Auburn University Human Sciences Dean June Henton retires after three decades of visionary leadership

Published: June 28, 2019
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Looking back over June Henton’s career, there is no question that she has poured her heart and soul into her life’s work.

After 34 years of dedicated service to Auburn University, Henton retired as dean of the College of Human Sciences on June 30. Industry professionals and great academic minds alike laud her as a visionary leader, ahead of her time in pursuing opportunities to improve the college. Many know her as the backbone of the human sciences.

In 1985, when Henton stepped in as dean of what was then the School of Home Economics, similar colleges around the country were being disbanded. Departments were often separated and redistributed at universities, and it seemed that Auburn’s program might evaporate as well. But Henton told her faculty that even after just a few years in the role, she was willing to fall on her sword to keep the college together. Her faculty and the school’s donors responded with unconditional support.

“We would have been long gone if we hadn’t had this cohesiveness in the college. It was a time when we recognized the power and influence that we had,” Henton said. “If we could get the wherewithal to do something, we had the autonomy to do it. We can be innovative and we can be who we want to be in this college, and I think that gave us a lot of encouragement to move forward.”

In the schools that survived, the country also saw a wave of name changes. “Home economics” no longer accurately portrayed the intellectual and scientific value of what colleges were teaching, so many changed their name to things such as “family sciences” or “human ecology.”

Auburn was the first to name a “College of Human Sciences.”

With a new name for the college, Henton moved forward as dean with the hope that it would help bring the college out from under dated stereotypes associated with the study of home economics. But the name wasn’t the only thing that changed. The college started focusing on specialization, globalization, affirmations of diversity, professional development for students and trends in the apparel industry. The last led to the creation of the National Textile Center University Research Consortium in 1991.

What the U.S. Congress would later call ‘a model for America’ was the brainchild of Henton and her professional advisors. Several members were heads of Alabama companies that were in a state of panic because of the rising rate of offshore sourcing. The North American Free Trade Agreement was on the horizon, but not yet passed, and the apparel industry was being streamlined almost everywhere.

With the help of Bill Walsh, head of the textile engineering department in Auburn’s College of Engineering at the time, a partnership was formed among Auburn, North Carolina State, Clemson University and the Georgia Institute of Technology to build the National Textile Center University Research Consortium to study ways to improve the textile industry along the pipeline, all the way from fiber to retail. The group worked with industry leaders, representatives and, eventually, Congress to move the initiative forward. Soon, the U.S. Department of Commerce recognized the significance of the project in the arena of national security and funded the consortium which quickly grew to include eight universities. This was the initiative that put Auburn’s Apparel Merchandising, Design and Production Management program on the map—the first step to becoming nationally ranked degree programs.

Beyond elevating the college’s programs to the national stage, Henton’s work to globalize the college has been unmatched. She was ahead of the curve in recognizing the value of a global education and relied on her International Board of Advisors, created in 1992, for guidance in making sure every program in the college had a global element. Once that philosophy was integrated into the college’s programs, Henton turned her eyes to the global stage.

Henton noticed other universities had established permanent campuses overseas and embarked on a mission to create one for Auburn. Through the connections of the International Board, Henton connected with the mayor of Ariccia—a small town just south of Rome, Italy. The city had recently purchased the Palazzo Chigi from the family’s last prince and wanted a portion of the palace to be used in some capacity other than a museum. Henton said the stars aligned for Auburn to establish a campus in Ariccia, and it remains the university’s only permanent overseas campus.

The palace is now the 12-week home for students participating in the Joseph S. Bruno Auburn Abroad in Italy program. This summer, the program celebrated its 50th group of students. As it stands now, there is a two-year long waiting list to be accepted for the opportunity.

The most important connection Henton made in Italy was with the Antonini family. The late Marco Antonini, whom she would later call the program’s patriarch, was a lifelong educator who ensured the students in the Joseph S. Bruno Auburn Abroad in Italy program not only learned about Italian history, culture, art and food, but also felt like part of the family.

His son, Maurizio, is the resident director of the program and manager of Interlinea, a cultural and educational events management company that helps to lead the program in Ariccia.

“Dean Henton was the first to have the strength and desire to open up the horizon of the College of Human Sciences by pursuing an international campus and doing it with strong will and tenacity,” Antonini said. “Dean June Henton is a visionary and an inspiring person, not only for the faculty that has worked under her, and I’ve seen that impact. Everyone’s been motivated by her.”

The culmination of Henton’s globalization efforts throughout the years is evident in the Global Studies in Human Sciences undergraduate degree program. An entire unit of the college is dedicated to the study of practical solutions to global issues, with a requirement that every student enrolled in the program study abroad to enhance their in-classroom learning with real-world experience.

Not only did Henton promote an attitude of global competence, but also one of social awareness. Her work in the advancement of philanthropy on Auburn’s campus is central to the human sciences mission.

The Women’s Philanthropy Board, or WPB, was formed after Henton attended a meeting of the Women’s Philanthropy Institute in Dallas. She brought together a small group in Auburn, a speaker and a big idea—the College of Human Sciences could spearhead a movement to promote philanthropy through a network of dedicated women.

The Cary Center for the Advancement of Philanthropy and Nonprofit Studies was officially formed and began to hold workshops, lectures and special events based around the idea of giving back. Auburn’s WPB continues to grow its values, as reflected in programmatic changes within the college and over $700,000 given in student scholarships and faculty awards. A philanthropy and nonprofit studies minor was designed so that any Auburn student could supplement their studies with lessons about the nonprofit community. Recently, the college added a philanthropy and nonprofit studies undergraduate major in order to fill the need for highly trained, philanthropic-minded professionals across several industries.

