Thursday, January 14, 2016

UNO Mourns the Death of John Altazan, Founding Dean of the UNO College of Business Administration

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John Altazan, founding dean of University of New Orleans’ College of Business Administration, died Sunday, Jan. 10, at the age of 89.

Altazan had a pioneering influence over the College of Business Administration, leading the first effort to obtain national accreditation and hiring the faculty who would be the program’s earliest architects. But Altazan’s main legacy, according to those who knew him, will always be the incredible and often life-changing influence he had on students.

Roy Baas, former adjunct professor of finance at UNO who now teaches at University of Colorado Boulder, first met Altazan in the late 1960s. Baas was seeking to salvage his college career after essentially abandoning it to join the U.S. Marines and leaving his grade point average in shambles.

In order to be admitted, Baas says, he had to meet with Altazan.

Though a soft-spoken man with a broad smile, Altazan had an air of impressive assertiveness when the situation called for it. And students like Baas took note.

“He read me the riot act and grilled me about my academic performance,” Baas said. Over the next two semesters, Altazan required Baas to meet with him regularly to update him on his progress. Within two semesters, Baas said, he’d dug himself out of that academic hole and went on to a successful commercial banking career before eventually returning to UNO where he taught finance on campus and at the University of New Orleans International Summer School in Austria.

“He spent a lot of time with students who may not be progressing as needed to be successful,” said John Williams, who has served as dean of the College of Business Administration since 2010.

Altazan’s devotion to such struggling students eventually earned his mentees the moniker “Altazan’s Allstars”—a group of people who credit their college degrees and, often, their careers to Altazan’s guidance. Baas, who went on to call Altazan a colleague as well as mentor, said that in his time in academia, he’s never seen anything like it.

“I’ve stayed connected with a few students,” Baas said. “But John is connected with so many. It just dwarfs anything I’ve seen. And it’s real respect and affection.”

Dennis McSeveney—professor emeritus of sociology, dean emeritus of the College of Liberal Arts and associate provost emeritus—said that even in Altazan’s retirement, his impact was clear. McSeveney would often accompany Altazan to alumni functions, where former students would frequently approach to deliver words of gratitude. And, McSeveney said, Altazan often not only remembered his former students by name, he remembered the names of their siblings, their children and more.

Altazan grew up in Port Allen, La., where he graduated from Port Allen High School as valedictorian in 1943. He went on to get a bachelor’s degree in accounting and a master’s degree in business administration from Louisiana State University before obtaining a doctorate in economics from the University of Illinois.

Altazan taught international trade for a spell at Loyola University before he was recruited by UNO founder Homer Hitt in 1958 to join what was then known as Louisiana State University in New Orleans, teaching out of old U.S. Naval Air Station barracks. Wife and chemistry instructor Marie Hayes Altazan joined him.

Those who knew Altazan said he was excited about the prospect of building a public university in New Orleans. They say he remained convinced throughout his 50-year career at UNO and until his death that the University was an essential asset to the city and state, especially in its ability to provide an affordable education to those who wanted to pursue professions otherwise unattainable without a degree.

“He related to the unique position UNO was in,” Williams said. “He knew that UNO could be the lifeline into jobs in the New Orleans area. He believed in that model.”

Altazan served as dean of the College of Business Administration for 30 years until 1989. He continued to teach at UNO until his retirement in 2008, an occasion marked by a formal remembrance that prompted Baas to create a website where students and colleagues could post well-wishes and notes of gratitude.

“I shall forever be grateful for your thoughtful mentoring,” wrote Arthur Parham, senior tax advisor at Entergy who received degrees from UNO in 1974 and 1975. “Your legacy is the nurturing that you provided to so many students and the success that these students have achieved. New Orleans is a much better place as a result of the values you instilled in so many of its citizens while they were students at UNO.”

In addition to Marie Altazan, his wife of 58 years, Altazan is survived by two daughters, Alison Ramiro Guerra and Kerrin Altazan, and four grandchildren.

Relatives and friends are invited to a wake on Friday, Jan. 15, 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. at Jacob Schoen & Son Funeral Home, 3827 Canal St. in New Orleans. On Saturday, Jan. 16, visitation will take place from 10 a.m. to 11 a.m. followed by a funeral Mass at 11:00 a.m. at Transfiguration of Our Lord Catholic Church, at the corner of Elysian Fields Ave. at Prentiss Street in New Orleans.

In lieu of flowers, please make donations to the Rotary Foundation, or to the John E. Altazan Ambassador Award given by the UNO Division of International Education (email isp@uno.edu). An online guestbook is available at www.schoenfh.com.

Also view Altazan's obituary here.