James C. Hickman, former business school dean, dies

Sept. 13, 2006

by Dennis Chaptman

James C. Hickman, a professor emeritus of business and statistics and former dean of the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Business, died on Sept. 10 following a bout with cancer.

Hickman, 79, joined the faculty in 1972 and retired in 1993. As business school dean, he helped engineer some far-reaching changes that are still being felt today.

"While research and academic work was Jim's passion, he also provided great leadership for the School of Business at a critical period when our alumni became more engaged and supportive of our efforts," says current business school Dean Michael Knetter. "As dean, Jim was instrumental in the effort to develop, design and build Grainger Hall. He was a great role model for many of us and will be missed by the entire community."

Hickman served as dean of the school from 1985-90 and led the school at the time businessman David Grainger made the leading donation to build Grainger Hall, today's home of the business school. Beyond that, he was a respected friend to many inside and outside the school.

"He's somebody that everybody talks about as being a mentor and as one of the reasons that this place is special," says Marjorie Rosenberg, a professor of actuarial science, biostatistics and medical informatics.

People across campus knew Hickman as a warm and engaging individual with a strong commitment to business education and a passion for hiking and biking.

"He was a broad person, a true renaissance man," says Edward "Jed" Frees, an associate dean and faculty member at the School of Business and one of Hickman's former students. "You'd get five minutes with him and you'd feel like telling him your life story."

Hickman was a noted researcher in the field of actuarial science and had a track record as a strong teacher.

He was the winner of the 1981 and 1984 Halmstad Prize of the Actuarial Education and Research Fund for best contributions to actuarial science literature and won the business school's 1985 Erwin A. Gaumnitz Distinguished Faculty Award for outstanding teaching, research and public service.

Hickman advised Frees on his master's thesis in 1976 and was one of his colleagues after Frees joined the faculty in 1983.

"Jim was a giant in the field, and was internationally respected for his work," Frees adds. "He was also superb in the classroom, with a booming voice and commanding presence."

During his tenure as dean, the school revised its curriculum and added classes in technology management, international business and ethics. It also expanded its faculty and laid the groundwork for a new building.

When he left the dean's post, Hickman was characteristically humble, refusing to take credit for the achievements. "It would not only be immodest, but it would be false to say that happened because of Jim Hickman," he told a reporter at the time.

With regard to the curriculum changes, he said, "We're not changing our curriculum because of my great eloquence, but because the faculty wanted to meet modern demands on business education."

A native of Indianola, Iowa, Hickman received his bachelor's degree at Simpson College in his hometown, and went on to the University of Iowa where he earned a master's degree in mathematics with an emphasis in actuarial science and a doctorate in mathematical statistics.

He taught at the University of Iowa, beginning as a part-time instructor in 1951 and eventually rose to full professor. He left Iowa City in 1972 to teach at UW-Madison.

He is survived by his wife, Margaret, and children Charles, Donald and Barbara. A memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. Saturday, Sept. 23, at Covenant Presbyterian Church, 326 S. Segoe Road, Madison.