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Podcast: Mississippi GOP Chairman Mike Hurst talks elections, party platform

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Number of faculty layoffs at Delta State still in flux

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mississippitoday.org – Molly Minta – 2024-07-12 15:23:15

Delta is still working out the number of faculty it needs to lay off after the college board last month approved the president's plan to achieve financial sustainability.

The regional college in the Mississippi Delta had initially planned to let its more than 200 faculty know on July 1. But the president, Daniel Ennis, wrote in an email a few weeks ago that he can't finalize the number of layoffs until he knows more about the shape of the four new interdisciplinary degrees that will replace the 21 programs the university is shuttering.

This means faculty will learn whether they need to start looking for new for the 2025-26 academic year on a case-by-case basis around the start of the fall semester — a delay that Ennis wrote is necessary but regretful.

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Other considerations for layoffs, Ennis wrote, include if faculty will be needed for general education courses or to teach who are currently enrolled in degrees the university plans to stop offering, like English, history and mathematics.

“We are working throughout the summer to finalize next steps,” Ennis told through a university spokesperson.

The cuts as Delta State has been struggling amid the region's population decline to keep its tuition-dependent budget in the black — a situation likely to be exacerbated by increased competition among the eight public universities for the declining number of high school graduates going to college.

Last month, the Institutions of Higher Learning Board of Trustees approved Delta State's proposal to close 21 programs the university selected through an academic that weighted metrics like total enrollment and awarded degrees more heavily than departmental profits or enrollment growth and decline.

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Initially, some faculty were relieved to see in the IHL board book that just 16 faculty would be “affected” in four programs — music, art, languages and literature, and chemistry.

But Ennis wouldn't say why faculty would be laid off from those four departments and not others, or if 16 is the total number of faculty that will be laid off considering some have already departed from the institution.

In total, about $750,000 needs to be cut from the payroll, Ennis previously told Mississippi . Seventeen staff have already been laid off, and 49 vacant positions were left unfilled.

Faculty have been working over the summer to write plans for the four new degree programs that will replace the deleted 21: Visual and performing arts, humanities and social science, digital and secondary education.

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Ennis said these four programs will be introduced to faculty in the fall through a curriculum review process, with the goal of implementing the programs by January 2025.

This article first appeared on Mississippi Today and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

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‘We will be in court’: Monticello pushes back on Corps’ new Jackson proposal

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mississippitoday.org – Alex Rozier – 2024-07-12 13:37:56

MONTICELLO — Even with an adjusted proposal to tackle flood risk in , U.S. Army Corps of Engineers still faces a steady flow of opposition downstream along the Pearl River.

“Let me assure you that and Mississippi will sue you,” Rep. Becky Currie, R-Brookhaven, told a panel of Corps Thursday night. “We will be in court fighting over you destroying our recreation, our way of life, our wildlife, our fishing and hunting and recreation. We will be in court.”

Last month, the Corps released a new draft environmental impact statement as part of the process for selecting a plan to create flood control in Jackson. The report suggested that a plan that would cost anywhere from $487 million to $655 million may be the most justifiable under the agency's cost-benefit analysis.

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The agency is receiving public feedback on the report until Aug. 6 after recently extending the deadline. The Corps will then use feedback from the public, as well as other agencies, to craft a final EIS. The agency's timeline projects a final decision in December from Michael Connor, the assistant secretary of the Army for Civil Works .

Over the last decade or so that Rankin and Hinds County officials have pushed a flood control plan known as “One Lake,” officials and downstream have shouted back. They argue that the plan, which would relocate a dam and widen the Pearl River near Jackson, would disrupt the river's downstream flow and, thus, also the wildlife and industries that rely on it.

In its June report, the Corps suggested that One Lake may have too large of a price tag to justify. However, the report also says that “Alternative D,” which includes similar components as One Lake, may be the most justifiable based on the agency's cost-benefit analysis.

Alternative D would create a smaller lake (about two-thirds the size) than what the One Lake plan would, and decrease mitigation costs by avoiding potential hazardous waste sites along the river. Alternative D also includes the option of elevating homes and voluntary buyouts for some of those in the floodplain.

Regardless of the differences, though, those in Monticello on Thursday still saw the fundamentals of what they've spent years protesting: a lake that, to some degree, is being advertised as recreation for those in the Jackson metro area.

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Rep. Becky Currie talking to the Corps panel at a meeting in Monticello on July 11, 2024.

“What's this going to do to my paper mill?” Scotty McCloud asked the panel. McCloud has spent the last 44 years working at the local Georgia Pacific paper mill, one of the largest employers in the area. He argued that, if the mill doesn't get the right quantity of water at the right temperature, not only would the mill suffer but so would Lawrence County as a whole.

Troy Constance, an environmental expert for the Corps, said that the agency's modeling of the remaining flood control proposals shows minimal impact to the Pearl River's flow once it reaches Monticello.

