Benjamin Hawkins will retire as dean of Campbell University’s Lundy-Fetterman School of Business on Dec. 31 after more than a decade in the position. He sat down with Campbell.edu to reflect on his time at Campbell and to talk about what’s next. The following is an edited transcript.
On what guided him as dean
Early in my career I was in a meeting where people were talking about students. Someone said that the most important question you need to ask yourself when thinking about students was: “How would I handle this if this was my child?” I think that question has been a guiding force for me. I see every student as if he or she was my child. They are the product we are producing, and they are the reason we exist. They are all interesting and unique, and all have a different personality, background and set of strengths. Part of the challenge is to help them figure out how their uniqueness can be useful to them and help them be successful in whatever they do.
On what he hopes students learned from him
I have always tried to show a sense of caring about the students and a sense that it matters what you do as a student. I also hope the students sensed my high expectations for them. In other words, you can do a lot more than you may have thought you could do but you don’t know that unless you are challenged. One of the things I say to them is “Life is lumpy.” There are going to be rough periods and tough situations that you’re going to have to deal with. When you’re hit with something really big or something scary and intimidating, what should you do? Knowing who are you and what strengths you have is a big key in dealing with those in a successful way.
On his strengths
We use StrengthQuest in the business school. My top strength is I’m a learner, which is great, because that’s what people in education need to be. The next is achiever, because I like to see things get accomplished. I like lists and goals and checking things off. I’m also strategic in what I do. I just don’t want to go out and do something; I want to think about the long-term impact of what we’re trying to change. When you put those three together, it’s a good picture of who I am. I’m sort of a change agent.
On his roots as a change agent
When I was in the fifth grade, the teacher told my mom, “Your son asks ‘Why?’ more than any kid I’ve had in school. Every time we do something, he wants to know why we’re doing this.” I think that’s part of my DNA. When I come into situations, I ask a lot questions.
On what he wanted to be when he grew up
I always wanted to teach at the college level. Even in high school I tutored kids and always had this ability to help people understand things that were sometimes difficult to understand. It was my calling. I was in the ROTC and in military service for three years. When I came back from service, I went to graduate school and ended up with a doctorate. My trip into administration was a little different, and it’s not where I thought I’d end up. I taught for several years, and then some of my organizational skills and the way I think about things, I guess, caught up with me.
On the challenge of working in administration
My daughter was in the 2nd or 3rd grade when she came to work with me for a Take Your Child to Work Day. At the end of the day, she said to me, “Daddy, you don’t really do anything, do you?” I said, “Ashley, What are you talking about?” She said, “Well, all you did today was go to meetings.” And I thought, Truth out of the mouth of a babe. We spend so much time talking that very often the real trick is to find the time to do instead of just meeting and talking. That’s the challenge to being an administrator.
On dealing with the challenge
There has to be time to withdraw and to think strategically about where you are headed, and I think that is the distinction between someone who is a good administrator and one who never really comes to be effective at it. Some people in administration meet and talk all day but no action comes out of it. There are others who are continually telling people what to do, but there is no effective communication with those people so many people have no idea why things are happening and no feeling of input into it. Particularly in higher education, you have to be willing to listen and to talk, but you have to also have the ability to put together and explain a strategic direction.
On what he’ll miss as dean
The day-to-day interaction with faculty; and the new ideas, thoughts, techniques, just that intellectual simulation of talking with people who have the same interests in the academics and in learning that you do. I don’t think the day-to-day discussion now will be about the use of Tegrity in the classroom and how to put more writing in the classroom. The other thing I’ll miss is the students themselves. When you teach in college, you get older but the kids stay the same. They are always young and enthusiastic and energetic, and they are going to conquer the world. They keep you attuned with the fact that the world doesn’t have to be the way it is right now.
On why he’s retiring now
There has been a good bit of change brought about by things I’ve instigated or started, but after a while your effectiveness in terms of making changes diminishes. I feel like I’ve done what I can do, and it’s time now for someone else to come in and see what they can do. From a personal perspective, my wife and I have a window of opportunity to go and do some things that we’ve long wanted to do. Both of her parents have passed away, my parents have passed away, and my daughter doesn’t have kids yet. We have a window here, and we want to take advantage of it.
On what’s next
My wife has talked to me for 37 years about going on a cruise, so I have a feeling that in the next year, we will probably be going on a cruise. I’m also going with the Divinity School to Greece and Turkey. That’s about as far as we’ve planned right now. My wife continues to remind me that we’re not going to be making much money, so we have to watch spending.
On his time at Campbell
I feel blessed to have been at Campbell over the 10 years I’ve been here. It has been a great experience, from the top to the bottom. The administration has made remarkable, almost unbelievable changes, not only with the physical structure but the philosophical foundation of the university. We have moved from a little, ol' country bumpkin college to becoming a truly legitimate Level Six research institution. I feel blessed to be at an institution where it went through that transformation, and I hope that I have been useful in some of that transformation. But I think there is still a lot of growing to do for Campbell. We’re still on the upswing, and it’ll be interesting to watch from afar to see where Campbell goes. As [Campbell President Jerry] Wallace has reminded me, “You retire from Campbell, but you never really leave Campbell.” That’s true. There will always be a special place in my heart for Campbell. -- Interview by Cherry Crayton