Founders of the Frank and Carol Morsani Foundation, Frank and Carol Morsani, commend Henton for her devotion to Auburn students and her impact on the philanthropic world.

“Having worked with her during her tenure of the Women's Philanthropy Board at Auburn, we are well aware of the impact she has had nationwide,” Carol Morsani said. “When forming Women in Leadership and Philanthropy at the University of South Florida, we incorporated many of her ideas into our program. It has been our pleasure knowing and working with her, both academically and personally.”

Henton’s legacy of promoting philanthropy is quite possibly most well-known through the message of the International Quality of Life Awards. IQLA was launched in the mid-1990s to honor people who have made significant and lasting contributions to individual, family and community well-being locally and around the world. Honorees have included the likes of Archbishop Desmond Tutu, legendary pro athlete and entrepreneur Bo Jackson, former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, Congressman John Lewis, singer/songwriter Emmylou Harris, Apple CEO Tim Cook, former NBA player Charles Barkley, former MLB pitcher Tim Hudson and his wife Kim, who together founded the Hudson Family Foundation, and legendary musician Lionel Richie.

Each year, laureates and lifetime achievement award winners are honored at the United Nations headquarters in New York City. IQLA recently celebrated 25 years, and will continue to celebrate many more thanks to an endowment established by Beth Thorne Stukes earlier this year.

“The IQLA program was a result of June’s strength and persistence. You can’t be around June unless you’re willing to think in an international way, and I’m indebted to her for that contribution,” said former Auburn Provost Tim Boosinger. “June is one of those exceptional individuals who epitomizes the IQLA through her work. She really is at the heart of it.”

IQLA is not the only connection that the College of Human Sciences has with the United Nations. In 2004, Henton and Harriet Giles, external relations director, secured a partnership with the U.N. World Food Programme. At an initial meeting, they were the only representation of higher education at the table. The two quickly mobilized more than 300 colleges and universities worldwide under the banner of Universities Fighting World Hunger—an initiative to engage students in the fight against hunger and malnutrition.

In 2012, Henton and Giles created the Hunger Solutions Institute at Auburn, which specializes in research, outreach and partnerships to end hunger locally, nationally and around the world. The first outreach program launched with the help of Gov. Kay Ivey, End Child Hunger in Alabama, recently completed five years of exceptional work, showing great strides in reducing the rate of childhood hunger in the state. Presidents United to Solve Hunger, another initiative launched from the HSI to encourage university presidents to commit to ending hunger, now boasts more than 100 signatories of the Presidents’ Commitment to Food and Nutrition Security.

“June, to me, has defined the Auburn image on the national and global stages more than anyone in the modern era has done for this institution. June is Auburn,” said David Wilson, president of Morgan State University. “I can think of no other leader in higher education today who is more caring, more student-focused, more community-minded and more committed to doing the right thing when others sit on their hands, than June Henton.”

As Henton completed her final day as dean, her life’s work is evident in the great strides the college has made:

  • Recent rankings from fashion-schools.org place the Apparel Design and Production Management program as 16th in the nation and seventh among public institutions. The Apparel Merchandising program is third in the nation and the best in the South.

  • More than 40 percent of all human sciences graduates leave with study abroad experience.

  • The Child Life program is one of only four undergraduate programs in the country endorsed by the Association of Child Life Professionals.

  • The Hospitality Management program is one of only 74 programs in the world accredited by the Accreditation Commission for Programs in Hospitality Administration.

  • DesignIntelligence magazine ranks the Interior Design program, which is accredited by the Council for Interior Design Accreditation, as ninth in the nation, with three faculty members named to the list of the 25 most admired faculty members in the U.S.

  • And the Nutrition/Dietetics program holds Accreditation Council for Education in Nutrition and Dietetics accreditation, a 95 percent pass rate in the Registered Dietitian Exam and a 100 percent placement rate in nationally competitive dietetic internships.

Human Sciences advisory board member Gerald Andrews said Henton is always in an innovative rhyme and rhythm.

“Of all the people in the Auburn University family, Dr. June Henton is probably best known for her quantum leaps,” he said. “You can’t purchase her creative substance. In scholarly halls, words are important but results speak with a greater eloquence, especially if they are out of the mind of Dr. June Henton.”

The success of the College of Human Sciences is Henton’s legacy. As a dean, she will be remembered as a visionary leader, lifelong educator and role model who dedicated her life—both personal and professional—to improving quality of life for all. But if you ask Henton, she just wants to be remembered for fighting the good fight.

“The way you start is the way you go forward,” Henton said. “What all of us hope for is that there will continue to be inspired programming and wonderful opportunities for students—and especially new buildings.”

Auburn University is a nationally ranked land grant institution recognized for its commitment to world-class scholarship, interdisciplinary research with an elite, top-tier Carnegie R1 classification and an undergraduate education experience second to none. Auburn is home to more than 30,000 students, and its faculty and research partners collaborate to develop and deliver meaningful scholarship, science and technology-based advancements that meet pressing regional, national and global needs. Auburn's commitment to active student engagement, professional success and public/private partnership drives a growing reputation for outreach and extension that delivers broad economic, health and societal impact. Auburn's mission to educate, discover and collaborate drives its expanding impact on the world.