“We're not seeing huge changes very far from (where the proposed weir, or dam, would go),” Constance said, adding later that the models the Corps used were some of the best he'd work with in his 39 years on the job.

A chart from the Corps' presentation about flood control proposals in Jackson.

Others in the audience, such as Alton Letchworth, argued that the Corps' cost-benefit analysis didn't make sense.

“You could buy out every home in the flood area, and you wouldn't use half the money that you're going to spend on this,” Letchworth said.

So far, the federal government has made $221 million available for the flood control , meaning if Alternative D were selected, the project would still need another $266 million to $434 million in . Moreover, the local sponsor for the project — in this case the Rankin-Hinds Pearl River Flood and Drainage Control District — would be responsible for 35 percent of those costs, or $170 million to $229 million.

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Constance replied to Letchworth that Alternative D would have a wider impact in terms of flood control than simply just offering buyouts, which would vary in success depending on the participation rate of property owners.

Earlier, though, a Corps official clarified how the agency calculates a project's potential benefits: while at least 50 percent of the benefits have to come from flood control, additional benefits from recreational opportunities can be included in the agency's analysis. Constance explained that the benefits of damming the river — which is what separates Alternative D and One Lake from other options the Corps is considering — would be recreational, not flood control-related.

Columbia Justin McKenzie and others argued, despite the Corps' hydrological models, that the weir would harm those downstream similarly to what they saw after the Ross Barnett Reservoir was built in the 1960s.

“I do think there's some responsible ways to do (this project) without creating a weir,” McKenzie said. “I don't want any of my tax revenue to be spent on recreation of the lake in Jackson.”

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Another possible impediment to the project is the Pearl River map turtle.

On Tuesday, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service listed the Pearl River map turtle as “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act, estimating that only 21,000 of the species remain in existence. The Pearl River map turtle's habitat, the agency says, includes the Pearl River system in Mississippi and Louisiana.

“The science that the Service has gathered on the Pearl River map turtle indicates it could become endangered in the near future,” said Fish and Wildlife Biologist Luke Pearson in a press release. “These native freshwater map turtles are at risk and need our . Working with fish and wildlife agencies and our partners to conserve them is a priority.”

According to the Corps' draft EIS, Alternative D is “likely to adversely affect but not likely to jeopardize the continuing existence of” the turtles. During Thursday's meeting, Corps officials said they are still consulting with the USFWS on potential impacts to animals listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act, and that the agency's advice will be incorporated into the final EIS.

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“(The project) would require some excavation for the banks (along the Pearl River), and those turtles have been known to rely on those banks,” Brandon Davis with the Corps said.

For more information on how to submit comments before the Aug. 6 deadline or on the draft EIS, visit the Corps' project website here.

This article first appeared on Mississippi Today and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

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On this day in 1976

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JULY 12, 1976

U.S. Rep. Barbara Jordan on House Judiciary Committee during Watergate hearings. Credit: Wikipedia

U.S. Rep. Barbara Jordan, who first came to the forefront in the Watergate hearings, became the first African-American woman to deliver the keynote address to the Democratic National Convention.

In high school, she heard a career day speech by Edith Sampson, a black lawyer. Sampson's words inspired her to become an attorney, and she attended Southern University, a black college hastily created by the Texas Legislature to avoid to integrate the University of Texas. While there, she became part of the debate team, which famously tied Harvard University debaters.

After graduating magna cum laude in 1956, she was accepted at Boston University's school. After graduating, she returned to Houston to open a law office in the Fifth Ward. In 1972, she became the first black woman from the South to be elected to . Four years later, she told those at the Democratic National Convention, “We are a people in a quandary about the present. We are a people in search of our future. We are a people in search of a national community. We are a people not only to solve the problems of the present, unemployment, , but we are attempting on a larger scale to fulfill the promise of America. We are attempting to fulfill our national purpose, to create and sustain a society in which all of us are equal. …

“Many fear the future. Many are distrustful of their and believe that their voices are never heard. Many seek only to satisfy their private work — wants; to satisfy their private interests. But this is the great danger America faces — that we will cease to be one nation and become instead a collection of interest groups: city against suburb, region against region, individual against individual; each seeking to satisfy private wants. If that happens, who then will speak for America? Who then will speak for the common good? …

“We cannot improve on the system of handed down to us by the founders of the Republic. There is no way to improve upon that. But what we can do is to find new ways to implement that system and realize our destiny.”

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Her own destiny had been impacted a few years earlier when she was diagnosed with the debilitating disease of multiple sclerosis. In 1979, she stepped away from and began teaching at the University of Texas. She delivered the keynote address again in 1992, this time from a wheelchair. Not long after, she received the Presidential Medal of , and in 1996, she died of pneumonia and leukemia. The University of Texas and Austin airport have both honored her with statues.

This article first appeared on Mississippi Today and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

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