Karla Hughes said Washington State University Tri-Cities is full of potential.
It has the benefits of the centralized WSU system but the freedom to expand its unique offerings. The campus is young, at least when it comes to its traditions and student and faculty involvement. It has well-established partners but there's more room for collaboration such as with Columbia Basin College.
And that is why Hughes, provost and vice president for academic affairs at Morehead State University in Kentucky, said she wants to take the helm at the Richland campus.
"It's an opportunity to be with a group of people who are creative, who are exciting, but aren't restricted by what's happened before," she told a crowd of about 100 on Friday in the East Building Auditorium.
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Hughes is the first chancellor candidate to make a public visit to the university. She was the first in her family to attend college, she said, and has emulated those teachers and professors she's met who emphasized the importance of education for all.
A chancellor's role is connecting with the community, serving as a university's advocate and developing a clear vision for the campus, she said.
"Our goal should be to become the institution of choice for Hispanics in the state and the region," Hughes said, speaking on the importance of minority recruitment.
In response to questions from the audience, Hughes said the campus could and should expand its agricultural sciences offerings beyond viticulture. That would require a political discussion, because those programs are based at WSU Pullman, but it's one that should be had, she said.
She also spoke about the importance of dialogue between faculty and administrators, the need to help student veterans but not treat them like they're "strange and different," and patience to build what will be a future legacy.
"We're just like young children, we don't want to crawl first, we want to walk," she said to a student leader who said he was frustrated with apathy on campus.
Hughes applauded the connections and cooperation already enjoyed between the campus and other organizations and institutions and hinted at her eagerness to try new ideas.
"At faculty senate (at Morehead State) last fall, they asked if they could have a reprieve from any new initiatives," she said to laughter.
University officials circulated evaluation forms to the audience, inviting attendees to grade Hughes. Danny Talbot, co-chairman of the chancellor search committee and an associate professor of education leadership, said data gleaned from the evaluations would be a significant part of the selection process, with WSU President Elson S. Floyd making the final decision.
Talbot was pleased with attendance at the event and the questions people posed, he said.
"I thought the candidate responded well," he said. "Her answers were candid. She wasn't dancing around the issues."
The next chancellor candidate is Ronald Brown, provost and senior vice president at Wayne State University in Detroit. He will speak at a public forum at 12:10 p.m. Monday in the auditorium. A third candidate is scheduled to visit the campus Feb. 28, but no other details have been released.