Regents schedule special meeting to discuss embattled UH president

Regents schedule special meeting to discuss embattled UH president

The University of Hawaii's Board of Regents posted an agenda Friday afternoon for a meeting slated for Oct. 12 in which they will consider a "personnel matter" involving UH President MRC Greenwood during a behind-closed-doors executive session.

The only item on the agenda is listed as "Discussion of Appointment Agreement of MRC Greenwood." Greenwood has recently come under fire for her handling of the Stevie Wonder concert fiasco and its aftermath.  The UH Manoa Faculty Senate will take up a proposal for a "no confidence" vote about Greenwood later this month.

Sources told Hawaii News Now that Greenwood has hired an attorney to represent her, an indication that she may be negotiating a departure from the school she has headed since August of 2009.  UH spokespeople did not return calls seeking comment.

Sources said there is no firm consensus among the 15-member Board of Regents about whether they should fire Greenwood.  Next week's meeting is scheduled to discuss what to do about her future with UH, sources said.  It's unclear if Greenwood will take part in the closed-door discussions, with the unpaid regents, who serve as her bosses.

Greenwood was in California Friday and is expected to return to Hawaii by early next week, sources said.

State Sen. Donna Mercado Kim (D-Moanalua, Kalihi Valley, Aiea) chaired the briefings looking into UH operations.

"We need to let the university try to heal themselves, we need to let the university and the Board of Regents start to make some of these changes. And hopefully, from what we've heard, they're going to do that," Kim said Friday.

It could be both difficult and expensive to try to terminate Greenwood or other top UH executives, according to a Hawaii News Now review of university procedures, policies and employment agreements.

Greenwood's contract pays her an annual salary of $475,008 as well as a $5,000-a-month housing allowance and the use of an automobile or a car allowance of $326 a month. For the past two years, Greenwood has voluntarily reduced her pay by 10 percent, while other UH executives voluntarily reduced their pay and unionized employees endured mandatory pay reductions.

Greenwood's employment agreement also gives her a free parking space and use of an annual protocol fund of $150,000. Greenwood was also granted tenure as a UH professor, allowing her to land in a faculty job if she's terminated without cause.

The regents hired Greenwood in August 2009 and extended her initial three-year contract for another three years in Jan. 2011, without any increase in pay. But her contract allows the regents to "adjust Dr. Greenwood's compensation" for the fourth, fifth and sixth years, "to be determined by mutual agreement of the Board and Greenwood." Theoretically, the board could increase or decrease her pay in those years. But so far, her salary has remained the same. Greenwood's contract expires July 31, 2015.

The agreement allows for termination of Greenwood for cause, including negligence or willful misconduct, conviction of a crime, prolonged absence, failure to comply with board directives or policies or with applicable laws.

Greenwood's contract also says she can be fired for cause for damage to the university's reputation, which is described as "any act or failure to act by or attributable to Dr. Greenwood that in the board's reasonable determination subjects the university to undue criticism and embarrassment, damages the university's credibility and reputation, or otherwise portrays the university in an unfavorable light."

No one from the Board of Regents has publicly called for Greenwood's ouster.

"We want to first emphasize our strong support for the leadership of university President MRC Greenwood and UH Manoa Chancellor Tom Apple," Board of Regents Chair Eric Martinson said in a statement released to the media Aug. 22.

"Proving cause is always tough. And it costs money," said Honolulu attorney Jim Bickerton, who has represented several professors in employment disputes with UH in recent years.

"It would have to be a serious violation of an established rule or policy," Bickerton said. "Mere bad judgment probably would not be considered a serious violation."

Greenwood's contract, like those of UH Manoa Chancellor Tom Apple and former Athletics Director Donovan, said the university can terminate her for no reason or "without cause." To do that, the school would have to give her two months written notice and then pay her for the remainder of her contract or 12 months base pay, whichever is lower.

If she is terminated without cause, the UH is obligated to offer her a tenured faculty position, according to her employment agreement, along with 60 days of housing allowance and reimbursement for moving expenses.

The bottom line: terminating a UH executive without cause could be very expensive and firing them with cause can be difficult to prove, possibly leading to a lawsuit and a costly fight in court. Even the threat of a lawsuit can prompt costly and lengthy mediation, as UH learned when it terminated a previous president eight years ago.

In June 2004, the UH Board of Regents fired then-UH President Evan Dobelle from his $442,000-a-year position for cause, meaning that he stood to lose $2.26 million in severance pay. After he threatened to sue, his lawyer and the university reached a settlement in which he agreed to resign, but received $1.05 million in severance pay and other benefits, the Honolulu Star-Bulletin reported at the time. In exchange, the regents rescinded their "fired for cause" decision.

Documents released by the university showed Dobelle spent $1 million on renovations of the president's home at College Hill in 2001, a move that drew criticism from the public and regents. The renovations' original price estimate was much lower, $170,000, the newspaper said.

Documents also showed he spent about $90,000 in nonprofit UH Foundation money under his control to pay for polls in 2001 and 2003. The polls included questions measuring the public's attitudes about politicians including U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye, then-U.S. Rep. Ed Case, then-Honolulu Mayor Jeremy Harris and then-Gov. Ben Cayetano, the Star-Bulletin reported.

At the time, Dobelle's attorney, Rick Fried, said, "There are no smoking guns here," claiming that the documents did not reveal any wrongdoing.

The regents never explained publicly what their cause was for trying to fire Dobelle, and as part of a mediated settlement, rescinded his termination.

The episode was costly for taxpayers and took nearly two months to resolve. The regents fired Dobelle June 15, 2004, and after the UH hired lawyers to represent its case and agreed to Dobelle's million-dollar payout, both sides settled the dispute in early August, when he agreed to step down on Aug. 14 of that year.

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