong campaign to hunt down militants responsible for the Oct. 7 massacres, Israeli officials said. With orders from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel's top spy agencies are working on plans to hunt down Hamas leaders living in Lebanon, Turkey and Qatar, the small Gulf nation that has allowed the group to run a political office in Doha for a decade, the officials said. The assassination campaign would be an extension of Israel's decadeslong clandestine operations that have become the subject of both Hollywood legend and worldwide condemnation. Israeli assassins have hunted Palestinian militants in Beirut while dressed as women, and killed a Hamas leader in Dubai while disguised as tourists. Israel has used a car bomb to assassinate a Hezbollah leader in Syria and a remote-controlled rifle to kill a nuclear scientist in Iran, according to former Israeli officials. For years, countries such as Qatar, Lebanon, Iran, Russia and Turkey have provided Hamas, a U.S.-designated terrorist group, with a measure of protection. And Israel has at times refrained from targeting the Palestinian militants to avoid creating diplomatic crises. To the consternation of some Israeli officials who want the latest plans to remain a mystery, Netanyahu telegraphed his intentions in a nationwide address on Nov. 22. While Israel typically tries to keep such efforts secret, the nation's leaders have shown few reservations about revealing their intentions to hunt down everyone responsible for the Oct. 7 attack, just like they did to those responsible for the Palestinian terrorist attack that killed 11 Israeli athletes and coaches at the Munich Olympics in 1972.
Why are older homeowners still paying off their mortgages?
Last week, we reported on why a growing number of people are buying homes later in life; the median age of first-time homebuyers is now 35, up from 29 in 1981. And the median age of all homebuyers is now 49, up from 31, according to the National Association of Realtors. Today, we're following that with new data from Harvard's Joint Center for Housing Studies showing that a growing number of people in their 60s, 70s and 80s are still paying their mortgages. And the amount of mortgage debt they're carrying has grown, too. It used to be that by the time most people reached 80, their house was paid off. In 1989, just 3% of homeowners over 80 still had a mortgage. Today? It's nearly a third. "And the balance on those mortgages is much higher, even when you adjust for inflation," said Jennifer Molinsky at Harvard's Joint Center for Housing Studies. She said a big reason so many older people still have a mortgage today is that a lot of them refinanced in the last decade or so to take advantage of low interest rates. "Refinancing in your 50s, you start the clock at a 30-year mortgage, again, it's coming due in the 80s and beyond." Anqi Chen at the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College said it's not necessarily a bad thing that more older people still have a mortgage. "Part of that increase is definitely driven by what we would call financially savvy borrowers, where their debt is not a problem for their balance sheet," she said. But, she said, a lot of older people are struggling with debt in retirement. Many owe on credit cards and student loans in addition to a mortgage.
As the U.S. ages fast, more boomers will struggle with housing
A few decades ago, Leslie McIntire thought she was doing everything right for a comfortable life. She was a tax accountant in Washington, D.C., and co-owned a not-for-profit bookstore. "I had good savings," she says. "I was quite happy, quite frankly, and I was preparing to go back to school." Then a car accident dislocated her hip and jaw, left her psychologically rattled and derailed her career. McIntire held on in her rent-controlled apartment for a while, even after she was forced to go on disability and started burning through savings. She eventually realized she needed more help, but then had to endure a three-year wait to get into the federally subsidized senior housing where she now lives. "And by the time I got in here, I was seriously considering going into a shelter," she says. "I paid my rent, my utilities. I had SNAP benefits for food. And I had $25 left over. And you just can't live on that in the long run." McIntire is 69, part of the baby boomer generation that is entering older age amid a historic affordable housing shortage and rising wealth inequality in the U.S. She wishes she'd known earlier how difficult things could get. "I think that's the main thing people need to know," she says, "that they need to be prepared beforehand for what's coming down the road." A newly released report from Harvard University's Joint Center for Housing Studies sounds a loud warning about what's ahead as the country ages rapidly, and how unprepared the U.S. is as boomers start to turn 80 within the next decade.
MUW begins offering more scholarships for incoming freshmen
Mississippi University for Women is finding another way to attract students. It starts in the classroom and ends in their bank account. The university said it will significantly increase scholarship opportunities for freshmen enrolling in the 2024 academic year. School leaders said this was a way to keep a college education accessible and affordable. MUW is known for students graduating with low amounts of debt. For qualifying freshman students, the amount of scholarships will increase.
Baptist, UMMC to receive $2 million each in state funds for burn centers
State Health Department officials decided to split $4 million in state funds to two Mississippi health care systems vying to open burn centers. The decision comes after months of confusion over how the money would be divided after the Legislature gave the Mississippi State Health Department the responsibility of doling out the money designated in House Bill 1626. The burn center at Merit Health Central in Jackson -- then the state's only such center -- closed in October of last year. Ever since, both Mississippi Baptist Medical Center and the University of Mississippi Medical Center have been competing for the title of burn center. In the months following the bill's creation, though, it became clear the legislation allowed for multiple hospitals to be deemed qualified to host a burn center, and multiple hospitals could be eligible for the $4 million allotted by the Legislature intended to defray expenses. By July, both facilities had been deemed eligible to run a burn center by the state Health Department, despite apparent gaps in their qualifications at the time, according to reviews of both health systems' sites. Both have since submitted corrective action plans to address the deficiencies. UMMC estimates that the cost of constructing its burn center will be $6.3 million, according to the most recent Institutions for Higher Learning board book.
