Eastern Washington University’s first Latino president announced Friday it’s his time to finally relax.
After eight years at EWU and four decades working in higher education, Rodolfo Arévalo is retiring.
“President Arévalo’s leadership and accomplishments during this historic time at Eastern have been outstanding,” said Paul Tanaka, chairman of EWU’s board of trustees. “Dr. Arévalo’s thoughtful and measured approach to the many challenges and opportunities the past eight years has put the university, and its students, in a remarkable position to succeed.”
While EWU’s leader, Arévalo steered the college through a dismal economy, yet oversaw record enrollment and significant campus improvements, including Roos Field’s iconic red turf and the first new residence hall in 40 years. The university in Cheney also developed a plan to improve student retention and graduation rates.
Arévalo, now 67, started at Eastern in April 2006. He’s the first Latino president at any public four-year college or university in Washington.
He went on medical leave for several months starting in December 2008 due to a bout with cancer. University officials said he’s in good health now, however.
Mike Westfall, vice president for university advancement and one of Arévalo’s first hires, described his boss, “Dr. A,” as “very thoughtful, very meticulous and very generous as a leader.”
The university leadership had to focus internally more than ever while cutting costs and trying to ensure the best education possible, Westfall said. “We came out of the economic crisis stronger than we were going into it. That’s a testament to his leadership and his team.”
Additionally, Arévalo helped negotiate salaries for faculty to bring woefully low pay up to market rates, an action that brought “national accolades,” university spokesman Dave Meany said. “He also launched a new strategic plan aimed at the continued improvement of student retention and graduation rates. During his tenure, enrollment passed the 12,000 mark for the first time in university history. Under Arévalo’s leadership, Eastern also launched the first-ever comprehensive fundraising campaign, which will conclude in July.”
Arévalo’s path to retirement has been a long one.
His parents were migrant workers, and he and his six older siblings spent many years tagging along with them from the citrus groves of south Texas to the fruit orchards of central Washington.
Eventually, his parents realized that the travel was wreaking havoc with their kids’ education, and they decided to stay put in Edinburg, Texas.
He picked cotton and tomatoes. He pumped gas. He worked for an escrow company.
Arevalo graduated from the University of Texas-Pan American with an accounting degree in 1969, then went on to earn a master’s degree in social work and a doctorate in educational administration from the University of Michigan. He spent 18 years in the California state university system and was provost at Fort Hays State University in Kansas.
In 1998, his alma mater hired him back as provost. He left there to take the job at EWU.
Arévalo will be missed, Westfall said. As a leader, the president always knew what was going on, but he didn’t micromanage.
He added, “The best compliment you can give to a leader is to empower his reports, and let them do their job. He helped remove obstacles when we were trying to get something done.”
A case in point is the red turf, Westfall said. “A lot of people would have said: ‘Are you crazy? We are not doing that.’ He trusted that it was a good marketing decision and it would increase Eastern’s profile.”