Jack Hawkins celebrated 30 years as chancellor of Troy University in 2019, making him the longest-serving university president in the country. The Mobile native earned degrees at the University of Montevallo, served with the Marines in the Vietnam War, and was an assistant dean at UAB and president of the Alabama Institute for Deaf and Blind before joining Troy in 1989. In those 30 years, Troy changed its name, moved to NCAA Division 1-A and invested $400 million in new and modernized facilities. Hawkins recently talked about his tenure at Troy.
The average tenure of a college president is about 6.5 years. What’s your secret?
I tell students I don’t want them to have a job after they graduate from Troy, which really gets their attention. Then I tell them I want them to have a cause that becomes their commitment and that becomes their career. My advice to them is based on personal experience, as my commitment to Troy University became my career. My secret is simple: After falling in love with this university, Janice and I couldn’t picture ourselves doing anything else.
What’s been your proudest moment in those 30 years?
Personally, my proudest moments were seeing my daughters, Katie and Kelly, receive their Troy diplomas. However, if I had to choose one professional moment, it would have to be Friday, Dec. 7, 2007, when the Alabama Commission on Higher Education granted approval for Troy University to offer its first doctoral degree, the doctorate in nursing practice. We have added two Ph.D. programs since then.
Thanks to your leadership, Troy is now known as Alabama’s International University. Why is that important?
From the start of this journey, internationalization was a major part of our vision. In the inaugural address in 1990, I shared my belief that by 2000 our university would no longer be regional in nature. It would become international in outreach. A key component of this educational experience is interaction with classmates from other nations. If you understand people unlike yourself – people from other cultures, speaking different languages – then you can develop an appreciation for those people on a personal level. At that point, true and lasting relationships can develop.
In 1990, we enrolled only 40 international students. Today our students come from 80 nations. Further, this past year we sent more than 50 study-abroad delegations to 34 countries.
In 2008, Troy was the first U.S. university to award a college degree in Vietnam. Having served as a platoon leader in the Vietnam War, that must have been an emotional trip for you.
When I left Vietnam in 1969, I never envisioned I would return. Returning to Vietnam in 2002 was a profound personal experience. My earlier time in-country had a major impact on my life, so you can imagine re-entering the country brought back a wave of memories and emotions. However, apart from the personal aspect, I knew that establishing degree programs in Vietnam was the right thing for Troy to do. In 2002, we established teaching programs in Hanoi and in Ho Chi Minh City. The Vietnamese people covet a degree from a U.S. university, and teaching overseas has been a hallmark of Troy. On the 28th of February, 2008, Troy University became the first American university to award the bachelor’s degree in Vietnam. Today, I am proud we have more than 1,000 alumni working and leading in Vietnam.
Do you have a favorite spot on campus?
Yes. The Janice Hawkins Cultural Arts Park is a beautiful and contemplative spot. Janice has done so much for Troy University besides being a gracious first lady. She has made major contributions to the beauty of the campus. She was instrumental in creating our Troy for Troops program, which serves our military and veteran students. Her commitment to the fine arts led to the transformation of an old dining hall into a beautiful arts center. And, she has been an advocate for study-abroad programs. Plus, she does so much behind the scenes that is invaluable to Troy.
At age 74, you could have retired years ago, yet you recently signed a new four-year contract. What are your goals for those years?
We are working on the creation of a new Center for Materials and Manufacturing Sciences, which will conduct research in polymer science. We are working closely with KW Plastics in Troy, the largest plastics recycler in the world, in this area. We also want to work to increase the employability potential for every graduate by requiring an internship in every discipline. Continued internationalization is important. I want to see every Troy student have a study-abroad experience, and we award every student who studies outside of the United States a $1,000 scholarship to defray expenses. I would like to see a health sciences and technology facility to house nursing and allied health programs, as well as our School of Science and Technology. These are and have been exciting times … but for Troy University, the best is yet to be.
This story originally appeared in Alabama Living magazine.