UH regents hear support for chair under fire, consider new management controls

Photo taken Friday morning at the UH Regents meeting at UH West Oahu
Photo taken Friday morning at the UH Regents meeting at UH West Oahu

KAPOLEI, OAHU (HawaiiNewsNow)

Representatives of University of Hawaii Native Hawaiian groups spoke in favor of UH Board of Regents Chairman Eric Martinson at a regents meeting Friday morning, five days after what some considered his embarrassingly bad testimony before a State Senate committee investigating the Stevie Wonder blunder.

Click HERE for our special Wonder Blunder section.

Senators said they thought Martinson's appearance showed regents were unfamiliar with their own policies and failed to follow them in the case of the failed fundraising concert and its aftermath. UH public health professor Bob Cooney, the immediate past chair of the UH Manoa Faculty Senate, gave Martinson a grade of F for his testimony, while he said UH President M.R.C. Greenwood's performance before senators deserved a "generous" grade of D.

Kealii Gora, administrator of Pukoa Council, the Native Hawaiian advisory council to the UH president, told regents meeting Friday morning his group "would like to express our unequivocal support for you, Mr. Chair, as leader of the Board of Regents."

The regents held their regular monthly meeting Friday at UH West Oahu, the newest campus in the UH system.

"We trust your leadership will continue to advance, empower and ensure UH as a model indigenous serving university, despite concerns raised at Monday's meeting at the State Capitol," Gora said during testimony before the board.

"Indeed, you follow in the footsteps of the last Native Hawaiian [Board of Regents] chair, the late great Gladys Kamakakuokalani Brandt, who believed that the UH BOR must deliberate in private regarding university problems in order to protect the reputation of the university. Mahalo nui loa for your discretion," Gora said.

Similar testimony came from Lilikala Kameeleihiwa, a UH Hawaiian studies professor and representative of the Kualii Council, the panel that advises the UH Manoa chancellor on Hawaiian issues. Their remarks came as they spoke before the board about various budget issues.

Gora and other members of UH's Native Hawaiian community did not speak in support of Greenwood before the board. Gora said they singled out Martinson for support because he's a fellow Native Hawaiian who has encouraged various programs for Hawaiians at the university.

Greenwood told the regents "it's been a difficult week for the university," and briefed them on other happenings, including a recently concluded visit of a team from the Western Association of School and Colleges, the group that accredits UH. She pointed out that the WASC group praised the UH for good fiscal management and increases in research. However, Greenwood did not talk about the WASC requests from the same team for updates on the senate investigation into the concert failure and efforts to improve management in its wake, a development Hawaii News Now first reported Wednesday.

The regents Friday were expected to discuss formation of an Operational and Financial Controls Improvement Advisory Council, a group of regents and professionals from the accounting, auditing and business field charged with tightening operating and oversight controls at UH in the aftermath of the failed concert.

Tom Robinson, president of UH's Graduate Student Organization, told the regents he is glad the board is reviewing UH policies.

Click HERE for our special Wonder Blunder section.

"Separation between system-level and campus-level responsibilities needs to be clearly established,"Robinson testified before the regents. "Interference from system-level administrators devalues the authority delegated to the chancellor and any campus unit, whether it is a dean, a department or athletics."

During the briefing Monday, senators expressed concerns that Greenwood and regents went over the heads of former UH Manoa Chancellor Virginia Hinshaw or former Athletics Director Jim Donovan on various issues, creating confusing situations and overstepping lines of authority.

Robinson, graduate student at the UH Department of Meteorology, said UH grad students have not had a raise in about ten years because officials have said there is not enough money in the budget.

"Calling graduate students raises a 'budget issue' is insulting when the university is giving out enormous pay outs, I hope the task force takes this into account when considering financial responsibility," Robinson said.

Just not giving one payout of $200,000 "means the university could give 428 graduate students a 3 percent raise," Robinson added.

Robinson's comments echo written testimony sent earlier this week to the State Senate committee investigating the concert debacle by a UH teaching assistant who's worked at UH Manoa since 2007.

"I am on food stamps," said Zachary Bergeron, a Ph.D candidate in Molecular Biosciences and Bioengineering, who has assisted in various UH chemistry labs.

"The compensation received for this service is insulting," he said, noting that his pre-tax UH salary is $15,558 a year. "I am so poorly paid that I fall below the national poverty level and qualify for state aid."

Bergeron said he found it "egregious" that the UH was able to lose a $200,000 deposit for the bungled Stevie Wonder concert, create a new position for former Donovan that pays him more than $200,000 a year and then pay up to $75,000 to two law firms to "defend the absurd actions of the university."

Click HERE for our special Wonder Blunder section.

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