John N. Hawkins (1944-2020)

Scholar of higher education reform in the U.S. and Asia served as dean of UCLA’s International Studies and Overseas Programs.

UCLA Professor of Education John N. Hawkins died on June 27 at the age of 76 in Los Angeles. An expert on education in Asia, Hawkins led the UCLA International Studies and Overseas Programs (ISOP) —predecessor of the International Institute — from 1985 to 1999, first as associate director, then acting director and finally, as dean of international studies. 

John N. Hawkins was born in Sterling, Illinois on May 18, 1944. After completing his bachelor’s degree at the University of Hawai’i at Manoa, Hawkins earned an M.A. in East Asian Studies at the University of British Columbia and a Ph.D. in East Asian studies and comparative education at Vanderbilt University. He taught briefly for Vanderbilt before joining the UCLA faculty 1973, retiring in 2007 after 34 years. 

“When I arrived at UCLA in 1977, John was one of the first people I met and we became close friends,” says Wellford “Buzz” Wilms, UCLA professor emeritus of education. “He was one of the most thoughtful men I have ever known. He was honest and direct but compassionate, qualities that I will sorely miss. I’m only sorry that I didn’t have the chance to say goodbye to him.”

Val D. Rust, UCLA professor emeritus of education, first met Hawkins at the University of Hawaii, where Rust was an assistant professor. Hawkins first arrived at UCLA to replace Professor Rust when he was in Germany with the University’s Education Abroad. Program, and Hawkins’ work at East West Center completes a circle, at the University of Hawaii, where Rust received his first professional appointment.

“These formal connections are but small reminders of an even more emotional link we formed with each other.,” says Professor Rust. “We both lived in the West Valley here in Southern California and shared a common life with each other.  We even have common ancestors back in the seventeenth century. He was a partner in my life.  I love John as a brother.  His former students love him as a father.”

“John Hawkins was a pioneer in international studies and international exchange — I met him in the 1990s when he gave me a book on international education,” says Cindy Fan, UCLA vice provost for international studies and global engagement. “John built the foundation for today’s International Institute. We are indebted to him and we will continue to promote international research, education and service in his honor.”

A beloved teacher and advisor in the Social Science and Comparative Education Division of the UCLA Graduate School of Education & Information Studies, Hawkins was the recipient of a UCLA Graduate Students Association Excellence in Teaching Award and is remembered with great affection and respect by the many students who studied with him. He also served in a variety of administrative roles at UCLA and at centers and organizations devoted to educational research worldwide.

Professor John N. Hawkins served as a mentor to graduate students in the Social Sciences and Comparative Education (SSCE) Division of GSE&IS. L-R: Aki Yamada (’15, Ph.D.), Miloni Gandhi (’06, M.A.; ’10, Ph.D.), Hawkins, Emily Le, senior policy analyst, UCLA Academic Senate; Jing Xu (’17, Ph.D.); and Stephanie Kim (‘14, Ph.D.). Courtesy of Stephanie Kim

“I worked closely with John on many education projects overseas and saw his enormous dedication to international higher education development in the Asia Pacific Region and his care for the people there,” said Jing Xu (’17, Ph.D. Education), senior communication and research analyst at the UCLA International Institute and External Affairs.

“He was an extraordinary advisor who cared about his students deeply. There is an old saying in the East: ‘Teacher by day, father for life.’ My heart aches badly every time I try to digest the fact that I have lost for my dearest ‘academic father.’”

“John was a very kind and supportive mentor,” says Emily Le, senior policy analyst for the UCLA Academic Senate. “He took me on as a graduate student despite having officially retired a few years before. I’m grateful to have had the opportunity to learn from him.”

“As a mentor, [John] always had just the right feedback at just the right time,” says Miloni Gandhi (’06, M.A.; ’10, Ph.D., Social Sciences and Comparative Education), founder of Experience International. “Never too much, never too little, but just the right amount of inquiry to make sure you were on the path to hitting your goals; and always giving undivided attention to my many questions about school, work and life. 

“I will always remember his steady and reassuring voice, reminding me that there were some things that were out of my control and I would have to let the universe run its course. Somewhere along the way of my graduate school journey, I was privileged enough to see John not just as a mentor, but as a friend and for that I will always be grateful,” adds Gandhi.

“Since first meeting Professor John in 2003 at UCLA, I have been truly grateful for his brilliance, vision, compassion, wisdom, thoughtfulness and support that have served as a blueprint for me both professionally and personally,” says Linda Furuto, professor of mathematics education at the University of Hawai’i at Manoa. 

