The morning of Sept. 1, 1989, was a momentous one at Troy University.
For the first time in 25 years, a new Chancellor had been named to lead the institution, following Dr. Ralph Adams’ retirement.
It was a time of uncertainty for TROY faculty and staff, who had great respect for Adams and his decades of success.
But from the moment Dr. Jack Hawkins, Jr., walked onto campus that day 30 years ago and was named Adams’ successor, those who met him knew the University they loved was in good hands.
“He was an impressive young man,” said Dr. Fred Davis, who was serving as TROY’s associate provost at the time of Hawkins’ inauguration. “I didn’t know a lot about his background, and it really didn’t matter, but I found him to be quite impressive. He looked presidential and he had a vision.”
Hawkins’ experience serving as president of the Alabama Institute for the Deaf and Blind gave him experience in leadership as well as a familiarity with the University.
“I began visiting TROY regularly about seven years before I became Chancellor,” Hawkins recalled. “The Troy State University Press was publishing the centennial history of AIDB, which I was co-writing with a colleague named Bob Couch, so I was a regular visitor to Wallace Hall to work with the staff in Creative Services, most of whom worked here when I became Chancellor.”
By the time he became Chancellor, Hawkins had long ago fallen in love with the Troy Campus.
“I knew of the University, but I was not prepared for the simple beauty of the campus, the fine old buildings such as Bibb Graves Hall and the magnolias on the Shackelford Quad,” Hawkins said. “Most impressive was the newly constructed Sorrell Chapel. In fact, I was so inspired that we used the Sorrell Chapel as the model to construct the Chapel at AIDB, which opened in 1985.”
“I believed that my wife, Janice, and I could make a difference here,” Hawkins added. “And she has been a remarkable partner on this journey, championing initiatives as varied as the appearance of the campus, advocating on behalf of military veterans and creating study abroad opportunities. And there has been no better champion for the fine arts.”
The announcement that September morning in 1989 changed the face of TROY and left an indelible impression in the minds of those who were there, including students who would forge a bond with Hawkins in subsequent years.
“I remember thinking, ‘this is a big news story,’ and it was exciting that I’d get to help cover it,” said Darlene Hutchinson Biehl, the current director of the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office for Victims of Crime, who was just weeks away from graduating with a print journalism degree. “I was interning at WTBF radio, and the Board of Trustees was selecting the next University Chancellor – the person who would fill the shoes of the legendary Dr. Ralph Adams. Being there was a really big deal.”
After the announcement, she ran back to the station, where the program manager, Joey Meredith, cut into programming so that Biehl could make the announcement to WTBF listeners.
“I imagine they were the first to know the breaking news that Jack Hawkins would be Troy State’s next chancellor,” she said. “What none of us knew then was the incredible transformation he would lead our university through in the three decades to come, or that he would elevate it to even higher levels. It was fabulous to be a witness to history that day — and in the 30 years since. Since the summer of 1989, I’ve done some rather cool things in my career, but not many exceed being first to report this exciting news.”
Dr. Don Jeffrey, the current Vice Chancellor of the Dothan Campus, worked as an aquatics instructor for Adams from 1977 to 1989, when Hawkins became Chancellor. Since then, he’s had 14 different titles with the University and has forged a personal bond with Hawkins.
“When I met him, I was impressed, because he’d look you directly in your eyes,” Jeffrey said. “You knew that he had a vision and the work ethic to bring it to reality. I knew from the very first day I met him that he would be a champion for our students, and that’s what he’s been for three decades and counting.”
Board of Trustees member Gibson Vance, a 1987 alumnus, also remembers the first time he met the new Chancellor.
“I remember vividly. I was at my fraternity house visiting a couple years [after the inauguration], and he came to the fraternity house to meet the students,” Vance said. “This guy walks into the house and looks like he’s from Hollywood — the perfect president of a university. I was impressed with him from the first moment I met him.”
Despite the optimism, few could have predicted Hawkins’ tenure would outlast his predecessor’s or have such an impact on the University during the course of 30-plus years.
Under his leadership, TROY (then Troy State) became an innovator in the realm of online education beginning in the 1990s, forging an internationally respected presence on the World Wide Web.
Hawkins also served as the catalyst for the University’s evolution into an international institution, as TROY has attracted record numbers of students from other nations and established teaching sites around the world, alongside international partnerships in countries such as Italy and China.
In the early 2000s, Hawkins spearheaded the University’s move to NCAA Division I-A athletics as well as the unification of the former Troy State University System into the modern Troy University.
Those who remember Adams’ tenure say he and Hawkins worked differently, but both shared a love of TROY and a relentless work ethic.
