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Staff Reporter 

New EWU president Cullinan meets, greets and chats

Former Southern Oregon University leader discusses faculty issues, higher education


When new Eastern Washington University President Dr. Mary Cullinan was officially introduced June 26 at a reception at Hargreaves Hall, not only did her unveiling draw a standing-room-only crowd inside but Mother Nature seemed to pause outside and take notice, too.

Or so thought Mike Westfall, the university’s vice president of advancement who opened the ceremony noting the symbolic return of sunshine on an otherwise grey and rainy day.

EWU board of brustees President, Paul Tanaka, also noted the crowd that suddenly surged into the room and wondered if there was a need for more chairs.

Cullinan, however, was warned otherwise by the man she will replace as Eastern’s 26th president, Dr. Rodolfo Arévalo. “I just had lunch with Dr. Arévalo and he said there would probably be about 10 people,” Cullinan told the audience.

While no one could easily predict who, or how many people would be on hand to greet the former leader at Southern Oregon University in Ashland, Tanaka was very well aware of the job that lies ahead for the 64-year-old Cullinan who will take over Aug. 1 as Arévalo officially retires.

“The board of trustees has very few functions that you are aware of,” Tanaka told the audience. “Probably the most important is hiring a president.”

The president is responsible for thousands of employees, a huge biennial budget, not to mention the responsibility of educating 13,000 students, he said.

“I think the board of trustees is pleased we were able select — and she accepted — someone who has actually been a president,” Tanaka said. “To the board that was a very critical issue.”

“She had the knowledge and the personality to be successful here at Eastern,” Tanaka added.

Cullinan thought she would fit in well carrying on the mission Arévalo began when he arrived in Cheney in 2006.“I’ve known a lot about Eastern Washington University but now I’m learning more every day,” Cullinan said. “I’m becoming more and more amazed every day at what’s being done here to transform students’ lives.”

“It is doing something big,” she said, alluding to the marketing message the university launched under Arévalo. “I know that you have a terrific strategic plan inspiring the future.”

She also stressed the importance of continuing to link EWU not only to the communities of the eastern part of the state, but to everywhere in the state — and beyond. “I think this is a really important mission,” Cullinan said.

Cullinan told the audience there are many opportunities for partnerships to be formed. Those were some of the things of which she was most proud of at SOU.

Despite the appearance of the sun, Cullinan does have a cloud of controversy that traveled with her to Cheney following a Southern Oregon faculty vote of no confidence this past winter.

More attention in the media has been paid to the protests with little explanation what caused them. Cullinan was glad to offer her perspective during a break at last Friday’s board of trustees meeting.

“The financial issues faced by higher education in Washington are a thousand times worse in Oregon,” Cullinan said. While it might not be that drastic, one recent survey showed Oregon ranked No. 47 and Washington No. 35 in the United States when it comes to state support.

Oregon began stepping away from supporting higher education in the 1990s, Cullinan said. “At this point we (SOU) are getting less than half the allocation we had in the 90s and we have over 1,000 more students.”

The SOU board and chancellor’s office said there would be no raises and that programs that were not producing graduates would have to go. “That is what sort of fueled the environment,” Cullinan said.

Education has been at the center of Cullinan’s life for over 40 years. She received her bachelor of arts degree from the University of Pennsylvania in 1972. Cullinan earned a masters degree in 1973 and her doctorate in 1978, both from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Cullinan is married to retired attorney Jeffrey Kelter. The couple does not have children. Away from the office she jogs for relaxation. And apparently needing additional aggravation, “I have been taking golf lessons but that doesn’t count yet as fun.”

The couple will continue the tradition of living at University House, the president’s official residence located across from Hargreaves Hall — eventually. “The (current) president’s (Dr. Arévalo) going to stay on through August so we’re going to move into the Gov. Martin House,” Cullinan explained. The current president’s quarters will have to be freshened up with new paint prior to the transition.

“We’ll move twice, essentially,” she said.

Paul Delaney can be reached at


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