Remembering Professor John N. Hawkins

John N. Hawkins. (Photo: Thomas Plate. The photo was gifted to Hawkins by the photographer.)


See the obituaries published by the UCLA Graduate School of Education & Information Studies and UCLA Newsroom.

by Peggy McInerny and Jing Xu

UCLA International Institute, August 7, 2020 — The UCLA International Institute is deeply saddened to announce that John N. Hawkins, emeritus professor of comparative and international education at the UCLA Graduate School of Education and Information Sciences (GSE&IS), passed away in Los Angeles on June 27, 2020. He was 76.

An expert on education in Asia, Hawkins led the UCLA International Studies and Overseas Programs (ISOP) — the predecessor of the International Institute — from 1985 to 1999, first as associate director, then acting director and finally, as dean and vice provost for international studies.

“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,” said Cindy Fan, 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, 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. He will be greatly missed.

“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, who earned a Ph.D. in education at UCLA and now works with the 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 my dearest ‘academic father.’”

Education and Career

After completing a B.A. at the University of Hawai’i (UH) 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, eventually serving as chair of the department of education (now GSE&IS) and head of the division of social sciences and comparative education within GSE&IS. He retired in 2007 after 34 years on the faculty.

Hawkins gained unique exposure to China as a student. In 1966 he attended the 12th Japan Council Against Atomic and Hydrogen Bombs in Tokyo as a representative of the University of Hawai’i, where he served as vice president of the UH chapter of Students for a Democratic Society (SDS). It was there that he was offered the rare opportunity to travel to China at the beginning of the Cultural Revolution, six years before the U.S. established official diplomatic relations with the People’s Republic of China.*

Hawkins ended up traveling to China’s major cities, including Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Hangzhou, where he spent a great deal of time speaking to Chinese people about their lives and met several Chinese leaders. The young student even gave a speech to a Chinese audience at the Great Hall of the People.

The trip and his conversations made a deep impression on him, resulting in an abiding interest in China and its people that informed his future academic work. Over the course of his life, Hawkins worked closely with educators in many East Asian countries, where he was widely respected as an extremely thoughtful and compassionate scholar and administrator.

Throughout his professional career at UCLA, Hawkins divided his time between Calabasas, California and the Hawai'ian island of Oahu, where he spent many years writing and conducting academic research in affiliation with the East-West Center of UH Manoa. In addition to serving in the leadership of the East-West Center, he was an active member of its Education Leadership Institute.

Professor John Hawkins (second from left) with other participatns at the "International Forum for Education for 2020," held in 2005 at the East-West Centter, University of Hawai'i. Fourth from left is Youqun Ren, Ph.D., former vice president of East China Normal University in Shanghai and now head officer, Department of Teacher Education and Development, Ministry of Education of China. (Photo courtesy of Prof. Ren.)

Hawkins did a wide range of advising and consulting work on educational issues for numerous governments and international organizations such as UNESCO, the World Bank, the International Labor Organization, Ford Foundation, Rockefeller Foundation, U.S.-Japan Foundation, Exxon Foundation and the U.S. Agency for International Development. The comparative education scholar was also a guest lecturer at many prestigious universities and a member of multiple educational associations and research centers in both the U.S. and Asia.

A prodigious researcher, Hawkins wrote and/or edited some 16 books and over 80 articles and book chapters on education in East Asia. One his earliest books, “Mao Tse-tung and Education: His Thoughts and Teachings” (Linnet Books, 1974), presented the aims and principles of education for Communist China elucidated by Chinese Communist Party Mao in his many writings.

In the later years of academic career, Hawkins’ research focused on higher education development in the Asia Pacific region. With co-editor W. James Jacob, he produced over 32 books for the Palgrave Macmillan series, International & Development Education. 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. Interviewed in 2017 about the book, he said:

With China’s decision to reform and open its higher education system to a significant expansion in 1998, a process was initiated unlike any previously seen. The higher education system was expanded for new millions of students utilizing resources from both private and public sectors. The same can be witnessed in India and Indonesia, where even a small percentage rise in the gross enrollment ratio to higher education would result in huge numbers of students admitted into the higher education systems because of the large population base. Previous decades had witnessed similar growth in Korea, Japan, and Taiwan as those societies also provided significant resources to radically expand access to higher education.

