Alan Hockin’s Grace under Adversity

Alan Hockin had a distinguished career as a senior public servant in the Department of Finance and then as executive vice-president at Toronto-Dominion Bank. His third career as Dean of the Faculty of Administrative Studies (now Schulich School of Business) at York University was likely his most challenging.

When Alan became Dean in 1985, the faculty was eager to move forward, but without any clear sense of direction. Alan was selected Dean in spring 1984 by then President H. Ian Macdonald, but by the time he arrived Macdonald had completed his term. Macdonald and Hockin had common experiences as senior public servants in finance and would have worked well together. I don’t think he and Macdonald’s successor, Harry Arthurs, had the same chemistry.

Alan invited me to serve as Associate Dean, which I did for much of the time he was dean, so I had a close-up view of the issues he had to confront. It became apparent to Alan that one big obstacle to moving the faculty forward was that it was cross-subsidizing the rest of the university to a substantial degree. As befits his background, Alan wanted to know the precise extent of the cross-subsidy. Reluctantly, York’s central administration provided an answer that confirmed Alan’s suspicions.

There were colleagues who expected that Alan would leverage his corporate connections to bring in vast sums of endowment dollars. Given the state of the faculty’s finances, Alan didn’t think he could play that role with integrity.

Roger Wolff, Dean of the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Management was facing a similar predicament. Thinking out of the box, he and Alan hit upon the idea of the two business schools merging to create a stand-alone management faculty. Both felt this approach would reduce or even eliminate cross-subsidization and attract greater support from the business community. While rare in North America, there are a considerable number of stand-alone management faculties in Europe. The proposal was ultimately vetoed by the two university presidents. At that point, Alan thought it appropriate to end his term as dean.

Harry Arthur’s selection of Alan’s successor turned out to be one of his best decisions. Dezso Horvath, much to his credit, found other ways to move the faculty forward. His Hungarian background provided a great opportunity for public profile at the moment the Soviet Union was collapsing. He worked tirelessly on outreach to the business community and on increasing the faculty’s international orientation. Seymour Schulich’s naming endowment and the construction of a new building were important achievements. These initiatives, like those at other Ontario universities, were supported by the Ontario government’s deregulation of tuition fees at management faculties.

Former York colleagues Chris Robinson and Bernard Wolf have posted on Alan’s condolences page (http://www.yatesfuneral.ca/obits/obituary.php?id=540136) that he was supportive of their careers. When I think back on my time at York, I realize how supportive he was of my career, and in so many ways. When Allan Blakeney came to Osgoode Hall as a visiting scholar, Alan Hockin put us in touch; Blakeney and I subsequently taught a course together and co-authored a book. Alan noticed that my salary had fallen out of step, and without my asking gave me a raise. My time as associate dean didn’t end particularly well, so he recommended I be granted a one-semester leave to regroup.

When I received an offer to go to the U. of T., I asked Alan’s advice. Alan was shrewd and realistic, and empathetically approached the question in terms of my own best interests. A few years later, as Chair of the Department of Management at UTSC, I began fund-raising for a research fund in honour of Wynne Plumptre, UTSC’s first Principal and, before that, one of Alan’s fellow mandarins in Finance. Alan made a substantial donation that got this initiative off to a good start.

As in his careers in government and banking, Alan brought dignity, integrity, and imagination to his career at York. As a first-time academic administrator, I learned much from him. He cared about his colleagues and used his influence to advance our careers. I mourn his passing and honour his achievements and his legacy.

 

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