As ‘Madame President,’ it’s like mother, like daughter

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Carrine Harris Bishop, PhD with daughter, Dawn Bishop McLin, PhD (Photo: Fullaflava)

To those outside the college and university circle, the nature and role of the faculty senate may not be something that is familiar. In the U.S., more than 80% of the colleges and universities have such senates, which operate as advisory bodies on academic policy and personnel. The senates are typically composed of full-time, senior level-faculty members, who have been elected by their colleagues to represent them. Although, in Mississippi, especially, at the public Black universities, the senates are not held in very high regard by the presidents or the college board, regional accrediting bodies and other professional education groups recognize their importance.

It is within that context that we present and honor a duo of faculty senate presidents who were mother and daughter. Dr. Carrine Harris Bishop was elected president of the Jackson State University (JSU) faculty senate during the administration of President Ronald Mason, after having been a member of the senate for a number of years. A decade and a half later, her daughter, Dr. Dawn Bishop McLin, was elected as president, just after the departure of Dr. William Bynum from JSU.

Being elected to the position of Faculty Senate President is an honor in and of itself. Understanding the context in which these women operated and their responses to the challenges they faced, however, is cause for even greater appreciation of them.

During the Mason administration, the JSU community was confronted by gigantic challenges that threatened JSU’s character, if not its existence. By the time Bishop ascended to the presidency, Mason had publicly promoted the idea of merging Alcorn, Jackson State, and Mississippi Valley State into what he would call Jacob State University. He had urged the speedy acceptance of the very flawed Ayers settlement. He had balked at significant portions of the shared governance document which had been worked on by the faculty senate for several years. There was a continuous ballooning of the administrative side of the budget while the number of teachers and the salaries of teachers remained stagnant and sometimes declined.

When Mason arrived, it appeared that the college board was willing to offer whatever things he desired in return for his maintaining JSU in a stagnant position, subordinate to the three comprehensive universities. The salary which he was given was nearly 50% higher than what had been paid the previous president. He was provided with a housing allowance, enabling him to live in a prestigious predominantly white neighborhood. He was authorized to create three new high-paying positions, including a chief of staff for Evola Bates, Monique Guillory, and Terrance Jones, all of whom were without university-level administrative experience or a terminal degree.

These things unerringly led the faculty senate to hold a vote of no confidence in the Mason administration. As Faculty Senate President, Dr. Bishop stood firm, despite attempts by Mason to have the senate reverse itself.

As we fast-forward to 2020, Bynum’s departure was followed by the appointment of Thomas Hudson as acting president and shortly thereafter Dr. Dawn Bishop McLin was elected to the presidency of the faculty senate.

In addition to the JSU community trying to live-down the scandal of former president Bynum, Dr. McLin and the faculty senate were struggling under the condition created by the college board insisting that the JSU budget be reconciled through cuts and the lack of adequate salary raises. To add insult to injury, the new Hudson administration undertook some curriculum revisions that in the opinion of many faculty members were unwise and likely to cripple future students. The campus environment also deteriorated to such an extent that many students, faculty, and staff feared for their safety.

As faculty senates have done across the country, JSU’s senate under McLin sought dialogue with and the opportunity to offer advice to the administration on the matters. It was, nonetheless, spurned with the president refusing to meet with the senate’s executive committee for most of the academic year.

As had been the case with Dr. Bishop and the faculty senate years earlier, the senate under Dr. McLin passed a resolution of no confidence in the administration of President Thomas Hudson. Also, as had been the case with Mason, the college board virtually ignored the vote. (We realize that some mainstream media outlets try to tie the placing of Hudson on administrative leave and his eventual resignation to the faculty senate vote. That, however, is not a reflection of reality.)

President McLin deserves praise for her leadership of the faculty senate through those turbulent times. It also occurred that during her administration she helped lead the effort of the state universities to reject an attempt by the state legislature to dictate what could and could not be taught under the guise of opposing critical race theory. It is further noteworthy that as faculty senate president she helped revive the University Faculty Senate Association, an advocacy group that was created during the faculty senate presidency of Dr. Velvelyn Foster and had died after the faculty senate presidency of Dr. Ivory Phillips.

It is apparent then that, like mother (Dr. Bishop), daughter (Dr. McLin) has served with distinction as “Madame President,” displaying insight, initiative, competence, and courage. For that, we salute the both of them this Women’s History Month. 

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As ‘Madame President,’ it’s like mother, like daughter

By Dr. Ivory Phillips
April 2, 2023