TikTok for me, not thee: University-affiliated accounts posting despite ban
While the University of Mississippi has banned students from using TikTok on university Wi-Fi networks, university-affiliated accounts continue to share content on the app. Senate Bill 2140, also known as the National Security on State Devices and Networks Act, took effect on July 1. The ban states that TikTok and any app owned by its parent company, ByteDance, are banned from state-issued devices and state-operated networks. The ban is in response to privacy concerns arising nationwide. While UM asserts that it complies with the ban, TikTok pages such as @olemiss and @olemissfootball post videos and photos on the app almost daily. "University-owned accounts are not exempt and continue to comply with the state law. The only exception that affects the university is if UPD needs to access the platform in the course of an investigation," the university's Director of News and Media Relations Jacob Batte​ said. The Daily Mississippian asked Batte how the university could be in compliance with the law while simultaneously posting on TikTok. Batte reiterated that the university was in compliance with state law. Many students still utilize TikTok as part of their daily routine despite the ban on school Wi-Fi.
Ole Miss alumni encourage entrepreneurs at summit
The University of Mississippi graduates responsible for introducing a groundbreaking marketplace app that has made thrift fashion more accessible for college students encouraged budding entrepreneurs and offered advice at the sixth annual REDe Entrepreneurship Summit. Hosted by the UM Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, the annual summit celebrates and enhances entrepreneurial initiatives undertaken by Ole Miss students from various disciplines, with a unique theme being emphasized each year. "The sixth annual REDe Summit was about inspiring our students to find their calling and to better understand where their passion lies," said Clay Dibrell, CIE co-director. "As we celebrate the University of Mississippi's 175th anniversary, we want our students to be inspired by their calling and to better understand how passion can pull them through difficult times by having their life callings drive their passion." More than 250 students gathered to hear from Claire Ficek, an Ole Miss integrated marketing communications junior from Maple Plain, Minnesota, as well as William Ault, Clara Agnes Ault and Eli Allen, all Ole Miss alumni and co-founders of Curtsy, along with their CEO, David Oates, who moderated the panel discussion.
New Jackson State president Marcus Thompson shares goals during welcoming ceremony
Jackson State University's new president Marcus Thompson outlined student safety on campus as one of his priorities to help the university grow and succeed, during his welcoming ceremony Thursday. Thompson opened the ceremony by giving thanks to the Board of Trustees of State Institutions of Higher Learning (IHL) for placing the responsibility in his hands to lead his alma mater. Thompson previously served as IHL Deputy Commissioner and Chief Administrative Officer. Thompson earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in history and Spanish and a Master's degree in Education from Mississippi College. He holds a Doctor of Philosophy degree from Jackson State University in urban higher education. "I am proud to serve as the 13th president of Jackson State University," Thompson said. "My time at Jackson State University certainly played a pivotal role in my life. I look forward to enhancing that experience for the next generation of tigers, who walk these hallowed halls. And I'm proud to stand on the shoulders of every president who has come before me." Thompson said the JSU students are a priority of his, naming them as the "North Star" of his administration. "This campus is my home too, and I want everyone to feel safe, day and night," Thompson said. In addition to campus safety, he said he will emphasize the importance of financial stability and bridge building as he continues to talk with faculty and staff.
JSU's new president shares vision for university
Jackson State University's new president, Marcus L Thompson, gave insight and shared his vision for the university moving forward. Marcus Thompson was officially introduced Thursday as Jackson State University's 13th president. Students are anxious for the future under Thompson's tenure. "I just wanna make sure that our president is doing a good job with being in the face of the students and advocating for the students because without the students there wouldn't be a university," said a JSU student, Austin Rolfe. Thompson spoke about his main focus for moving the university forward. "I want to build upon the existing strategic plan with a focus on accountability, attention to detail, customer care, and financial sustainability," Thompson said. As they enhance campus safety measures, Thompson says it's important that he has first-hand knowledge of what students experience as campus residents. For the spring, Thompson plans to announce details of his first president's tour to connect with principles who have served as recruiters for scholars at Jackson State. During this tour, he will travel to different cities to also talk with students and alumni.
New JSU president emphasizes accountability and financial sustainability
In his first press conference as Jackson State University's 13th president, Marcus Thompson pledged to improve "customer care," accountability and financial sustainability at the historically Black university, all with students as his administration's north star. Leading Jackson State, Thompson added, is an "awesome responsibility," one he thanked the Institutions of Higher Learning Board of Trustees for placing on him. He told reporters and roughly 40 attendees, including faculty, staff and administrators, that he's spent much of his first four days as president getting to know students and the campus. "I look forward to enhancing (the) experience for the next generation of tigers who will walk these hallowed halls," Thompson said. "And I'm proud to stand on the shoulders of every president who has come before me." Thompson, a former deputy commissioner at IHL, takes office at a pivotal moment for Jackson State, replacing Temporary Acting President Elayne Hayes-Anthony. The largest HBCU in Mississippi is facing declining enrollment, seeking legislative funding for crucial capital improvements to its aging dormitories and water system, and dealing with community concerns about security in the wake of an on-campus shooting that killed a student in October. And earlier this month, faculty took a no-confidence vote in the dean of the College of Education, the second such vote on campus this year.
