UH athletic director selection process stirs controversy - Hawaii News Now - KGMB and KHNL

UH athletic director selection process stirs controversy

MANOA (HawaiiNewsNow) – Some members of a committee that will help choose the University of Hawaii's next athletics director want three coaches removed from the panel because they endorsed a candidate before the search process has even begun.

Most of the UH head coaches and many of their assistants, 44 in all, have signed a petition asking that acting athletics director Rockne Freitas be immediately appointed to the permanent AD post. 

Three of those coaches serve on the search advisory committee for the AD job, including Warriors head football coach Norm Chow, who's the co-chair of the 14-member search panel.  The other two coaches who've backed Freitas and were also appointed to the search committee are women's volleyball head coach Dave Shoji and women's basketball coach Laura Beeman. 

At least a half dozen of the coaches who signed the petition have told people they felt "pressured" to sign the document by other UH coaches,  sources said. 

Bonnyjean Manini, the head of the UH Manoa faculty senate who also serves on the search panel, said the process already looks and smells unfair. 

"There is a foul on the play and it is foul-smelling as well," said Manini, a 12-year UH employee who chairs the legislative body that represents about 2,200 UH Manoa faculty members.  She said she has served on numerous campus search committees, and chaired some of the panels charged with looking for faculty, staff and administrators. 

Manini said having three members of the search committee endorse Freitas "sends the message that we're going into a search process already knowing who we want for the position.  And that doesn't seem appropriate for higher education.  We should be setting an example that we cast a wide net." 

The search committee hasn't even met for the first time yet nor has it received its charge from UH Chancellor Tom Apple, instructions which usually include a warning against saying anything publicly that could be construed as being unfair to the search process. 

Manini said Apple needs to take action. 

"I think the chancellor needs to ask those that have spoken publicly about endorsing a particular individual to resign or to remove them so that we can have a fair process," Manini said. "We need to send a message that we're not going into this process already knowing the outcome of the process.  If that is what we're doing, there's no sense in going through the process." 

Another member of the 14-member search committee who asked for anonymity said, "What the hell is going on?  What is this?"   

The search committee member agreed the coaches should be removed from the committee, saying: "I would think that the petition now disqualifies them from serving on the committee." 

A spokeswoman for Apple released a statement that said "it's important that the issue of the three coaches be discussed at the committee's meeting with all members."  Apple did not immediately say the three coaches should be disqualified from being on the panel.

Apple also said the search panel needs to meet "as soon as possible. Among the topics to be discussed are the recommendations of the coaches, the specifics of the committee's function, and the process of selecting the next Athletics Director." 

Asked for reaction to the three coaches' actions, search committee co-chair Howard Karr, a former chairman of the Board of Regents, said "That's their position.  I can't comment on that.  We have to decide what happens going forward after we receive instructions from the chancellor." 

Karr declined to say whether he thought the coaches who endorsed Freitas should be dropped from the committee. 

Chow, Shoji and Beeman either declined interviews through their spokespeople or were not available Friday. 

Freitas, who currently serves as vice president for students affairs and university and community relations, was also appointed acting AD July 11 when AD Jim Donovan was placed on paid leave in the aftermath of the canceled Stevie Wonder concert. Freitas is the former chancellor of Hawaii Community College on the Big Island.  

Freitas has applied twice before for AD and never got the job. Freitas previously said he wasn't interested in the permanent AD post, but there are those on the UH campus who wonder if this whole effort isn't being orchestrated to allow Freitas to get the job quickly without a full search and interview process. 

Asked Friday afternoon if he's now interested in being AD on a permanent basis, Freitas said, "I haven't thought about it because I'm too busy" carrying out the two jobs at the same time. 

Freitas is a former All-Pro NFL lineman who served as an associate athletics director at UH in the 1980s.  Freitas, who is 66, played for the Detroit Lions and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during a ten-year pro football career that ended in 1978.

"We shouldn't fast track things, especially following this recent controversy," said Manini, the faculty senate chair. "We should slow down, we should make sure we have a fair process and we should hire the person that rises to the top as the best candidate, whether it's the person being endorsed or not." 

Manini said there are other stake-holders in the process besides coaches and athletes, such as non-athlete students, "because they are paying a student fee to help run athletics, there's the faculty, there are the other staff as part of the university who are not part of athletics.  All of these are internal stake holders who have to interface with the person who fills this position."

Search committee members said at midday Friday they had not received any notifications from UH about upcoming meetings or queries asking when they'd be free to attend meetings.  But late Friday, committee members received what they described as an "urgent meeting request" via email, with a meeting set for early September, a source said.

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