“They were quite different, but you have to give credit to both men,” Davis said. “Dr. Adams came here and TROY had its origin as a normal school, so he found a sleepy teacher’s college and had the vision of moving it forward, and he did in his own way. When Chancellor Hawkins came in, he took what he saw and built that momentum in dramatic fashion.”
For the students Hawkins championed throughout the years who have gone on to success after college, he remains a source of inspiration, and his influence has spread beyond TROY’s campuses and teaching sites into the surrounding communities.
“I’m overwhelmed with gratitude for everything he’s done for the University,” said alum Jeff Coleman, CEO of Coleman World Group, who graduated from the Dothan Campus in 1995 and was named Alumni of the Year in 2003. “Everything he puts his hand on is first class, from the buildings he’s built to the people he’s reached. The biggest thing is just the students he’s touched that have gone out in the world with that Trojan warrior spirit. That has made a difference in thousands and thousands of lives – great leaders making a difference in their communities.”
For the Chancellor, those lives define his legacy more than any of his other accomplishments.
“I believe the only meaningful legacy for any university president or chancellor is the success of our alumni, which is the best barometer of success for any university,” he said. “The great thing about a career in higher education—no matter what your position— is your work can have a ripple effect that spans generations. We don’t make widgets, we educate students, and in the process, we shape value systems. We can help our students achieve great things in their chosen fields, be good citizens, and be leaders in their communities. That’s a legacy everyone who works at TROY can embrace.”
However, Hawkins’ influence can also be seen in the development of numerous facilities that have modernized and improved life at Troy University, an investment of almost $400 million.
Rushing Hall, Claudia Crosby Theater, Patterson Hall, Hawkins Hall and the Trojan Arena in Troy; Everett Hall in Dothan; the Rosa Parks Library and Museum in Montgomery and the Phenix City Riverfront Campus are just some of the buildings constructed during Hawkins’ tenure at TROY.
“I can’t tell you how proud I am of how the campuses look today, and a lot of that you see today really is the vision Chancellor Hawkins had when he came here in 1989,” Davis said.
From the onset of his tenure, Hawkins saw the University’s potential.
“I knew we had great potential to grow if we embraced the idea that we could be more than we had been,” Hawkins said. “In my inaugural remarks, I said, ‘In 2000, no longer will we classify ourselves simply as a regional university. We are worldwide in our outreach, and we are becoming international in our perspective.’ That was the vision then, and today, it remains a cornerstone value that I believe is embraced not only by our leadership, but by our faculty, staff, students and alumni. As it so often does, vision drives growth, and I believe that has been the case at Troy University.”
Members of the Board of Trustees have had a firsthand look at the Chancellor executing that vision.
“The number one reason why TROY has had unprecedented growth by any objective metric is the fact we’ve had the same great leader the entire time,” Vance said. “I’ve never seen anybody who can combine form and substance as well as Jack Hawkins. As a board member, it’s been a great learning experience for me, having front-seat view of his leadership ability. He’s a pleasure to work with, keeps the Board of Trustees well informed of what’s going on at the University, and we know his word is his bond.”
Longtime friend and Montgomery Mayor Todd Strange hasn’t been surprised by Hawkins’ success.
“My first encounter with Jack was in 1958, in junior high school in Mobile, and even at our young age, I knew Jack Hawkins would make a difference in the lives he touched,” Strange said. “His life’s work has been the epitome of servant leadership, culminating in 30 years of leading and growing Troy University. The quantity and quality of his contributions will be long-lasting. I count it an honor and a blessing to call him friend and brother.”
When looking back at his 30-year tenure, Hawkins is proud of many things the University has accomplished, but one stands out above the rest.
“If pressed to name one initiative of which I am most proud, it would have to be the internationalization of our University,” he said. “Over the last 30 years we have gone from enrolling 40 students from 13 nations outside the U.S. to enrolling students from 80 nations speaking 85 languages. Further, this past year we sent more than 50 study-abroad delegations to 34 countries. We have enjoyed success in places like Vietnam, where we became the first U.S. university to award the baccalaureate degree. We have become Alabama’s International University, even though the odds were stacked against us. I have used the analogy of the bumblebee: Aerodynamically, the bee should not be able to fly — its wings are too short, its body too big. On the surface, TROY should not have become Alabama’s International University, but it has. We are located in rural southeast Alabama, far from the preferred areas of the West Coast and the major cities. We believe the key to success has been a commitment to produce globally competitive students in a beautiful setting and within a culture of caring.”
Recent projects like Coleman Hall in Dothan, the Trojan Fitness Center in Troy and TROY’s burgeoning international partnership with the University of Pisa indicate that Hawkins’ work for the University isn’t slowing down as it approaches its fourth decade.
“It’s been a tremendous run, but the race is not over, and I truly believe what Dr. Hawkins says, that the best is still yet to come,” Jeffrey said.