New Jackson State president plans to focus on campus safety
Jackson State University (JSU) President Dr. Marcus Thompson introduced himself to the media on Thursday, November 30. Thompson was named the 13th president of the university by the Board of Trustees of State Institutions of Higher Learning (IHL) on November 16, 2023. On Thursday, he outlined his priorities for the university; chief among them was student safety. Thompson said he has already had conversations with JSU Police Chief Herman Horton about how to increase safety on campus. "Chief Horton and I have talked every day of my four day administration about security and safety and some of the things we've talked about. We've already committed to adding more cameras across campus. He's committed. He's hiring another officer that will begin working this Monday. Several different things that we've discussed. And I wanted him to know, Chief Horton, that is a priority of mine. And that's why we've met literally every day this week about safety issues," he stated. Thompson previously served as deputy commissioner and chief administrative officer of the IHL.
Jackson State's new president discusses priorities for university
Jackson State University's 13th president, Dr. Marcus Thompson, was officially introduced Thursday afternoon. Prioritizing accountability, on-campus safety, and the safety of all students at JSU are a few points that President Thompson says his introductory plan entails. But whether those goals are related to the recent on-campus killing of Jaylen Burns remains unanswered. "I want to say our students are my priority. I'll say that again. Our students are my priority," he said. "We've already committed to adding more cameras across campus. That is a priority of mine. And that's why we've met literally every day this week about safety issues." Although President Thompson didn't specifically discuss it during his press conference Thursday, his safety plans come after the on-campus killing of 21-year-old Jaylen Burns last month, just weeks before the announcement of the new president was made. President Thompson did not have any comment about 3 On Your Side's Investigations that revealed alleged video evidence that one of the suspects arrested for murder was in a different part of the state around the time of the killing. "Well, as you know, that is a matter that's an investigation and we're unable to speak to that manner," President Thompson said.
Belhaven University's famed Singing Christmas Tree performance begins Friday
The nation's oldest singing Christmas tree tradition is set to perform for the 91st time in Jackson. It is a tradition Belhaven University has performed since 1933, with over 100 choir singers caroling. "This annual event has become a cherished tradition to kick off the Christmas season and we are honored to present this gift to our community," said the Chair of the Music Department Dr. Rebecca Geihsler-Chittom. The singing Christmas tree performance is scheduled for Friday, December 1, to Saturday, December 2 in the Belhaven Bowl Stadium at 7:30 p.m. Belhaven's performing arts departments are collaborating with tree singers to add their artistry to tell and celebrate the story of the Nativity. "The 91st Belhaven Singing Christmas Tree stands apart from previous years. Our collaboration has broadened to encompass a wider array of artistic disciplines that include dance, theatre, art and design, and creative writing."
Cynthia Nance now dean of the U. of Arkansas at Fayetteville School of Law
Cynthia Nance, who has been serving as interim dean of the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville School of Law since last summer, will continue to lead the law school through June 2026, the university announced Thursday. Nance, who was also dean of the law school from 2006-2011, has served the university for nearly three decades, "and her experience within the School of Law and the university, as well as her expertise in legal education and respect of the bench and bar, is unmatched," Terry Martin, provost and executive vice chancellor for Academic Affairs, said in a news release from the university Thursday. "I, along with university leadership, am thrilled she will continue in this role." Nance first joined the law school in 1994 as an assistant professor, and she was the first woman and first person of color to serve as dean of the law school -- which was established in 1924 -- when she took the job in 2006, according to the university. Following her five years as dean, she returned to the faculty -- designated as the Nathan G. Gordon Professor of Law in 2012 -- and in July of 2022, she was appointed interim dean, succeeding Alena Allen, who herself was serving in an interim capacity before stepping down after roughly six months in the role. Since Nance's first tenure as dean, the law school has continuously been led by women. Nance, 65, whose appointment officially starts Jan. 1, 2024, will maintain her faculty tenure, rank and role as the Nathan G. Gordon Professor of Law, with total annual compensation of $357,000.
How can a doctor diagnose a patient through a screen? A UGA student is working to figure it out
Imagine you're feeling achy. You have a cough, and you might have a fever. It's flu season, so you want to have a doctor check you out. Almost a quarter of Americans now opt for a telehealth visit, which public health experts say has helped to keep sick people out of community spaces where they can spread illness. But the transition to telehealth visits also means rewriting some of the rules clinicians depend on to make diagnostics decisions. "We know that telemedicine is working identifying high-risk patients, but we know that we can do better also," said Zane Billings, an epidemiology and biostatistics doctoral student in the University of Georgia's College of Public Health. Billings and co-authors from UGA Public Health recently published a study in the Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine that tests the accuracy of existing clinical decision rules for flu in a telehealth setting using only patient-reported symptoms. A clinical decision rule (CDR) is a diagnostic tool that uses symptoms, and sometimes tests, to help clinicians determine how likely it is that a patient has a particular disease, and more importantly, how severe that case could be. But when that patient-clinician interaction happens over a screen, and the rule relies on only what information the patient can share, do the rules hold up?
U. of South Carolina to offer course on Taylor Swift. Are you ready for it?
The University of South Carolina is entering its Taylor Swift era. The School of Sport and Entertainment Management will offer the course "Life is Just a Classroom: Taylor's Version" beginning with the Spring 2024 semester, according to Kate Blanton, the professor teaching the course. The class will focus on Swift's business acumen and her "agency as a woman" in the music industry. Blanton and her students will dig into Swift's storied career, including the re-recording of her songs in order to own her music catalog, branding, social media, tour management and merchandising. And, of course, the class will take some time to study the Swifties, the singer/songwriter's legion of passionate fans. The students will also plan and host a Swift-themed event at the end of the class. "She's changing the way that the music industry works and that's something I think deserves study," Blanton told Free Times. Blanton said the 40-seat class was already full, but has still been receiving emails from students asking to join the upper-level course. The class is for juniors and seniors only, Blanton said, and is aimed at allowing students to combine all the coursework they've had thus far through the "lens of this one particular artist." Blanton's course will lean on Swift's domination of social media, and students will create their own accounts to learn firsthand how fans, businesses and consumers interact with the singer's brand.
