HPU's president planning to retire Wright gave life to HPU sports
By Loren Moreno
Advertiser Education Writer
After some 40 years at the helm of Hawai'i Pacific University, President Chatt G. Wright says he plans to retire 16 months from now and has asked the school's board to begin searching for his successor.
Wright told the HPU board of trustees on Friday of his plans to retire.
"I made this decision with full confidence in the current state of HPU and complete optimism about HPU's path into the 21st century," Wright told the HPU community in an e-mail. "I know that the past few years have been difficult. Faced with a series of challenges, we didn't take the easy path. We took action and did what was necessary to move into the next stage of our evolution from a position of strength."
The announcement comes a year after Wright spearheaded an effort to streamline the university. In January 2009, HPU significantly reorganized its academic divisions, merging its colleges from seven into four. At the time, HPU's fall enrollment had dropped by 1.8 percent compared to the previous year, to a total of 8,293 students.
Announcement of his plan to retire also comes just four months since Wright unveiled a planned $100 million expansion of HPU's Windward Hawai'i Loa campus. The university had been working with architectural firm Group 70 International Inc. The project, which is likely to be done in phases, will quadruple the existing number of on-campus student housing spaces, and also includes plans for a new academic center, a performing arts center, athletic facilities and a new academic building.
Wright said he would have a continued presence on HPU's campuses even after retirement, helping with fundraising for the campus expansion project.
When Wright joined what was then called Hawai'i Pacific College on his birthday — Sept. 17 — in 1972 as business dean, the college was a speck on Hawai'i's higher education map. At the time, the school's enrollment was less than 60 students. Wright was named president in 1976, overseeing about 500 students and a budget of $1.2 million.
Today, HPU boasts a $115 million annual budget, more than 50 undergraduate and graduate programs, and 8,000 students from 110 countries on three campuses.
In a phone interview, the HPU president said the private college has grown into a "comprehensive university."
"We have reached a point where we are not just a teaching university, but we are a university involved in research and scholarly work. We have hit a new plateau, and the future leadership will build on what we have achieved," Wright said.
John Kearns, HPU's vice president of academic affairs, considered by many within the school to be a strong internal candidate to replace Wright, praised the longtime president's "vision and leadership."
"Chatt Wright has been a singular force in shaping a university known for making a difference in the lives of its students and in the life of Hawai'i," Kearns said in an HPU news release.
In the next 10 days HPU board chairman Chuck Sted is expected to announce a presidential selection committee and the upcoming search process. The university is expected to employ a private search firm.