“The treasured gifts that John has given all of us serve as a reminder that as we walk in the light of our teachers, we will never be lost as we hold the course because our internal compasses will show us where to go as we observe, listen and act with love,” continues Furuto.

“Though I technically worked with another doctoral advisor, I always felt John was equally as invested in my professional growth given my research interest in higher education reform in Asia,” says Stephanie Kim (‘14, Ph.D., SSCE), assistant professor and faculty director of higher education administration, Georgetown University School of Continuing Studies. “He was keen to provide me with valuable opportunities even when I was just a graduate student, from teaching opportunities, invitations to publication workshops (and the exciting travel opportunities that came with those), and networking functions with more senior scholars. All of that shows just how generous he was even to “adopted” students like myself. I thank him for being able to establish my early scholarly network during those years, and in that sense, I feel his legacy lives on through us, his students.”

Linda Furuto’s (’07, Ph.D.) doctoral dissertation committee included (L-R): the late Professor Don Nakanishi, UCLA SSCE professors Val Rust and John N. Hawkins; and Professor Mariko Tamanoi, UCLA Anthropology. Courtesy of Linda Furuto

In 2002, Hawkins and Rust established the Center for International and Development Education at UCLA, providing students with an opportunity to learn how to obtain research and development grants. Professor Rust says that one of the most successful projects was a State Department program that brought English teachers from India and Pakistan to UCLA for the summer, to train them in the latest pedagogies related to English learning. 

In 2014, Professor Hawkins was appointed as an advisor to the Collaborative Innovation Center for National Education Policy Making (CICNEP), located at East China Normal University (ECNU) in Shanghai.

Youqun Ren, former vice president of ECNU and currently, head officer for the Department of Teacher Education and Development in the Ministry of Education of China, worked with Professor Hawkins and became a close friend throughout Hawkins’ visits to China.

“John was one of the few American scholars who [had] visited China in the 1960s and 70s. His initiative on the study of Chinese education was absolutely revolutionary at that time. His global vision, research courage and profound knowledge is nothing but remarkable. May he rest in peace.”

Professor Hawkins was the author of some 16 books and more than 80 research articles on education and development in Asia, including “Research, Development and Innovation in Asia Pacific Higher Education”; “Envisioning the Asian New Flagship University: Its Past and Vital Future.”  

Among Hawkins’ many other edited volumes are: “The Dynamics of Higher Education Development in East Asia” (Palgrave MacMillan, 2013), with D. E. Neubauer and J. Shin; “Higher Education Regionalization in Asia Pacific” (Palgrave Macmillan, 2012), with K. H. Mok and D. E. Neubauer; and “Changing Education: Leadership, Innovation and Development in a Globalizing Asia Pacific” (Springer, 2008, vol. 20). “New Directions of STEM Research and Learning in the World Ranking Movement: A Comparative Perspective,” was co-edited with W. James Jacob and Hawkins’ former students, Reiko Yamada and Aki Yamada, a mother and daughter who were both mentored by him during their respective times at UCLA. One of his last major publications was “The Palgrave Handbook of Asia Pacific Higher Education” (Palgrave Macmillan, 2016), co-edited with D. E. Neubauer, C. Collins, and M. N. N. Lee. 

“John N. Hawkins was directly responsible, along with colleagues at the East-West Center, for the establishment in the early 2000s of the International Forum for Education program which would over the next decade develop a program of annual higher education meetings through the Asia-Pacific region, eventually developing into a dedicated edited-volume original series,” says Deane Neubauer, emeritus professor, University of Hawai’I at Manoa and adjunct Senior Fellow, East-West Center. Neubauer co-edited several books with Hawkins published by Palgrave Macmillan as part of its International and Development Education series; the series itself was co-edited by Hawkins and W. James Jacob.

Hawkins served as president of the Comparative & International Education Society, editor of Comparative Education Review, and co-director of the Asia Pacific Higher Education Research Partnership. He spent many years writing and conducting academic research in affiliation with the East-West Center and at his alma mater, the University of Hawai’i at Manoa.

Hawkins is survived by his wife of 52 years, Judith Hawkins; daughters Marisa and Larina; granddaughter Katherine; sister Susan Speer; and nieces and nephews. 

The UCLA International Institute is organizing a tribute page in remembrance of Professor Hawkins. To send quotes, essays and/or photos for inclusion on the page, contact Director of Communications Peggy McInerny or Jing Xu, senior communication and research analyst. A link to the tribute page will be available soon on the UCLA International Institute’s website.

Special thanks to Peggy McInerny and Jing Xu, UCLA International Institute

Above: In a 2013 photo, Professor John N. Hawkins at UCLA’s Moore Hall.