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Chatt Wright


This month, Hawai'i Pacific University celebrates its 40th anniversary. The average college president only stays five to seven years in that position, yet HPU's president, Chatt Wright, has been in his job since 1976. He's grown HPU to become the Islands' largest private university, with a $95 million budget and $70 million endowment. Why stay so long, and what's next?

Photo: Jimmy Forrest

Q: In 1963 and 1964, you served in the Peace Corps in West Africa. What did you get from that experience?

A: I enjoyed it a whole lot and traveled all over the

continent. What I derived was a sense of globalism. How small the world is and interrelated we are-that the people of the world should get together and live and work in harmony. I drew upon that experience to help build HPU into what it is today.

Q: HPU, then called Hawai'i Pacific College, graduated its first class-seven students-in 1972, the same year you joined as business dean. How have students changed in those years?

A: Most of those first students were Pacific Islanders on federal financial assistance. They came from Pacific Island nations. Today, we have students from more than 100 countries.

Q: Of your 9,000 students, one-third are from Hawai'i, one third from other states and the remainder are from other countries. Has the aggressive marketing to international students been a bid for global peace or a savvy business move?

A: It's all those things. But we're a not-for-profit and you have to look at our vision: education for a global citizenship. We adopted this formally about 15 years ago. We don't always hit that one-third ratio, but that's our goal. We think that this creates the environment that will be most stimulating for all who come, but particularly those who come from Hawai'i.

Q: It's been estimated that HPU has an annual economic impact in the Islands of $200 million. How?

A: Because 2,800 international students bring a lot of financial resources into the community. Some students-or their parents-buy apartments, houses and automobiles here. They frequent the stores, restaurants and shops. Our international students tend to be pretty well off financially. Our Mainland students, too. Their parents come to visit, because we're in Hawai'i, and come to stay in hotels and visit the Neighbor Islands.

Q: Which courses of study are the most popular?

A: The most rapidly growing are in the natural sciences, in oceanography and marine science. Just about all of that is taught at our Hawai'i Loa campus, and at the Oceanic Institute in Makapu'u. By acquiring Oceanic, we've brought in about $12 million to $13 million in sponsored research in oceanography. [In 2003, HPU and The Oceanic Institute signed an affiliation partnership agreement. OI remains a nonprofit organization.]

Q: Speaking of fish, we hear that you're happiest in waders.

A: I'm a fly fisherman and it's taken me all over the world: Argentina, Australia, all over Europe, New Zealand, Mongolia, Russia. It's very active, visual and you're out in beautiful scenery. When I become interested in something, I really dedicate myself. People who fly-fish, there's a community, almost like a fraternity, and wherever you go, you're accepted into it. And I like the caliber of people who do it; usually well-educated and successful.

Q: Why stay at HPU so long?

A: When I joined in 1972, we were on one floor of a downtown office building. This has been my baby, really. I have been fortunate to be involved with something I could be with for such a long time, and I love what I'm doing here. I'm almost 64, and I plan to retire in four years, on Sept. 17. I joined the staff on Sept. 17, 1972. And the state had granted a charter of incorporation on Sept. 17, 1965 to start the school. Sept. 17 is my birthday. I think maybe I was meant to be here.

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Honolulu Magazine May 2018
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