Vanderbilt University aims for excellence in divided times -- throughout 150-year history
It all started with $1 million, a deeply divided nation and the vision of a man named Cornelius Vanderbilt some 150 years ago. A railroad and shipping magnate, Vanderbilt sent a $1 million endowment with a handwritten letter to Bishop Holland McTyeire in 1873 to help establish a university in Nashville. The Civil War had ended just a handful of years earlier. In his letter, Vanderbilt charged the school to "contribute to strengthening the ties which should exist between all sections of our common country." The school was briefly called the Central University of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South, before changing its named to Vanderbilt University ahead of its opening. In the fall of 1875, the first 307 students arrived on campus. This March, the university kicked off a celebration for its 150th anniversary, also known as a sesquicentennial. The school has become a leader in research, academics and social causes over the years. In 1914, the school parted ways with the church and struck out on its own. In the 25 years that followed, the university weathered World War I, the Spanish flu pandemic and the Great Depression. After World War II ended in 1945, the passage of the G.I. Bill bolstered the university's enrollment. The university, along with the nation's economy, was booming. Vanderbilt's first Black student, Joseph A. Johnson, was admitted in 1952 to the Divinity School, but segregation and Jim Crow laws persisted into the 1960s, spurring the Civil Rights Movement. Drawing on its founding principles of bringing people together and fostering civil discourse, the university hosted a wide array of speakers as part of an ongoing symposium. It brought voices from opposite ends of the spectrum, including Martin Luther King Jr. and Sen. Strom Thurmond, who was a vocal supporter of segregation. The move sparked intense controversy and calls for leadership to resign. But the university remained committed to its cause, said Daniel Diermeier, the school's ninth and current chancellor.
U. of Memphis to build apartment-style student housing at Park Ave. campus
New apartment-style student housing is planned for the University of Memphis' Park Avenue campus. The 540-bed student housing development, available to both students and student-athletes, is expected to be ready by the fall semester of 2026. The new residences will be part of the future Tiger Park, an integrated academic and athletic facilities complex to be carried out in phases over the next decade. "The upcoming housing development on our Park Avenue campus will give our student-athletes a significant competitive enhancement to live where they train," said university of Memphis President Bill Hardgrave. "This first-class facility will help tremendously in recruiting for our athletic programs and assist in building a sense of community across our university with student-athletes living alongside others in our student population. We greatly appreciate everyone involved for helping make this much-anticipated facility a reality." The development is all thanks to a public-private partnership between the university and The Annex Group, a national developer building innovative housing communities at universities across the country. The need for added student housing became apparent in 2023 when the UofM saw a waitlist of over 400 students in the summer. "This housing development on Park Avenue campus will be a game-changer for our student-athletes," said Memphis head women's soccer coach Brooks Monaghan. "Living in the vicinity of where they practice, compete and train will significantly enhance their experience, and a development like this sets our university apart when it comes to recruitment."
Nebraska-Lincoln Chancellor Rodney Bennett expands office staff as the university system faces millions in cuts
While departments at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln look to do more with less due to millions of dollars in cuts, the chancellor is expanding his staff through private funds. UNL Chancellor Rodney Bennett has revived two positions: directors of university relations and external relations. UNL spokesperson Leslie Reed said the positions had existed at UNL under previous administrations, although not when Bennett started July 1. Those positions, as well as two others in top campus offices, have been filled by former colleagues of Bennett from the University of Southern Mississippi. Bennett led USM for nearly 10 years. They are: Dee Dee Anderson, former special adviser to the president and vice president for student affairs and now UNL's vice chancellor for student affairs (as of Sept. 5). Bennett had recommended Anderson to a UNL search committee. Ernest "E.K." Franks, former executive associate athletic director for student-athlete services at USM and now UNL's director for university relations (as of Nov. 1). Jim Coll, former chief communications officer at USM and now UNL's chief communication and marketing officer (as of Nov. 13). Brian Morrison, outgoing senior associate athletic director for development at USM and UNL's incoming director of external relations at UNL (beginning Dec. 1). Franks and Morrison will each be paid $180,000, Reed said, through the University of Nebraska Foundation, not through state funds or tuition dollars. Anderson's salary is $267,000; Coll's salary is $250,000, according to Reed. Both Anderson and Coll make less than their predecessors.
U. of Michigan Shuts Down Student Vote on Israeli, Palestinian Resolutions
A three-day student voting period on two competing ballot resolutions asking University of Michigan officials to take a stand on the Israel-Hamas war was slated to end Thursday night at 10 p.m. But well before the deadline, administrators shut down the voting. In an email to the student body, university vice president and general counsel Timothy Lynch said the referenda were canceled due to election interference by a large coalition of pro-Palestinian student organizations that supported one of the resolutions. Known as AR 13-025, the initiative called on the university to recognize that the people of Gaza are "undergoing genocide," "acknowledge that 75+ years of Palestinian-Israeli tensions have been created through systems of settler colonialism" and establish a committee to investigate the ethics of the university's investments. Such a committee could consider divesting from companies with ties to Israel, including those that manufacture weapons. The pro-Palestinian coalition sent a mass email to students Wednesday morning -- which Lynch said was "unauthorized" -- encouraging them to vote in favor of AR 13-025 and against the pro-Israel AR 13-026. The latter resolution called on the university to share their plans "to keep all students safe in their homes, in their classes, and on the broader campus" and to provide increased mental health support for students impacted by the violence in Israel and the Palestinian territories. The incident is the latest example of tensions between supporters of Israel and Palestine boiling over on college campuses -- and of attempts by administrators to navigate them.
