Business Law professor ‘Law Dog’ approaches his 50th year with GU | Arts & Entertainment

Irina Baranova

When Donald Hackney first enrolled at Gonzaga University in 1966, the kid from Kennewick couldn’t have imagined his office 47 years in the future would sit in a coal dumping ground by the river.

Through a few twists and not too many turns, the Jepson Center was erected in 1987 and the “Law Dog” settled into his office on the second floor of the business school when he was hired full-time by GU in 2006.

Notorious for teaching Business Law to sophomores — either to their delight or their chagrin, depending on who you ask — the roots of the “Law Dog” nickname are ambiguous. Fellow professor Andrew Brajcich accuses Hackney of bestowing the nickname upon himself.

For what it’s worth, Hackney doesn’t remember if it was him or a student that came up with the moniker. All that’s certain is that the name has stuck, so much so that the beginning of every lecture features a slide with the official “Law Dog” logo of a snarling bulldog.

Donald Hackney’s nickname at Gonzaga is “Law Dog.”

Hackney has the unique distinction of having nearly every business student at GU pass through his classroom since he began teaching in 1974. If Hackney misses a student in the classroom, he also gives a speech to prospective GU students over GEL Weekend on business as a calling as a precautionary measure.

“I had him for Business Law when I was an undergraduate, so I met Professor Hackney in 1979,” said Interim Provost and 1981 grad, Ken Anderson. “He’s taught every single section of Business Law for most of the time he’s been here, certainly since he’s been full-time. Because of that, he knows so many people.”

Outside of Business Law (once called Law, Business, and Society), Hackney’s fingerprints are all over the education of Zags within the school of business. To create an exhaustive list of Hackney’s involvement at GU may be impossible.

Not only was he one of the main advocates for the Law and Public Policy concentration, Hackney has served on the GU Board of Trustees for over 25 years, is a club advisor for Alpha Kappa Psi, an active member of the GU Alumni Association, all while conducting research on the Logan Neighborhood and bankruptcy filings in Washington.

Hackney’s journey began in the Pacific Northwest on a family peppermint farm outside of Kennewick where he started working with his parents and siblings at the age of seven.  

As he explains his roots, Hackney moves methodically throughout his office. The walls are filled with biographies on Alexis de Tocqueville and Benjamin Franklin among other books like “The Federalist”. He pauses to admire a picture amid the thick white binders containing legal jargon on Natural Law. The black-and-white photograph is of a young Hackney with his aunt, uncle, parents and siblings on the farm.

“I grew up in a lifestyle that’s basically gone in the country,” Hackney said. “From the time you’re old enough to do anything, you’re a part of an economic enterprise because everybody works. You know, I look back and I think how fortunate I was to learn how to work. I don’t consider I was punished by having to work in the fields, it was a blessing for me.”

Through blissful ignorance and some slight divine intervention, the self-described “cradle Catholic” made up his mind that he would attend Gonzaga and become a lawyer at the age of 14.

“I’ve never had one ounce of hang back or fear in me,” Hackney said. “I remember going up to some Jesuit that was visiting from Gonzaga back when I was in junior high. I went up and introduced myself to him and said, ‘I’m coming to Gonzaga’.”

Hackney attended one year at a junior college in the Columbia Basin before transferring to GU as a sophomore.

The “Law Dog” left GU for a brief two-year stint in the army at the height of the Vietnam War following graduation. Hackney was initially deployed to Fort Riley before training in war games in Germany, finally settling at Fort Benning in Georgia.

“There’s my Infantry School Airborne certificate, which means I’ve jumped out of perfectly good airplanes,” said Hackney, pointing to his shelf with a laugh. “I got to Fort Riley and they ran down their officer strength so low there because they were shipping people to Vietnam. They froze orders for a while to build things back up, and that kept me from going to Vietnam.”

Within two weeks of returning, Hackney was enrolled in law school at GU and hasn’t left since. Although he practiced in Spokane as a lawyer for decades, he began teaching the infamous Business Law course immediately after graduation as GU was pressed for adjunct faculty.

“I think he has a deeper understanding of what it means to be a Zag more so than anybody else who’s here,” said Director of the Hogan Entrepreneurial Leadership Program Dan Stewart. “He’s seen it from both sides as a student and as a faculty person and as a trustee. He understands the history and the roots of the school.”

Hackney’s tenure at GU is one of benchmarks. Since arriving in the late ’60s, Hackney has seen the peaks and valleys the university has endured throughout the latter half of the 20th century as the Jesuits and their counterparts fought to keep the doors open at GU.  

“The basketball team was on the ascendancy and in 1999 the whole thing took off,” Hackney said, referring to the Zags’ first Elite Eight run. “We went from classes of 500 people up to close to 1,000. People can pat themselves on the back all they want. The reason Gonzaga is a name that people know is because of basketball.”

However, Hackney is quick to credit the work of former Gonzaga presidents Fr. Bernard Coughlin and Fr. Robert Spitzer for their integral role in developing the GU campus into its current form. Hackney estimates that Spitzer constructed close to 50 buildings on campus during his tenure.

“I mean, [Coughlin] kept the heat on, he kept the place open,” Hackney said. “He straightened some things around and went out there and hustled money. Barney is in the pantheon of Gonzaga saints. He’s in the front row for having done it.”

While Hackney shared the Gonzaga campus with those patron saints of GU, he was also busy running a promotions company, various construction outfits, developing land and running his own law practice as the senior partner. The “Law Dog” endured his fair share of dissolved partnerships, but despite the rotating cast of names from Lawson to Delaney, Hackney’s name always remained on the sign out front.

“We all take these psychology tests that tell you what you are. Well, I’m an entrepreneur,” Hackney said. “I have a kind of affection for people who go out and make things and do things. People that jump into ships and try to discover new worlds. My sympathies are with those folks.”

Not one to backtrack, the “Law Dog” is incredibly comfortable in the life his 14-year-old self put in motion in junior high. As he leans back in his office chair, a small glass jar of pure peppermint extract sits in front of his computer to remind him of his agricultural roots in Kennewick.

“There’s a real tendency, when you’re a 20-year-old to just kind of put off all of the big questions and just sort of spend your lives distracted. Nobody wants to get too serious,” Hackney mused. “I would tell people to carve out quiet time where you’re not distracted and get in touch with your inner voice. That’s how God speaks to us. If you’re just around chaos, loud music, nonsense, video games and social texting and all that stuff, you can never reach into that quiet spot.”

When he isn’t marshaling his Business Law students in the Wolff Auditorium, he can be found in his office, whether it’s a weekend or a holiday. During the COVID-19 pandemic when campus was without students, Hackney and Stewart would indulge in a beverage as they walked around the campus that the “Law Dog” has watched rise out of its former industrial modesty.

Although Hackney didn’t divulge any sort of retirement plans consisting of rides into the proverbial sunset, when he does inevitably decide to hang it up, GU will lose over two generations of experience. A portal into the past will close and a new elder statesman will assume Hackney’s post. Some acts are impossible to follow and as he approaches his 50th year, Hackney has made the job of his successor incredibly difficult.

“The good Lord only gives each of us so many years, what I refer to as this side of the grass, you know, and I’ve had a wonderful life,” Hackney said. “I’ve been able to work into years where many of my peers are retired. I think people need work and were made to work and I enjoy it. I love teaching. I derive a great deal of personal satisfaction from being able to do those kinds of things.”

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