Eastern Washington University president ends eight-year reign

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Rodolfo Arevalo’s duties as Eastern Washington University president end today, and as he hands off the job to incoming President Mary Cullinan, he’s confident the university will continue to thrive.

Friday marks the first day of Cullinan’s presidency, although Arevalo plans on staying nearby for another month to provide assistance to the incoming president and to introduce her to community leaders.

Arevalo also has a contract to be available for consultation with Cullinan until December as a special assistant, as he uses his accrued vacation. The contract doesn’t call for any additional remuneration.

The university has seen growth in many areas during Arevalo’s eight years in Cheney. Enrollment is close to 13,000, up from fewer than 10,000 when Arevalo arrived. Four campus buildings have been renovated, the number of degree programs has increased, and the university recently added a new College of Health Science and Public Health.

Arevalo said in the last four years the growth has accelerated, a trend he credits to EWU’s success in athletics, especially football, and the improvement of academic programs.

But he said he’s most pleased by an increase in Eagle pride.

“The thing I tell people that I’m most proud of, not the fact that we have more fancy buildings or more degree programs, is that when I first came here, it was very hard for people to be willing to say that they were graduates of Eastern Washington University,” Arevalo said. “It seemed like there was a lack of support for Eastern, or they weren’t proud of the institution.”

Now, when he goes to receptions or events, the first words out of people’s mouths are, “I’m an Eastern alum,” he said.

Arevalo and Cullinan have known each other for years through other jobs in higher education. Cullinan was a dean at California State University, Stanislaus after Arevalo was a vice president at the same university, and both were provosts at universities in Texas at the same time.

Cullinan, the former president of Southern Oregon University, said she is delighted to build on EWU’s momentum.

“I am so lucky to be following in (Arevalo’s) footsteps,” Cullinan said. “He led the university through the recession and different challenging times for public universities to a place where EWU is incredibly financially stable.”

Cullinan left Southern Oregon University as questions of her leadership ability arose. The SOU faculty took a no-confidence vote earlier this year, something she attributes to a difficult financial environment.

During the hiring process at EWU, only nine of 28 faculty senate members approved Cullinan as an acceptable candidate, favoring EWU provost Rex Fuller instead.

Jo Ann Kauffman, a member of the university’s board of trustees, said the board took the no-confidence vote into consideration when hiring but decided that it would not be an issue when looked at in context.

“Dr. Cullinan is a superbly qualified individual for Eastern Washington University,” Kauffman said.

She said Arevalo was not involved in the hiring process.

Arevalo believes the faculty will warm to the president. He added that the administration and the faculty did not have a good relationship when he arrived in Cheney eight years ago. Those relations improved, he said.

Cullinan said the faculty should not be worried about her changing the direction of the university, and she has already spent time meeting with them.

“I think we’re going to have a relationship built on trust,” Cullinan said. “We all want success, and we all want the same things.”

Arevalo, 68, and his wife will move to a small town south of Kansas City to spend more time with his five grandchildren.

“There is always a lot more that can be done to improve Eastern,” Arevalo said. “I feel like I’ve laid a framework for that to happen.”

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