UVa hosts Youngkin for a quiet summit on free speech
It was a quiet affair about speech. There was little fanfare Wednesday as the University of Virginia hosted Gov. Glenn Youngkin along with representatives from every public college in the commonwealth, as well as some private institutions, for a "Higher Education Summit on Free Speech and Intellectual Diversity." The governor is so concerned about free speech on campus that his secretary of education spent more than a year planning the summit. The university, however, did not publicize the event, and it made no mention of the summit or the governor's appearance on any UVa website. "The bottom line is I'm extremely worried about the state of our college and university campuses today," Youngkin told the crowd assembled in the ballroom of Newcomb Hall on Wednesday afternoon. Today's university students, he said, are afraid to express their viewpoints out of fear of retribution. "How do we ask serious questions and foster informed debate so that we can importantly get to critical answers?" Youngkin asked the crowd. "We have to challenge conventional wisdom. Challenging beliefs and fostering an environment for these debates is exactly why we exist." Some UVa faculty were alarmed by the event, in part because of a certain item on the agenda: a roundtable discussion in which "teams will develop a tangible plan including specific, measurable and attainable metrics." "How do you measure that? What would such a metric look like?" asked Kathryn Laughon, an associate professor at the UVa School of Nursing, speaking with The Daily Progress after Wednesday's summit. She also noted that the event was not widely publicized nor livestreamed, catching the university's own faculty unawares.
A Tech Giant Is Pitching a Robot Dog for Campus Security. It's A Hard Sell.
It can run up to seven miles per hour, and swim. It can climb steps and scale hills at a 40-degree gradient. It can be outfitted with sensors, night vision, arms, and deployable drones. It is a robotic dog -- a "quadruped" platform developed by Ghost Robotics and enhanced by AT&T that, to date, has been used to patrol military zones. Now, the telecommunications giant is pitching a new use for this AI-friendly technology: campus safety. "We started thinking outside the box," said Arthur Hernandez, a principal technology program manager at AT&T who's been in the U.S. Navy Reserves for more than 20 years. The team thought, "'Why can't we use this in other types of scenarios?'" There may be a limit, though, to the tech applications that higher ed can stomach -- at least for now. Many faculty members and students who spoke with The Chronicle said the proposed functions -- which include 24/7 perimeter patrol, spotting "unidentified" personnel, and dispersing unruly protests -- felt Orwellian, not to mention financially impractical. "We are not a military base. We're a college," said Alexandra Stinson, a Ph.D. student in political science at Michigan State University. "This is where our lives happen." "These are tricky spaces, and these are very fragile spaces that we're walking into," said Renée Cummings, an AI and data ethicist and criminologist who's also a professor of the practice in data science at the University of Virginia. "Technology is always more ahead of the law. So we've got to think about that."
Why companies like Walmart are ditching college degree requirements
No college degree? No problem, says Walmart. Companies are reconsidering college degree requirements in certain positions due to labor shortages, or the realization that there are more workers with sufficient skills to do the job. Walmart, the largest private employer in the U.S., recently said it would no longer require a 4-year degree for an unspecified number of corporate positions. The company said it's rewriting job descriptions so that applicants "can have a related college degree or possess the skills needed for the job, whether through previous experience or other forms of learning." "We're removing obstacles to opportunity," Walmart senior VP for associate learning and leadership Lorraine Stomski tells Axios. And it's not just Walmart. About 78.4% of job postings in "college-level occupations" in 2023 specifically called for a degree, down from 82.5% in 2017 and 85% in 2010, according to labor analytics firm Lightcast. Jobs like insurance sales agent, e-commerce analyst, property appraiser and call center manager are among the positions that increasingly do not require a degree. "Because we still have these labor shortages ongoing, a way for employers to get more people in the door and get more people to at least apply for these positions is to drop the degree requirements," Lightcast senior economist Rucha Vankudre tells Axios. Deemphasizing college will undermine the nation's competitiveness on a global scale, says James Keyes, former CEO of Blockbuster and 7-Eleven. "College is about learning to learn – you don't want that person to come into the workforce and be unable to learn," says Keyes, who advocates for college in his forthcoming book Education is Freedom.
