Wright became the founding dean of College of Business Administration
at Hawai‘i Pacific— then college— on Sept.
17 1972, and four years later, on the same date, he became
president. This was a humble beginning to what has become a
stellar career in higher education. Hawai‘i Pacific College
consisted of one floor, 5,000 square feet of space, in a Bishop
Street office building with 57 students.
He created the vision, told our story, sought community support,
responded to community needs and inputs, and built important
consortiums of community leaders, educators, researchers, and
entrepreneurs,” said Nancy Ellis, former vice president
of Student Support.
Today, the school boasts three campuses, more than 50 undergraduate
and graduate programs, and a student body of 9,000— a
third of which is international, a third is U.S. mainland,
and a third is local.
Wright points out that the three biggest milestones in the
University were growing from Hawai‘i Pacific College
to Hawai‘i Pacific University, the merger with Hawai‘i
Loa College in 1992, and the merger with HPU’s affiliate
Oceanic Institute in 2003.
I enjoy building things,” Wright said.
Although retirement is just a few years away, Wright has several
new ideas he wants to accomplish in order to lay a sturdy foundation
before he leaves. Construction will begin on two new buildings
at the windward campus this coming spring. Located on the hill
between the dining commons and the main building, they will
be used as classrooms, nursing labs, a student center, and
offices for the HPU housing staff.
Wright added that the committee working on these plans also
intends to add more campus housing, to build an athletic complex,
and a student center that will encompass a theater arts complex,
auditorium, and offices for student government.
All of the University’s expansions will be on the 135-acre
windward campus since HPU owns the land and expansion is easier
there, said Wright. He added that he wants “to maintain
the natural beauty” of the windward campus.
Chatt Wright sees the big picture and is always a little ahead
of us, leading the way, making things happen,” Ellis
said. “He intuitively knows the right time to make a
move forward, and he guides that progress with a steady hand.”
People used to discourage me,” Wright said about his
vision of expanding HPU. “I learned to face rejection.”
One of the things that makes HPU unique, Wright said, is its
commitment to a diverse student body and global citizenship. “A
lot of people in Hawai‘i resisted (the school’s)
mission of global citizenship at first,” Wright said, “So
I had to sell the concept.”
According to the mission statement, HPU prepares its “graduates
to live, work, and learn as active members of a global society.” Ellis
said that from the beginning, Wright had a vision to create
a university in Hawai‘i with an international mission,
and has never lost sight of that goal.
He thinks big,” said Ellis, “but at the same time,
he has the focus, patience, and stamina to make his vision
Some students are concerned that with the rapid increase of
enrollment, class sizes might be compromised. However, Wright
maintains that no matter how big the student body may grow,
the facilities will always provide an intimate setting for
a powerful student-teacher relationship— a source of
prides at HPU.
Our goal is to have an average class size of 25,” Wright
said, “We will always keep that.”
Wright, a California native, started out at the University
of California-Berkeley as an engineering student, but later
transferred to the University of California-Davis and graduated
with a B.A. in history. He joined the Peace Corps, then moved
to Hawai‘i and earned a Master’s degree in economics
from the University of Hawai‘i-Manoa.
I never thought I’d go into education,” Wright
said. “I just thought I’d go into business.”
Offered the chance to be founding dean of Hawai‘i Pacific
College, Wright jumped at it. “It was kind of an instantaneous
success,” Wright said. “We just grew.”
See p. 19 for photos of Wright’s 30th anniversary celebration.
HPU then and now
Faculty and Staff
Now: 50 + graduate and
Now: $115 million
Now: $80 million
Chatt G. Wright
Born: Sept. 17, 1941
Joined HPU (then Hawai‘i Pacific College): Sept.
17, 1972, as dean of business
Became president: Sept. 17, 1976
Hometown: San Francisco Bay area
Family: wife Janice, two sons, one daughter
Honors: Named one of the 100 most influential community
members in the “Honolulu 100” by the City
and County of Honolulu in 2005