Christians should be ‘the first in line to engage for good’
As an educator, Candice McQueen has a long list of…
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — A solitary bell tolled 13 times, once for each decade of Lipscomb University’s history, as black-and-white photos of its past presidents appeared on the giant screens in Allen Arena.
There was James A. Harding, who co-founded the institution with David Lipscomb in 1891. Then followed names including E.A. Elam, E.H. Ijams, Batsell Baxter (who served twice), Willard Collins, Harold Hazelip, Steve Flatt and L. Randolph Lowry III. Sixteen men in all.
Finally, there was Candice McQueen.
As she watched the faces of her predecessors flash by, it wasn’t the uniqueness of her role as Lipscomb’s first female CEO that stood out to her, she told The Christian Chronicle. Rather, “it was more the history and the legacy of stewardship that I need to carry forward.”
After six months on the job, McQueen was installed as Lipscomb’s 18th president among a crowd of students, faculty, alumni and dignitaries from the realms of academia and politics. The institution, which is associated with Churches of Christ, has 6,000 students enrolled in its undergraduate and graduate programs plus its K-12 school, Lipscomb Academy.
For McQueen, 47, a 1996 Lipscomb graduate, the emotional high point of the ceremony was watching a video of Hazelip, who was president during her years at the university. Now age 91, Hazelip wished her success and God’s blessing on her presidency.
When asked about serving as her alma mater’s first female president, McQueen said that she aspires to “be a role model to all students, but yes, to females who aspire to be leaders … to show them that it is possible. You can be a leader. You can carry your faith forward.”
“I’m here for my friend Candice.”
That’s what former Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam said when asked what brought him back to Nashville. During his tenure, Haslam appointed McQueen to serve as Tennessee’s commissioner of education. Haslam and his wife, Crissy, now live in Knoxville, Tenn.
A few folks who talked to Haslam expressed surprise that a conservative Christian university, associated with a fellowship that predominantly practices male church leadership, would appoint a woman as its president.
The former governor wasn’t surprised at all.
“It never occurred to me,” Haslam said during a prayer breakfast before the inauguration ceremony, “and I mean that because I know that Lipscomb chose the very best person they could to be the president of this university. She is literally somebody whose life has been intertwined with this university. And she’s represented what I think we want to be here … a university of the highest quality, (that) focuses on excellence in everything it does, (that) reflects the light that we’re all called to be.”
“Be a Light” was the theme of the four-day inauguration celebration, which included panel discussions focused on Lipscomb’s partnerships with Nashville’s biggest industries — including music and medicine.
In a session titled “Not Business as Usual: Being a Light in the Marketplace,” entrepreneur Mignon Francois told a group of Lipscomb students and alumni that anything they produce, anything they make with their hands bears the mark of the Creator.
“We ask God to put his signature stamp on everything we do,” Francois said.
McQueen chaired panels on education and politics — two paths that have defined her career. A native of Clarksville, Tenn., she taught at the K-12 and college levels after she graduated from Lipscomb. She earned a master’s at Vanderbilt University and a doctorate from the University of Texas.
She joined Lipscomb’s faculty in 2001 and was the founding director of the Ayers Institute for Teacher Learning and Innovation, which provides training and coaching for educators. She served as senior vice president and dean of Lipscomb’s College of Education before serving on Haslam’s staff from 2015 to 2019.
Her husband, Andy, led a prayer for the state’s leaders before introducing Haslam at the breakfast. The couple met at Lipscomb, where Andy McQueen was a record-breaking three-point shooter for the Bisons basketball team. He earned a law degree and now works in the health care industry. He serves as an elder of their congregation, the Hillsboro Church of Christ in Nashville.
He recalled a dinner at the governor’s mansion shortly after his wife was named education commissioner. He urged their kids, Abigail and Henry, to remember to call Haslam “Governor Haslam.” As they approached the mansion, they stopped at a checkpoint.
“The security guard leaned in,” Andy McQueen said. “There’s three words that have meant a lot to me in the last 25 years. They meant a lot to me in this particular moment and have meant a lot to me over the last six months — ‘I’m with her.’”
Haslam (who immediately insisted that the children call him “Bill”) described Andy McQueen as someone he’d want as a lawyer and as a neighbor. “You don’t hear those two things in common a lot,” he said.
Tennessee’s current governor, Bill Lee, was among the speakers at the inauguration ceremony that followed the prayer breakfast. Lee thanked Candice McQueen for her commitment to education and for her desire “not only to change the world, but to impact the Kingdom forever.”
Other speakers were Lipscomb alumni Mike Adams, president emeritus of the University of Georgia, and attorney and author Mark Lanier, who serves on Lipscomb’s board of trustees. Lanier noted that Lipscomb has produced some 40,000 alumni in its 131-year history.
“We are 40,000 beacons of light,” he said. “and today we especially honor Dr. Candice McQueen, who is one of us. … Just as your roots run deeply in this place we know that your heart beats strongly for its heritage.”
One of those alumni, country music star Travis Rhett, sent a video message for the new president. So did students and faculty from Lipscomb Academy, where McQueen used to teach. One teacher made sure to yell “Kachow!” in honor of a famous animated race car that bears her name.
Between the inauguration and a lunch for the university’s guests, McQueen talked with the Chronicle about the importance of Lipscomb’s faith heritage in Churches of Christ. Since becoming president she’s visited several congregations in the fellowship.
“I’ve enjoyed being there as a participant,” she said. She’s spoken to church elders and youth ministers during lunches. “We want to be a good partner to our churches.”
At the same time, “a university is not a church,” she said. “It’s a big tent.” Students come from a variety of backgrounds — Christian, Islam and more.
“Certainly, you bring people who have different perspectives on lots of things — even within the church,” she said. “The Churches of Christ now are so diverse in terms of what worship looks like or how they gather … that we have to be attentive to all the different needs that we have for students.”
After lunch, Lipscomb students took advantage of the springtime weather and gathered in clusters outside the auditorium named for former president Willard Collins.
Hannah Cron, a junior journalism major from Gallatin, Tenn., said that McQueen has taken part in her special-topics English class. The class meets at the Debra K. Johnson Rehabilitation Center, formerly known as the Tennessee Prison of Women, where traditional students learn alongside what Cron called “inside students” who study through the Lipscomb Initiative for Education (LIFE) program.
Cron has interviewed McQueen for student media. “You can tell she’s all business,” Cron said, “but she’s easy to talk to.”
Their new president is active on campus, the students said. McQueen came to see the university’s recent production of “Mama Mia” and got to know the actors, said Meghan Wombles, a musical theater major from Indianapolis.
Another student, Kaylie Herpolsheimer, said she and McQueen got their shots together at the Bison Flu Fest. Margaret Mosby, a psychology major from Montgomery, Ala., has worked with McQueen as a presidential ambassador and helped with the inauguration events.
“As a woman, it’s exciting to be here at this time,” said Becca Watts, a sophomore animation student from Charlotte, N.C. “It’s exciting to see her lead.”
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