The Friday Read: The Bogus Historians Who Teach Evangelicals They Live in a Theocracy
Author Tim Alberta writes for POLITICO: I had never seen a sanctuary so full on a Tuesday night. The people packed into FloodGate Church in Brighton, Mich., weren't here for Bill Bolin, the right-wing zealot pastor who'd grown his congregation tenfold by preaching conspiracy-fueled sermons since the onset of Covid-19, turning Sunday morning worship services into amateur Fox News segments. No, they had come out by the hundreds, decked out in patriotic attire this October evening in 2021, to hear from a man who was introduced to them as "America's greatest living historian." They had come for David Barton. And so had I. It would be of little use to tell the folks around me -- the people of my conservative hometown -- that Barton wasn't a real historian. They wouldn't care that his lone academic credential was a bachelor's degree in religious education from Oral Roberts University. It wouldn't matter that Barton's 2012 book on Thomas Jefferson was recalled by Thomas Nelson, the world's largest Christian publisher, for its countless inaccuracies, or that a panel of 10 conservative Christian academics who reviewed Barton's body of work in the aftermath ripped the entirety of his scholarship to shreds. It would not bother the congregants of FloodGate Church to learn that they were listening to a man whose work was found by one of America's foremost conservative theologians to include "embarrassing factual errors, suspiciously selective quotes, and highly misleading claims." All this would be irrelevant to the people around me because David Barton was one of them. He believed the separation of church and state was a myth. He believed the time had come for evangelicals to reclaim their rightful place atop the nation's governmental and cultural institutions. Hence the hero's welcome Barton received when he rolled into FloodGate with his "American Restoration Tour."
Mississippi among the Top States for Doing Business
Columnist Phil Hardwick writes: Mississippi has been named one of the "2023 Top States for Doing Business" by Area Development Magazine, considered the leading executive magazine covering corporate site selection and relocation. The Magnolia State came in overall at number 10 of the 20 states listed. Mississippi was ranked #4 in the Speed of Project Permitting category, #7 in the Overall Cost of Doing Business category, and #10 in the Business Incentives Programs and Favorable Regulatory Environment categories, respectively. Each year, Area Development surveys site selection and economic development experts to determine which states are identified as exhibiting more than a dozen categories that companies find important in decisions to add new facilities, expand, or relocate (see categories below). Although there are many state business rankings articles on various magazine websites, it is insightful to note the respondents in this survey were professionals who deal with day-to-day site selection and economic development issues. ... An excellent example of Mississippi's high ranking in the categories of Site Readiness Program and Speed of Project Permitting was the announcement this past week that a new Amazon facility would be locating in the Northstar Industrial Park's 50,000 square foot speculative building in Oktibbeha County. The project is slated to create 90 full time and part time jobs. Locating the project was a team effort between the Golden Triangle Development LINK, the Oktibbeha County Economic Development Authority (OCEDA) and Agracel, Inc., according to the GTR link website.

Mississippi State football's Jeff Lebby continues making changes to the offensive staff
Mississippi State football coach Jeff Lebby is expected to hire Arkansas' Cody Kennedy as his offensive line coach, according to a report from 247Sports. The news comes a day after ESPN reported North Texas offensive line coach Jon Cooper is also joining Lebby's staff along with Oklahoma senior offensive analyst Matt Holecek. It's unclear what role Cooper will serve. Holecek's bio on X suggests he'll coach quarterbacks. MSU will not be retaining defensive coordinator and linebackers coach Matt Brock, safeties coach Brett Dewhurst, running backs coach Tony Hughes, offensive line coach Will Friend, cornerbacks coach Darcel McBath and tight ends/tackles coach Mike Schmidt, according to multiple reports. Special teams coach Eric Mele also will be departing, he announced via X on Thursday. Offensive coordinator Kevin Barbay also will not be retained. Lebby said he will call his own plays, but he does intend on hiring an offensive coordinator. Wide receivers coach Chad Bumphis and defensive line coach David Turner announced via X that they're staying at Mississippi State. Kennedy has spent the past three seasons at Arkansas. He was a 2021 Broyles Award semifinalist, which is annually awarded to the top assistant coach. His previous stops include Tulane and Southern Miss, among others.
Report: Jeff Lebby, Mississippi State expected to hire Arkansas OL coach Cody Kennedy
Jeff Lebby is reportedly making a crucial hire to his Mississippi State staff that'll have an impact on the Arkansas Razorbacks. According to John Brice of, the Bulldogs leader is adding Arkansas assistant Cody Kennedy to his staff, and he's slated to coach Mississippi State's offensive line. "Jeff Lebby has made the crucial decision to retain a couple of key Mississippi State assistants, including former star wideout Chad Bumphis, and Lebby also has elected to move on from numerous former Bulldogs assistants," wrote Brice. "Now, sources tell FootballScoop, Lebby has worked to execute a foundational move for the future of his Mississippi State program. "Cody Kennedy, a multi-time honoree as an Broyles Award candidate and former semifinalist for the award given annually to college football's best assistant coach, is set to move on from his spot on Sam Pittman's Arkansas Razorbacks staff to join Lebby's inaugural Bulldogs staff, numerous sources tell FootballScoop. He will coach State's offensive line. It's viewed as an absolutely crucial addition for Lebby from a noted conference rival, per sources within the Southeastern Conference." Alas, it seems as if Jeff Lebby is already making a splash as a head coach. He's looking to build something special in Starkville.
Macey Hodge earns all-region honors from United Soccer Coaches
Mississippi State women's soccer senior midfielder Macey Hodge took home some accolades on Wednesday, earning All-Southeast Region Second Team honors from United Soccer Coaches. Hodge has been a mainstay in the midfield for the past four seasons, including the 2023 season, where she played all but 87 minutes of Mississippi State's 22 matches, recording two assists in the process. She's played in 73 matches over her Bulldogs career. Earlier this month, Hodge earned first team All-Southeastern Conference honors, her first time being named to any All-SEC postseason honors list.
