In Memoriam: SHA’s Michael Oshins: Caring, Dedicated, Funny
Faculty member and father of three loses battle with pancreatic cancer at 59
Longtime School of Hospitality Administration faculty member Michael Oshins (Wheelock’02), who continued to teach even as he fought pancreatic cancer, succumbed to the disease on September 27. He was 59.
“He was the most beloved professor at the school,” says close friend Christopher Muller, an SHA professor. “He knew every student who had graduated and kept in touch with an enormous number of them. There were both present and former students at his funeral on Sunday, and I got emails from students and former colleagues from all over the globe wishing to send their condolences to the family. There was one guy there from the class of ’94.”
Oshins, an Auburndale resident, was celebrating his 30th year of teaching at SHA. As the school’s first associate professor of the practice, he was instrumental in shaping its curriculum and culture, according to Arun Upneja, SHA dean.
“He was the most incredibly optimistic, happy person I have known,” Upneja says. “He lived and practiced hospitality. In terms of how we talk to our students and take care of them in this school, a whole lot of that flows from his mind-set. People come in and say, ‘Whoa, this school is different.’ It is different in big part because of his sense of hospitality that he has imbued in this school.”
Oshins had taught different classes over the years, including introduction to hospitality, hospitality technology, marketing, lodging operations, and more recently, the required senior capstone course, Hospitality Leadership. Kristen Verdeaux (SHA’19) took a Harvard Extension course Oshins taught more than a dozen years ago and found him inspiring; later, with a career in event management, she joined the Master of Management in Hospitality program at SHA largely in hopes of reconnecting with him. She landed in the leadership class, which Oshins cotaught with Suzanne Bagnera, an SHA clinical assistant professor and chair of undergraduate programs, in fall 2018.
“That first day we walked into class and he said to us, ‘Guys, I’m sick, I have cancer, but I’m attacking it right now, I have a great team of doctors at one of the best medical centers in the country, and I will be there on graduation day to see you walk across the stage,’” Verdeaux says. “I remember people were crying, and we all had chills. You think about an educator who knows they’re fighting really hard but is incredibly dedicated to his students. That’s who he was.”
“He approached class with humor and grace and interactive learning,” Verdeaux says. “It was refreshing, and I never dreaded going to one of his classes.”
On September 19, Oshins was inducted into Boston University’s Scarlet Key Honor Society, but did not attend the ceremony. Oshins “is the manifestation of hospitality, service, and leadership in one ‘mensch’ of a human being,” said the nomination letter from Leora Lanz, an SHA lecturer and chair of the graduate program. She saw him last Tuesday, his final day of teaching.
“Mike has inspired thousands, literally thousands, of students during his 30 years at BU,” Lanz says. “He truly loved his students. It’s no surprise that a number of former students attended his funeral service. The number of texts and calls I received once the news was shared was overwhelming. Personally, I am devastated and heartbroken.”
Before joining the faculty, Oshins worked for a company applying then-new software to such industry uses as restaurant reservation systems. He worked with the BU Technology Development Office back in 2011 and 2012, when the iPad was gaining popularity, to create the very first commercial Apple app for BU, Muller recalls. It was called the Revenator, a sliding scale that allowed the user to estimate the sales of any restaurant based on the number of seats and average check. “His innovative approach to joining technology to the classroom was years ahead of the rest of us,” he says.
Oshins earned his doctorate in education from Wheelock College of Education & Human Development, and his three children have all attended BU. He is survived by his wife, Alison Kur, and their children Abi (Wheelock’15), Jem (CFA’19), and Zachary (CGS’19, SHA’21), along with his parents and siblings.
Muller estimated that roughly 800 people attended Oshins’ funeral on Sunday at Temple Beth Elohim in Wellesley. One measure of the regard his friends had for his sense of humor is that one eulogist appeared with a Steve Martin–style arrow on his head, while another wore a red clown nose.
One year Oshins was the best man in eight weddings, says Muller, who has known him since they were Cornell graduate students. Oshins was instrumental in bringing Muller to BU in 2010. Muller says their friendship included plenty of jokes about his friend’s size-15 feet—“these giant boats”—and that in recent years they had taken to referring to themselves as Statler and Waldorf, the two grumpy old men on The Muppets.
“My last communication with him was in texts,” Muller says. “I sent him a picture and said I was thinking of him and signed it Waldorf. He wrote back and said, ‘Good to hear from you, this is Statler, I’m back in the hospital but all is good.’ And of course it wasn’t.”
Memorial donations may be made to the Mike Oshins Fund at Temple Beth Elohim, 10 Bethel Rd., Wellesley, MA 02481.