Former regents, current faculty lament loss of confidence in UH leadership

Former regents, current faculty lament loss of confidence in UH leadership
UH Manoa Chancellor Tom Apple & Jim Donovan
UH Manoa Chancellor Tom Apple & Jim Donovan
UH President M.R.C. Greenwood
UH President M.R.C. Greenwood

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Former University of Hawaii regents and current faculty members said the reputations of the university, UH President M.R.C. Greenwood and other school leaders have been badly damaged by the Stevie Wonder concert fiasco.

"There's going to be a massive loss of confidence," said UH Botany Professor David Duffy, who's been teaching at the university for 15 years. "It's going to be a long time, I think, before we trust the administration."

Duffy said he doesn't have to go far to see "unfairness" at UH, since the front doors of the plant science building where he works have been broken and unusable for more than a year. But he noted the UH Athletics Department managed to quickly get scammed out of $200,000 in the failed Stevie Wonder concert.

"It's very hard for me to spend 20 bucks.  It has to go through a couple of layers of sign off, and I have to justify it.  And yet, somehow the system and athletics can lose $200,000," Duffy said.

Kristeen Hanselman, associate executive director of the University of Hawaii Professional Assembly, the union that represents nearly 4,000 UH faculty across the state, said recent events have "created a lack of trust and confidence in UH and its administrators."

Hanselman worried the "loss of confidence and respect" for UH and its administrators will lead to more scrutiny by state legislators, which could lead to a loss of autonomy and independence throughout the university system.

The union also posted this statement on its web site: "UHPA is very concerned that the decisions made by President Greenwood and the Board of Regents, including the transfer of Mr. [Jim] Donovan to another job will encourage legislative scrutiny of all UH funding creating significant uncertainty for our students and faculty. This situation is a grave distraction illustrating a failure to assert responsibility and leadership at the highest levels at UH."

UH Manoa Chancellor Tom Apple removed Donovan as athletics director and transferred him to a new communications job in the chancellor's office after an investigation found Donovan provided little oversight of the Stevie Wonder concert that was canceled July 10, but found Donovan committed no criminal wrongdoing.

Four former UH regents said the reputations of UH, Greenwood, other administrators and the regents who oversee all of them have been damaged by the concert fiasco.  The former regents asked to remain anonymous for fear of retribution or because they still have business with the UH.

"There's no doubt that the university and the regents and the whole governance structure have been damaged by this," said one regent who held leadership roles on the board in the last twenty years.

A second regent who served in the last ten years said of Greenwood, "When you have a leader who people can't trust, her effectiveness goes away.  It seems like she's digging herself into a hole."

The former regents told Hawaii News Now they are concerned that alumni and UH sports boosters will pull back on contributions of time and money because of the problems this summer.

A third former regent pointed out that most of the current 15 regents have a maximum of two years on the board, and "it takes two years to figure out what's really going on at UH. Most of the regents have never been in a university environment.  Some of them are kind of clueless."

A fourth regent was critical of regents Chair Eric Martinson, who read a statement proclaiming the board's "strong support" for Greenwood and Apple after both of them apologized to the regents for not performing well in the Stevie Wonder blunder aftermath during a seven-and-a-half hour closed-door executive session Wednesday.

"That looked more like media spin than anything else," the fourth regent said about Martinson's statement.  The regents admonished Apple and Greenwood during the private session, sources said.

UH Manoa students hoped the damage to their school and its leadership won't last long.

"Reputation is something that could easily be helped when something like this happens if you just own up to it and clean it up, that's all," said UH Junior John Ridgeway, a history major from Virginia.

"You trust that they're going through all the procedures they have to to fix it, and hopefully it won't be happen again," said Jaclyn Parrott, of Washington state.  Parrott is getting a master's degree in library information science at UH.

Lisa Nguyen, of Honolulu, is a UH junior majoring in business management.

"I think some workers here do feel embarrassed but they learned their lesson after what happened, so I'm sure that in the future, it won't really happen again," Nguyen said.

Hawaii Pacific University professor John Hart, who chairs the communication department and used to work in public relations, said, "It's a bigger problem of reputation, of your word, of credibility."

He said HPU does not relish problems at UH, which he described as the state's "flagship university."

But in the aftermath of the concert cancellation, Hart said, "There were major mistakes in communication.  In other words, it wasn't just what we did, it was how we communicated it."

Hart also questioned whether UH was truly being transparent, since administrators' stories have been changing throughout the evolution of the crisis.

"People want to like UH, let them like you," he said, by coming clean, owning up to problems and explaining how UH will move forward.

Thursday, State Sen. Donna Mercado Kim said she might hold investigative hearings into the concert failure and its aftermath, prompted by requests from constituents who feel UH officials have not been truthful.

State Rep. Mark Takai, a UH graduate and president of the UH Manoa Letterwinners Club, posted a statement on his official Facebook page answering criticism from members of the UH community who are worried lawmakers may meddle in school affairs and violate the university's autonomy.

"Autonomy doesn't mean they [UH] can do whatever they want," Takai said. "Autonomy doesn't mean that UH can hide behind their attorneys and in executive session.  Autonomy doesn't mean that we can't ask questions or we can't be critical of decisions or lack thereof."

Back at the Manoa campus, Duffy, the professor who's an ecologist by training, worried about other after effects of the concert failure.

"People are going to start asking themselves why should I do the extra mile?  Why should I teach the extra class?  We're sacrificing.  Other people aren't," Duffy said, referring to the UH administration's ability to create a $200,000-a-year position in the chancellor's office for Donovan with no application process, no detailed job description or public posting of the job before it was filled.

UH avoided a lawsuit from Donovan by creating the new post, which the university is paying for by combining the salaries of several vacant positions.

"We have a problem keeping junior faculty and they're gonna wonder whether this is a place they want to be," Duffy said. "And they're the young blood of the university. And without them we're sort of an old, withering tree."

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