Cowboys escape with a win over the Seahawks, and maybe Dak Prescott is the real MVP
Maybe Dallas Cowboys fans will be happy with Dak Prescott now. Getting undue criticism is part of the job of playing quarterback for the Cowboys. Ask Tony Romo. Go back to the Cowboys' past couple of playoff losses and find all those social media messages begging the Cowboys to get rid of Prescott. They were plentiful. Only a long Cowboys playoff run will quiet that crowd. But maybe an MVP would help a little. There is no doubt Prescott is in the MVP race after Thursday night against the Seattle Seahawks. On a night when the Cowboys' defense was uncharacteristically bad -- or maybe it's that the Cowboys have beat up on bad teams and have not looked nearly as good against good ones -- Prescott saved Dallas from a bad loss. Prescott led a go-ahead drive, hitting Jake Ferguson for a 12-yard touchdown with 4:37 left, and then the Cowboys finally got a stop. Dallas got a field goal after that, and Micah Parsons' pressure on a fourth-down incompletion sealed the 41-35 win over the Seahawks. Prescott was excellent, as he has been for many weeks. In Dallas' six games before Thursday, Prescott had thrown 18 touchdowns to two interceptions, completing more than 70% of his passes for a 122.6 passer rating. And he was even better Thursday night. Prescott threw for 299 yards, three touchdowns and made several big plays against a Seahawks team that came to Dallas looking for an upset and almost got it. Dallas got a real test on Thursday night. The Seahawks were in position to win. Prescott was the biggest difference in the win. Start the MVP conversation.
Could the mighty SEC possibly miss the College Football Playoff for the first time?
The Southeastern Conference is the only league to claim a spot -- sometimes two spots -- in every College Football Playoff. And the SEC hasn't just participated. It has dominated. But some are wondering if the conference that has captured six of nine national titles under the current four-team format might get shut out of the postseason if No. 8 Alabama knocks off No. 1 Georgia in the SEC championship game Saturday. Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban said Thursday "it would be a disrespect to the SEC" to be left out of the playoff -- no matter who wins the conference title. He wasted no time making a case that his team would certainly be playoff worthy with a victory in Atlanta over the two-time defending national champions. "I think that the SEC is one of the best conferences in the country. I think Georgia is one of the best teams in the country. I think they're one of the best four teams in the country," Saban said. "I think if we beat them, we'd be one of the best four teams in the country." If the Bulldogs win -- they are a 5 1/2-point favorite, according to FanDuel Sportsbook -- there is no doubt about their spot in the playoff. Things get a bit murkier if the Tide snaps Georgia's 29-game winning streak.
Should conference title games continue in playoff expansion era? Commissioners mulling future of college football
This weekend is one of college football's crown jewels. A buffet of conference championship games unfold over a 28-hour period starting Friday night and ending in the wee hours of Sunday morning. The 10-game lineup features five top-20 matchups, two top-eight clashes, a few Heisman Trophy candidates and the sport's blue-blood powers, including Texas, Georgia, Michigan, Florida State and Alabama. Television ratings will be superb, attendance incredible and competition intense. But in an expanded playoff era, a question looms for some of the sport's most influential leaders: Are conference championship games necessary? "We are in a period of change and assessment," ACC commissioner Jim Phillips said. "Conference championships should be assessed. Is it necessary to play a 13th game?" A year from now, with an expanded 12-team College Football Playoff, conference championship weekend will have a much different feel than it does now. The SEC owns the original, started in 1992. And while the league has held discussions over the future of the championship game, commissioner Greg Sankey says his membership believes it to be the most appropriate way to crown a champion. "As the conference with the most experience conducting conference championship games, we continue to believe it is an important part of determining a conference champion," he said. "The [expanded playoff] system is predicated on conference champions being identified in a clear way. As things change, we've had the conversation, but what I've described to you is the overall destination of that dialogue." Championship games are often incorporated into a conference's television package. The SEC and Big Ten championship games are estimated to hold a television value of more than $40 million, experts say. But title game benefits go beyond money, Big 12 commissioner Brett Yormark said. "From a marketing, brand and reach perspective, it's of huge value for us," he said.
Tulane is basking in its gridiron success: 'We're a football school now'
Tulane senior Julie Leichtner found herself joining more than 100 other students, university employees and local football fans at a pep rally Wednesday to cheer on the Green Wave as they prepare to host Southern Methodist University in the American Athletic Conference championship Saturday. That Tulane would be in the conference championship -- for the second year in a row, no less -- would have been unimaginable when Leichtner was a freshman. The team was 6-6 that year, and had a losing record in the conference. For much of the campus, what was happening in Yulman Stadium on autumn Saturdays was an afterthought. But over the past two seasons, the Green Wave has gone 23-3. Last year, they toppled mighty USC in the Cotton Bowl. Over Leichtner's college career, football has suddenly become a thing. "It has brought people together and increased spirit on campus 100 percent," said Leichtner, a psychology major from New York. "Tulane is a football school now." Having a winning team has elevated the school's profile and enhanced its brand. It has led to an increase in alumni giving. It has boosted revenues of area businesses. And it has changed the campus culture for the better, according to students and near neighbors, who periodically find themselves at odds over parking and housing. University officials say they can feel the ripple effects. Unsurprisingly, interest from potential football recruits has intensified. But so has interest from student athletes in other sports. Alumni engagement is also markedly up, both in participation and financial support. At the homecoming game in October, nearly 1,600 alumni turned out for the alumni tailgate -- more than at any time in recent history.
