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Former Law School Dean, ‘Queen of SACS Accreditation’ Among MC Faculty Emeritus Recipients

Mississippi College's newest recipients of emeritus status, from left, Emily Fokeladeh, Patricia Bennett, Debbie Norris, and Deborah Bolian Massey, display plaques that recognize their significant achievement.
Mississippi College's newest recipients of emeritus status, from left, Emily Fokeladeh, Patricia Bennett, Debbie Norris, and Deborah Bolian Massey, display plaques that recognize their significant achievement.

A quartet of the most gifted faculty members to ever serve Mississippi College were honored with emeritus status during the Christian University’s Convocation Luncheon Aug. 14 in Anderson Hall in the B.C. Rogers Student Center.

Mike Highfield, newly named provost and executive vice president at MC, introduced each of the emeritus recipients: Patricia Bennett, former dean of the MC School of Law; Emily Fokeladeh, cofounder of MC’s Foundations for University Success program; Deborah Bolian Massey, longtime assistant professor of nursing; and Debbie Norris, graduate school dean and associate provost. It marked the first time at MC that all of the faculty emeritus honorees were women.

Emeritus status is bestowed upon retired Mississippi College faculty or staff members who have made significant contributions to the Christian University. It is given to showcase a long and distinguished record of scholarship, teaching, research, and service.

A graduate of the Mississippi College School of Law, Bennett joined the faculty after serving as a Judge Advocate General Corps officer in the U.S. Army Reserve and Mississippi National Guard, special assistant attorney general with the Mississippi Attorney General’s Office, assistant district attorney for Hinds and Yazoo Counties, and assistant U.S. attorney in the U.S. Department of Justice. While teaching trial practice, mediation, advocacy, and criminal procedure, she was named MC’s Distinguished Professor of the Year in 2014.

She initially succeeded Wendy Scott as interim dean of MC Law; one year later, MC’s Board of Trustees unanimously voted to make her position permanent. In an unparalleled accomplishment, she completed a one-year term as the 113th president of the Mississippi Bar Association while simultaneously leading the Mississippi College School of Law.

Highfield said the Forest native and Tougaloo College graduate enjoyed the full respect of the legal community and the complete support of her colleagues on the MC Law faculty.

“She maintained a remarkable grasp of the deeply intricate aspects of her profession, including litigation, criminal law, and procedure, which she had capably shared with her students as a member of the MC Law faculty for more than two decades,” Highfield said.

She successfully guided the school through an American Bar Association accreditation and the COVID-19 Pandemic while elevating MC Law’s reputation in the legal community. She improved the school’s bar passage rate, enhanced career placement activities, and increased diversity and inclusion within the school.

“Dean Bennett’s talent in forging relationships with MC Law faculty, staff, students, alumni, and the legal community was in evidence when she helped bring U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts to Jackson to judge a moot court competition between students from MC Law and the University of Mississippi Law School,” Highfield said. “Perhaps her most significant achievement as dean of MC Law was increasing the school’s admissions standards, which translated into greater success by students in the law school and on the bar exams.”

A Fellow of the ABA and a member of the Magnolia Bar Association, Bennett received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Mississippi Women Lawyers Association. A visiting professor in trial advocacy programs at Harvard University, Emory University, and the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, she remains a strong advocate for MC Law, the school she has served for more than 30 years.

Highfield said Fokeladeh’s colleagues in the Modern Languages Department at MC considered her the driving force behind the institution’s German program.

“The warm, enthusiastic professor was the first faculty member many students met when they arrived on the Clinton campus,” he said. “She gracefully guided them through their advanced classes and encouraged them to participate in a Study Abroad Program in Germany, her beloved ‘home away from home.’

“The impact she had on their lives was incalculable.”

A longtime resident of Clinton, Fokeladeh earned her B.A. in English and Modern Languages at MC. A Fulbright Scholar, she traveled to Vienna, Austria, where she fell in love with the German language and culture.

Fokeladeh returned to her home state and obtained her M.A. in German from the University of Mississippi. She joined the MC faculty, taught various classes in German, and directed the University’s German Exchange Program and Salzburg College European Studies Program. In 1985, she cofounded MC’s Developmental Studies Program, now called Foundations for University Success, to help at-risk students – a cutting-edge program that would become near and dear to her heart.

