It is with a heavy heart that we share the sad news of Dr. Eugene Hughes passing on Wednesday, March 10, 2021. Dr. Hughes was Northern Arizona University’s 12th president, and served in that capacity from July 1, 1979 – June 30, 1993.
Born in Nebraska in 1934, Eugene Morgan Hughes experienced the hardships associated with the Great Depression. Hughes spent childhood summers working the family farm with his grandfather. He graduated from high school in 1951 and then majored in mathematics and science at Scottsbluff Junior College. Hughes earned his B.S. in mathematics, graduating magna cum laude, from Chadron State Teachers College and his M.S. in 1958 from Kansas State College of agriculture and applied science.
Hughes joined the faculty of Chadron College as a math instructor and soon became an assistant professor and department head. A few years later, he accepted a position as assistant to Chadron’s president. In 1962, Hughes decided to pursue a doctorate at George Peabody College for Teachers in Nashville, receiving his degree in 1968. Hughes then returned to Chadron, became a National Science Foundation Fellow, and served on the staff of the board of trustees for Nebraska State Colleges.
A meeting with NAU President J. Lawrence Walkup at a conference in Chicago led to a position in 1970 for Hughes in Flagstaff as dean of arts and sciences. Promotions followed, first to academic vice president in 1977 and president two years later. As president, Hughes continued Walkup’s campus development efforts, enhanced the health profession programs, and restructured the administration. He emphasized the importance of excellence in all that NAU faculty, staff, and students undertook. The 1980’s economic recession forced Hughes to make some difficult budget decisions, but the university remained strong. In 1993, Hughes left NAU to become president of Wichita State University in Kansas.
As president, he helped establish NAU’s Center for Excellence in Education (CEE), engaging faculty, educators, politicians, and policymakers in conceptualizing the education of school professionals focusing on student-centeredness. As a part of the CEE, he implemented an Honorary Doctorate award to the Arizona Teacher of the Year. He also helped establish field sites on the campuses of Arizona’s community colleges, including NAU-Yuma at Arizona Western College.
As President Lawrence Walkup’s successor, he continued Walkup’s campus development efforts. Gene added more than 20 new buildings to campus, including two dormitories, and the state-of-the-art pool facility, the Natatorium (now the Wall Aquatic Center). He enhanced the health profession programs and restructured the administration. He emphasized excellence among NAU faculty, staff, and students.
One of the more visible contributions from President Hughes tenure is the School of Hotel and Restaurant Management (HRM). The Hughes School of Hotel Restaurant Management is situated in the middle of campus and addressed a long overdue need to support and connect NAU to the tourist industry of northern Arizona and the greater Southwest. The Hughes School of Hotel and Restaurant Management is one the leading programs in the country and an academic department that distinguishes NAU from ASU and UA.
Following his tenure at Wichita State University, Dr. Hughes returned to Flagstaff, where he remained active in the community and connected to NAU. Dr. Hughes’ emeritus office was in Old Main. When he was in the office, his door was always open and he was quick to greet you with a smile and a handshake.
Dr. Hughes will be dearly missed by the NAU and Flagstaff communities, but his legacy will live on through his visionary leadership and selfless service to NAU and beyond.
To learn more about President Hughes’ tenure at NAU, please visit the following resources available at the Cline Library Special Collections and Archives: