Coronavirus in Texas: Paul Quinn College helps organize virtual graduation for students at historically black colleges

Wednesday’s biggest developments

  • St. Edward’s lays off employees
  • Paul Quinn president to speak at HBCU virtual graduation ceremony

Texas’ reliance on growth hid lack of preparation for coronavirus crises, report says

[10 a.m.] The economic growth Texas experienced in recent years hid how the state’s political, social and health care systems were unprepared to deal with the crises now being wrought by the coronavirus pandemic, according to a report released on Wednesday by the University of Houston and the University of Texas at Austin.

“When Texas’s economy was booming, we assumed that we could simply grow our way out of any problems or address them in strictly political terms,” the report read. “In some ways, it was a luxury of affluence.”

The report, called “A Playbook for Resiliency: Creating Opportunity for All Texans,” outlines a nine-step plan to sustain the state’s economy for the long run and through economic downturns in hopes of reaching “an inclusive and more resilient Texas.” The suggestions include encouraging more economic partnerships between regions across the state, investing in public health and rural communities, refurbishing the state’s infrastructure and diversifying the economy with a serious focus on clean and alternative energy “— and avoid the old debates or forced trade-offs of environment versus business.”

The report released by the two universities on Wednesday says state officials have historically focused on growth within the “Texas triangle” — bound by the Dallas-Fort Worth, Houston, San Antonio and Austin areas — while “much of the rest of the state, particularly rural areas, have been in decline.”

“It is a tale of two Texases: one, an urban powerhouse with a rising knowledge economy that craves more educated talent and the other, smaller towns and open ranges whose legacy agriculture, manufacturing, and oil extraction businesses are contracting,” read the report, authored by professor Steven W. Pedigo of the UT-Austin’s Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs and Dean Kirk Watson of the Hobby School of Public Affairs in Houston. — Mitchell Ferman

St. Edward’s University lays off employees

[9:46 a.m.] Citing financial losses due to the coronavirus pandemic, St. Edward’s University in Austin laid off an unknown number of employees on Tuesday, according to an Austin American-Statesman report.

The university has been “profoundly and negatively impacted by COVID-19 pandemic in virtually every aspect of operations, from classroom instruction to athletics programs to facility management,” university President George E. Martin said in a letter to the community obtained by the Statesman.

It is unclear how many employees will be impacted, the Statesman reported. Some employees told the paper that institution-wide restructuring will occur in nine departments and layoffs include some non-tenure track and tenure-track positions. — Sami Sparber

Paul Quinn College helps to organize HBCU virtual graduation

[5 a.m.] A national commencement celebration for historically black colleges and universities will be livestreamed this weekend and will include speakers such as former President Barack Obama, U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris and Paul Quinn College President Michael Sorrell, who helped organize the event, according to media reports.

The musical guests and speakers also include Kevin Hart and Wyclef Jean. Chase will stream the two-hour virtual event, which lists Paul Quinn College and Howard University among the members of its steering committee, on Twitter and YouTube at 1 p.m. Central time Saturday.

Sorrell promoted the event Tuesday evening on Twitter, saying it — and a virtual Sunday cookout organized by the Thurgood Marshall College Fund, Paul Quinn College and the United Negro College Fund — would be “fire.”

The virtual commencement comes as university budgets have been hard hit by the coronavirus pandemic, with some experts forecasting historically black colleges and universities could be particularly impacted. Across the country, students have returned home, and most in-person graduation ceremonies have been canceled or postponed.

In a March commentary for The Dallas Morning News, Sorrell said that he understood why Paul Quinn students were devastated by the loss of an in-person graduation, saying, “I get why they are struggling. … It all comes back to the trauma that’s permeated many of their lives for so many years.”

An attorney and education scholar, Sorrell started at Paul Quinn in 2007. He has tried to make the school an urban work college, where students have jobs and their professional performance is incorporated into their academic studies. — Shannon Najmabadi

Texas reports 41,048 cases and 1,133 deaths

[5 a.m.] Texas officials are expected to announce the latest number of coronavirus cases Wednesday afternoon. At least 41,048 people in Texas had tested positive and 1,133 had died, as of Tuesday. See maps of the latest case numbers for each county and case rates per 1,000 residents. — Carla Astudillo

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