Among his many other edited volumes are: “Envisioning the Asian Flagship University: Past and Future”(UC Berkeley/ East-West Center, 2017), with J. A. Douglass; “Research, Development and Innovation in Asia Pacific Higher Education” (Palgrave Macmillan, 2015), with K. H. Mok; “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).

International Studies and Overseas Programs (ISOP)

As ISOP dean, Hawkins played a significant role in expanding international education at UCLA, negotiating numerous educational exchange agreements with universities around the world. In particular, Hawkins created a more streamlined reporting and administrative structure for the wide range of research centers and Organized Research Units (ORUs) brought together under the ISOP umbrella in 1984. He was also a highly successful fundraiser for the university unit.

In addition, Hawkins championed and strengthened the interdisciplinary degree programs of ISOP and supported faculty research on international issues. Known for his warmth, diplomacy and evenhandedness, he was widely respected and liked by ISOP staff and center directors.

During his long tenure at International Studies and Overseas Programs (1985–1999), Hawkins was involved in the creation of several centers and/or their antecedent programs, including the Center for Brazilian Studies (1989), Terasaki Center for Japanese Studies (1992), Center for Korean Studies (1993), the Center for Mexican Studies (1997) and Center for Southeast Asian Studies (1999), as well as academic degree programs in International Development Studies (1987) and European Studies (1995). He was also actively involved with the Center for Pacific Rim Studies, whose work is carried on by the contemporary Asia Pacific Center.

Life and Work after Retirement

After retiring from UCLA in 2007, Hawkins continued to teach, do research and publish books while serving as director and then co-director of the UCLA Center for International and Development Education and co-director of the Asian Pacific Higher Education Research Partnership (APHERP).** The latter organization brought together universities from United States, China, Japan, Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Philippines and Vietnam to conduct collaborative research on key issues of higher education, policy and governance.

Professor Hawkins with his former doctoral student Sheng Yao Cheng, now a professor at the Graduate Institute of Education, 
National Chung Cheng University, Taiwan, in 2017. (Photo courtesy of GSE&IS).

As APHERP co-director, Hawkins identified research themes, hosted the organization’s annual conference/seminar and published works on the subjects addressed by APHERP seminars. He flew frequently between the U.S. and Asia to strengthen international collaborations among partner educational institutions and forged many international affiliations during this period. For example, in 2014 he became a distinguished international professor at East China Normal University in Shanghai, where he was also an advisor at the Collaborative Innovation Center for National Education Policy Making.

Over the course of his long career, Hawkins received numerous honors, among them, honorary membership in the Japanese National Association of Private Colleges and Universities and a Lifetime Achievement Award (2009) from the Comparative International Education Society — an organization for which he served as treasurer, vice president, president and editor of the Comparative Education Review.

Hawkins also received the Outstanding Foreign Scholar Award (1994) from the Center for Learning and Evaluation of Yokohama; Japan; an outstanding book award (1988) from the American Educational Studies Association (for “Education and Intergroup Relations: An International Perspective,” co-edited with Thomas LaBelle) and the Chevalier dans l’Ordre des Palmes Academiques (1997) from the French government.

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

* This section draws on: Yuan, Xun, Liao Xuehong and Ren Youqun. 2012. “A Surprising Twist of Fate: John Hawkins’ First Trip to China Half a Century Ago.” China’s Education: Research & Review 15 (1): 1–34; available on ResearchGate.

**Created at GSE&IS in 2002, the Center for International and Development Education houses research projects related to issues of education and development. It is comprised of faculty, staff, current students and graduates, who study the theory and the practical management of educational programs. The Asian Pacific Higher Education Research Partnership was created in 2013 as an independent research organization focused on policy issues of higher education. Originally based at the East-West Center of the University of Hawai’i, the secretariat of APHERP moved to Linghan University in Hong Kong in 2018.