A tireless advocate for her students, Fokeladeh became a cherished adviser in the department and was named MC’s Distinguished Professor of the Year in 2012. In her honor, Modern Languages faculty and staff dedicated conference space in Jennings Hall that serves as a “window to the world” for MC students studying German, Spanish, Chinese, and Latin cultures and languages.

Highfield said generations of students in MC’s School of Nursing have become ambassadors for community health service, thanks to Deborah Bolian Massey’s stellar instruction.

“For 36 years, Deborah carved a legacy for compassionate care in her students at Cockroft Hall, championing community health service engagement in a wide variety of areas,” he said. “She remains passionate about the role of community health in promoting wellness and health equity.”

Massey obtained her B.S.N. from Northeast Louisiana University in Monroe and her M.S.N. in community health nursing from the University of Southern Mississippi. Following her licensure as an R.N., she began her career as a staff nurse in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at Mississippi Baptist Medical Center in Jackson.

She also served as a patient education coordinator for St. Dominic Health Services before moving to the Mississippi Department of Health, where she gained experience in the Children’s Medical Program and as a contract nurse.

She brought her skills to Mississippi College, where the assistant professor of nursing played an instrumental role on a number of committees, including the Academic Freedom Committee, the Wellness Committee, the RUSH Task Force, the Stop Smoking Committee, and the Quality Enhancement Committee, among many others. She served as the school’s Chair of Student Welfare and Secretary for more than 30 years and was an active member of the Omicron Lambda Chapter of the Sigma Theta Tau International honor society of nurses.

A member of the Phi Kappa Phi Honor Society, Massey was inducted into the Who’s Who in American Nursing and earned a Visionary Leadership Institution Award for Congregational Health. She continues to serve as a faculty liaison for the student chapter of the Baptist Nursing Fellowship, and is president of the organization.

Highfield said Massey has demonstrated a heart for community service and mission support.

“She has helped instruct School of Nursing students as they administered annual flu vaccinations on campus, and her remarkable expertise and cheerful disposition were in evidence at local community health fairs,” he said.

Stepping down from full-time faculty responsibilities in 2021, she has continued to serve the school as a part-time Health Compliance Manager.

Highfield said Norris arrived at Mississippi College as a transfer student from Hinds Community College and left decades later as “one of the most accomplished administrators in the University’s rich history.”

“During her 40-year tenure at MC, she shepherded her alma mater through three successful decennial reviews by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, cementing her legacy as the ‘Queen of SACS Accreditation,’” he said. “Throughout her years of service to MC, the gifted teacher and beloved administrator earned the respect of her students and colleagues through her strong work ethic, professionalism, and high standards.

“One faculty leader said, ‘When I think of someone who epitomizes the values and ideals of Mississippi College, someone who bleeds blue and gold, I think of Debbie Norris.’”

A native of Raymond, Norris obtained her B.S. in business administration from MC, her M.Ed. from Mississippi State University, and her Ph.D. in higher education from the University of Mississippi. She taught in the MC School of Business for 14 years, became graduate dean, and was appointed the University’s Title IX coordinator. She served MC as director of institutional assessment, director of international programs, and chair of the Dean’s Council, Graduate Council, and Academic Council.

As vice president for planning and assessment, Norris was the chief administrator responsible for assessing each academic and administrative office at the University. As chair of MC’s Strategic Planning Steering Committee, she helmed a number of important institutional committees, including the Graduate Council, the Institutional Title IX Committee, the Marketing Committee, the Inauguration Steering Committee, and the Law Dean Search Committee.

Named a favorite professor by MC Mortar Board students 12 times, she received the Student Government Outstanding Faculty Award. The first Debbie C. Norris Scholarships - $1,000 stipends for outstanding students who follow in her footsteps by transferring to MC from Hinds Community College – were awarded in the fall of 2020.

SACSCOC saluted Dr. Norris for her academic achievements by presenting her with the Carol Luthman Meritorious Service Award from its Commission on Colleges.

Dr. Norris continues to serve Mississippi College part-time as a consultant and special assistant to President Blake Thompson.