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by Brittany Yap, editor


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 a reality.”

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
1976: 500
Now: 9,000
Faculty and Staff
1976: 50
Now: 1,400
1976: three
Now: 50 + graduate and
undergraduate programs
Annual Budget
1976: $220,000
Now: $115 million
1976: None
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


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