Behind the scenes of Auburn's improved, viral gameday atmosphere at Jordan-Hare Stadium
The lights turn off at the end of the third quarter. The beaming overhead LEDs illuminating the field against the dark night sky give way to blue and orange. Fans light up the stadium bowls with cell phone flashlights and a highlight reel of Iron Bowls past blasted on the video board. Navy blue shakers shook and the noise inside an already deafening stadium rose to an intimidating swell. Then over it all the instantly recognizable high-pitched ring in the intro of "Swag Surfin" by Fast Life Yungstaz and a student section swinging their arms over each other to sway together -- offbeat -- to the music. Jordan-Hare Stadium has long been known as one of the best game-day atmospheres in the SEC and college football. But on Saturday for the Iron Bowl as Auburn took a lead into the fourth quarter over No. 8 Alabama, it showcased this legendary grounds at its best. That cascade of coordination, noise and visual effects showed the dozens of high-ranking recruits on the field the scene they could play in -- many of them joined in the chaos -- and a video posted on X of the pre-fourth quarter festivities went viral with over 1 million views as fans of various programs complimented how cool it must be to play at Auburn. But how does this complex setup come together? Much of the duty falls on Paris Buchanan, Auburn's director of fan experience. His nickname around the athletic department is "Pyro Paris." Buchanan came to Auburn in March from Ole Miss, already having a relationship with many of the new staff members at Auburn who came with athletic director John Cohen from Mississippi State. Ole Miss' stadium historically hasn't been regarded as highly as Auburn's atmosphere, but recent years under Buchanan saw improvements to gameday festivities taking advantage of new technologies.
Texas A&M Board of Regents approves new football coach Mike Elko's contract
The Texas A&M University System Board of Regents voted in favor of authorizing A&M interim President Mark Welsh to negotiate and execute an employment agreement with new Aggie football coach Mike Elko during a special telephonic meeting Thursday. "Congratulations to our new head coach," Board of Regents chair Bill Mahomes said to close out the meeting. Eight of the nine Regents present on the call voted in favor of the authorization. Regent John Ballinger was not present and did not vote. After calling the meeting to order shortly after 11 a.m., the Regents went into executive session to discuss the item, including System Chancellor John Sharp, Vice Chancellor Billy Hamilton, Welsh and A&M athletic director Ross Bjork. The regents remained in executive session for just more than 30 minutes. Elko and university administrators already signed a memorandum of understanding on Sunday, which laid out the basic framework of Elko's contract with the understanding that the Regents would approve his employment agreement Thursday. Coaches can often work months under a memorandum of understanding before signing the official contract. A&M remains on the hook for the approximately $77 million buyout of Fisher, which the athletic department will make payments on annually for the next eight years. A&M will also pay Elko's undisclosed buyout from his contract at Duke, a private institution, where he served as head coach for the last two seasons.
Utah universities challenge public disclosure of NIL contracts
Five Utah universities are challenging a State Records Committee decision that college athletes' name, image and likeness contracts are public records. The University of Utah, Utah State, Weber State, Utah Valley and Southern Utah filed a complaint in 3rd District Court in Salt Lake City on Wednesday asking a judge to reverse the panel's order. The schools argue that NIL contracts are protected under the federal Family Education Rights and Privacy Act, or FERPA, and are not subject to Utah's public records law. They also contend the committee lacks the authority to order disclosure of the records. In October, the seven-member committee unanimously ruled that NIL contracts are not "education records" and ordered the universities to release the documents requested by the Deseret News under the state's Government Records Access and Management Act, or GRAMA. Schools across the country have refused to make NIL contracts public, deeming them "education records" under FERPA. The Utah committee's ruling appears to be the first time a governmental body or court has rejected that argument. The records panel relied on a 2002 U.S. Supreme Court case, Owasso Independent School District v. Falvo, that narrowly applied FERPA to a certain small subset of records that are kept in a central institutional file such as a registrar's office.
Tiger Woods changed professional golf. Now he's trying to save it
The last decade of Tiger Woods' career has been a series of stops and starts, the golf world grasping for each and every comeback before he goes away once more. The promise of another new beginning has brought this group here, waiting patiently for a Mercedes-Benz much like the ones that have ferried the other key partners to this part of Albany Golf Course. But then Tiger Woods just appeared, seemingly from thin air. He walked around the corner of the white tent -- alone -- like he was simply on his morning stroll and said, "Hey, guys," to the waiting media. The No. 1 player in the world is in the field at this relatively obscure golf tournament in the Caribbean, as is the 2023 PGA Tour champion, two 2023 major winners and most of the rest of the biggest names in golf. But as it always does, all attention focused instead on the man currently ranked No. 1,328 in the world. At first, as Tiger Woods sat down for his annual press conference to preview the Hero World Challenge --- a no-cut, limited-field event he hosts for himself and his PGA Tour buddies --- and discuss the state of Tiger Woods, he looked just like the 15-time major champion that he is. But as the conversation unfolded, the reality of the new person in front of us became clear. Here was Tiger Woods, PGA Tour policy board member. Tiger Woods, the co-founder of a new golf league. Tiger Woods the investor, the restaurateur, the course designer. Tiger Woods, the 47-year-old legend transitioning toward and becoming the authoritative, senior presence of a sport in crisis. "Don't say senior," Woods quipped. "I'm not there yet. I've got a couple more years." His latest comeback was the secondary storyline, the focus instead on the future of the PGA Tour and men's professional golf. He was a politician/executive, talking confidently about each and every issue for the PGA Tour.

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