John Hawkins, a dedicated scholar, teacher, administrator and champion of global educational opportunities who spent his entire academic career of more than four decades at UCLA, died June 27 in Los Angeles. He was 76.

Hawkins, who at the time of his death was a professor emeritus of comparative and international education at the UCLA Graduate School of Education & Information Studies, led UCLA’s International Studies and Overseas Programs — the predecessor of today’s International Institute — from 1985 to 1999, first as associate director, then as acting director and ultimately as dean of international studies. 

“John Hawkins was a pioneer in international studies and international exchange,” said Cindy Fan, UCLA’s vice provost for international studies and global engagement, who met Hawkins in the 1990s when he gave her a book on international education. “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.”

Over the course of his career, Hawkins’ research interests included education and politics, rural technology transfer, organizational theory, teacher education, quality assurance and accreditation in higher education, project-management education, education and intergroup relations, and, most recently, secondary and higher education reform.

While his area of specialization was Northeast Asia, he conducted fieldwork at schools and universities in other regions throughout the world as well, including Southeast Asia, South Asia, the Middle East, the Pacific Basin and Africa.

Beyond his work as a scholar and administrator, Hawkins was a beloved teacher and adviser. He was the recipient of an Excellence in Teaching Award from the UCLA Graduate Students Association and is remembered with great affection and respect by the many students who studied with him.

“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 doctorate in education at UCLA and now works with the International Institute and UCLA External Affairs.

“He was an extraordinary adviser who cared about his students deeply,” Xu added. “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.’”

Born and raised in Sterling, Illinois, Hawkins attended the University of Hawai‘i at Manoa, where he received his bachelor’s degree in Asian studies. He went on to earn a master’s in Asian studies from the University of British Columbia and a doctorate in comparative education from Vanderbilt University.

During his undergraduate years, Hawkins became one of the very few Americans to witness the start of China’s Cultural Revolution firsthand, an experience that forever altered the course of his personal and professional life. It was his visit to a Shanghai school for the blind and hearing-impaired that made the greatest impression, as he became fascinated by the common issues facing educators in both China and the United States.

As dean of international studies at UCLA, Hawkins oversaw a growing number of research centers and interdisciplinary programs covering regions in Asia, Africa, Europe, the Middle East and Latin America, and helped establish several centers devoted to different parts of Asia. His dedication to advancing international exchanges between UCLA and other educational institutions around the world led to many honors, including the Chevalier dans l’Ordre des Palmes Académiques, which was awarded to him by French Prime Minister Alain Juppé in 1997.

A prolific scholar, Hawkins wrote or edited nearly 20 books on educational policy and planning in the Asia-Pacific region and penned more than 70 journal articles and book chapters. He was also a contributor to the field of comparative education, having served as president of the Comparative and International Education Society, editor of the Comparative Education Review, and senior editor of publisher Palgrave MacMillan’s series on international and development education.

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