A high-ranking administrator and tenured faculty member who came to Mississippi College as a transfer student from Hinds Community College will be leaving the University after 40 years of exemplary service.
Debbie Norris, dean of the Graduate School and associate provost, who shepherded her alma mater through three successful decennial reviews by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, has announced her retirement at the conclusion of the spring semester.
A Dean of the Graduate School and Associate Provost Search Advisory Committee chaired by Cindy Melton, dean of the School of Education at MC, will begin interviewing candidates for the position, which will remain open until filled. But MC leaders agree that Norris cannot be replaced.
“Dr. Norris’ devotion to our University is unparalleled,” Melton said. “She is a gifted teacher and beloved administrator who has demonstrated unwavering support to our mission of academic excellence and commitment to the cause of Christ. Throughout her years of service to MC she has led by example and with a friendly demeanor while earning the respect of her students and colleagues through her strong work ethic, professionalism, and high standards.
“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.”
Wayne VanHorn, dean of the School of Christian Studies and the Arts, said MC is saying goodbye to “a consummate professional.”
“Dr. Norris has built up MC in so many ways,” VanHorn said. “The meetings she conducts are always convened and concluded on time. Her agendas are clear. Her attention to detail is unmatched. While serving as our Title IX director, she ensured that all members of the MC family were safe and that they had an avenue for a fair hearing.
“Dr. Norris exhibits a quick wit, a strong sense of humor, and the qualities of a true friend and colleague. She has consistently maintained a professional demeanor, has represented MC well at off-campus conferences, has been acknowledged as one of Mississippi’s top professional women, and has proven herself to be a trusted colleague and a loyal friend.
“To say she will be missed is a great understatement. Her value to MC has been and is incalculable.”
Tommy Leavelle, a popular retired mathematics professor at MC, fondly refers to her as the “Queen of SACS accreditation.”
“She really knows what she is doing,” Leavelle said. “I’ve known her for over 30 years, and no matter what task was given to her, you knew it was going to be well organized and completed on time. She encourages people to get things done and leads us where we need to go – that’s why our accreditation went so well the last couple of cycles.
“The thing that always impressed me was how kind she was. She was very patient with people. She would ask them to do things, check back with them, and ask if she could help them in any way. That helped get a lot of things done.”
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 embarked upon a remarkable career in higher education administration, teaching in the School of Business for 14 years. Granted tenure in 1994, she continued to teach the undergraduate core course Business Communication throughout her time at MC.
In 1998, she became the graduate dean and was appointed by MC President Howell W. Todd to serve as the University’s Title IX coordinator. She has served MC as director of institutional assessment, director of international programs, and chair of the Dean’s Council, Graduate Council, and Academic Council.
Named vice president for planning and assessment in 2003, Norris was the chief administrator responsible for assessing each academic and administrative office at the University. She led the institution’s regional accreditation efforts with successful stints in 2002, 2012, and 2018. In addition to her experience in the accreditation review processes and procedures for SACSCOC, she served as an Association of Business Schools and Programs evaluator.
Chair of the University’s Strategic Planning Steering Committee, she has helmed a number of important MC committees, including the Graduate Council, the Institutional Title IX Committee, the Marketing Committee, the Inauguration Steering Committee, and the Law Dean Search Committee. She has served on several other committees and Strategic Planning Subcommittees, including the Ad Hoc Group for Resource Allocation.
SACSCOC saluted Norris for her academic achievements by presenting her with the Carol Luthman Meritorious Service Award from its Commission on Colleges. Chosen by the “Mississippi Business Journal” as one of the state’s Top 50 Leading Business Women, she was selected as the Senior College Educator of the Year by the Mississippi Business Education Association.
Recipient of the Student Government Outstanding Faculty Award at MC, she was named a favorite professor by MC Mortar Board students 12 times. Inaugurated into the original Wish Society through Make-a-Wish Mississippi, she received honorary membership into the Mississippi College Alumni Association of the Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society.
Her tremendous grasp of international academic education is demonstrated by her leadership of numerous student groups in MC’s Study Abroad Program to Italy, France, Switzerland, England, Scotland, Greece, and Ireland. 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.
Norris has served on the Advisory Board for Entergy, Mississippi; the Board of Trustees for the Mississippi Baptist Health Systems; the Board of Trustees for Caring Hands Ministries; and the Jackson Community Advisory Board for Big Brothers/Big Sisters. A resident of Canton, she worships at First Baptist Church in Madison.
Norris will continue to serve Mississippi College on a part-time basis as a consultant and special assistant to President Blake Thompson.