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Hec Board Chairman: A Baptism By Fire

Pity Bob Craves of Redmond, Wash.

Just as emotions began to boil about the proposed Eastern Washington University-Washington State University merger, Craves was drafted to referee the brawl.

Gov. Gary Locke appointed the businessman last month to be chairman of the state Higher Education Coordinating Board, a powerful citizens group that administers financial aid and makes recommendations on education policy.

While some chairmen get months or even years to ease into important issues, Craves gets just a few weeks.

Locke has given the HEC Board until Feb. 15 to produce preliminary recommendations on the best way to provide higher education in Spokane. Among the considerations is a proposal to merge the universities.

“It’s a great challenge,” said Craves, co-founder of Costco Cos., a chain of warehouse stores. “I don’t know much about anything there (Spokane), so I have no preconceived opinion. I don’t even know enough to be dangerous.”

In business, Craves competes in an unregulated free market. But WSU and EWU complain that they labor under one of the most heavily regulated systems in the nation.

Craves lives and works in King County, where students don’t think twice about driving 15 miles to attend classes at one of a dozen public and private college campuses. But in Spokane, students contend the commute to EWU’s Cheney campus is onerous.

Craves hasn’t been to college since the Beatles were on “The Ed Sullivan Show.” He graduated from Catholic University of America, a private school in Washington, D.C.

However, Craves serves on the boards of his alma mater and Seattle University. He said he has a strong commitment to Washington state education and will rely heavily on the experience of eight other HEC Board members, including Spokane accountant Kristi Blake, and the HEC Board staff in Olympia.

“At least I don’t have an agenda when it comes to universities in Washington state,” Craves said.

, DataTimes

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