MANOA, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) – A University of Hawaii athletics director search committee rejected a proposal Tuesday by dozens of UH coaches to immediately appoint acting AD Rockne Freitas to the position permanently, electing to begin a full-fledged search, sources said.
The 15-member search advisory committee held its first meeting early Tuesday morning in a conference room at the UH Manoa chancellor's office in Hawaii Hall. The meeting, which began at 7 a.m., lasted nearly two hours, with most members present in person and some joining the group by conference call.
Sources said a majority of the committee disregarded calls by committee co-chair and head football coach Norm Chow to appoint Freitas as AD right away. Fellow search committee member UH women's basketball coach Laura Beeman also advocated for Freitas' immediate appointment, a source said. Chow and Beeman worried that as an interim department head, Freitas could not make key decisions about the budget and hiring.
But sources said other committee members felt if Freitas wants the job, he needs to apply and get the post legitimately, through a search process in competition with others. Freitas, a former associate UH AD, has applied for the UH AD post twice before over the years and never got the job.
Chow, Beeman and UH women's volleyball coach Dave Shoji, all search committee members, joined more than 40 other coaches last week in signing a petition asking for Freitas to immediately be given the job. Sources said Chow championed the letter drive and at least half a dozen coaches claimed they signed the document under pressure from other coaches.
Shoji did not attend the meeting Tuesday.
Some people complained the coaches' move has tainted the process, so the coaches should step down from the search committee.
Bonnyjean Manini, the head of the UH Manoa faculty senate who also serves on the search panel, said on Friday 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.
Manini told Hawaii News Now Friday that having three members of the search committee endorse Freitas before the search has gotten underway "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."
At Tuesday's search committee meeting, co-chair Howard Karr advocated for the coaches to remain on the committee, so members can hear input from the athletic department. The committee members went along with Karr's recommendation, figuring with three coaches out of a 15-member search committee, the panel can still maintain a fair balance, sources said.
After the meeting, Karr told Hawaii News Now, "The committee has signed a confidentiality agreement, so I have no comment at this point."
Manini, Chow and the other members of the selection committee declined comment Tuesday because they too had signed confidentiality agreements in which they pledged not to talk in public about the candidates or the process. Karr, a former Board of Regents chair who is not a UH employee, threatened committee members if leaked information was tracked back to them, they would never serve on a UH search committee again, sources said.
The advisory committee reports to UH Manoa Chancellor Tom Apple, who decides who will be hired as AD, with the approval of UH's all-volunteer Board of Regents.
Asked about the coaches who backed a candidate serving on the search committee, Apple told Hawaii News Now, "This is not totally unusual to see this kind of support for someone who has proven to be very capable."
Asked if Apple believes the coaches' petition should preclude them from serving on the search committee, Apple said, "I'll leave that to the committee to decide. I didn't want to make that call. I think that's pre-empting the committee."
Apple delivered his "charge" to the committee Tuesday morning, giving them their instructions for the AD search.
"I want us to get the best person who can take us to that level where we garner the support of the state so that athletics does not compete with academics, it's not a drain so that we compete at the highest levels in all sports," Apple said.
The committee is still deciding whether to hire a search firm or consultant, sources said.
The committee planned to use private, donated funds from athletic boosters to hire search professionals, according to people familiar with the process.
"UH needs to be concerned about public perception because the public is worried about what's happening at Manoa," said one source, explaining why search money will be at least partly privately funded.
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 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.
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