Poll gives UH officials low marks - Hawaii News Now - KGMB and KHNL

Poll gives UH officials low marks, shows legislative oversight has support

State Sen. Sam Slom State Sen. Sam Slom
State Sen. Donna Mercado Kim State Sen. Donna Mercado Kim
Jim Donovan Jim Donovan
HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) -

A new Hawaii News Now/Honolulu Star-Advertiser poll finds members of the public feel the University of Hawaii needs more oversight by the state legislature and they give relatively low favorability ratings to UH leaders in the aftermath of the bungled Stevie Wonder concert.

Former UH Athletics Director Jim Donovan got the highest ratings of the UH officials in a telephone poll conducted earlier this month with 26 percent of the respondents giving Donovan a favorable rating compared to a 32 percent unfavorable rating. 

Just 18 percent of the respondents gave favorable ratings to UH President MRC Greenwood, while 37 percent of them rated her as unfavorable.   

The Board of Regents -- Greenwood's bosses -- didn't fare well either. Poll respondents gave them a 17 percent favorable rating and a 34 percent unfavorable.

"The University of Hawaii Board of Regents and Administration want the community to know we understand their issues and concerns, and we are working proactively to address the actions that have caused a loss of trust in the university leadership," said UH officials in a statement reacting to the poll Monday afternoon.  The regents are waiting to hear back from a task group Nov. 15 with recommendations for improving policies and procedures to prevent any future occurrences such as the failed concert. The Board of Regents will act to implement the recommended changes in policies and procedures, UH officials said.

The poll found a high percentage – 43- to 49-percent – of people who said they either never heard of or didn't know enough to have an opinion of Donovan, Greenwood and the regents. 

"It's interesting that are so many people out there that aren't aware of what's going on when it comes to our own state university," said State Sen. Donna Mercado Kim, who chaired briefings looking into UH operations in the aftermath of the failed Stevie Wonder concert.    

Asked if they had confidence that the University of Hawaii can handle its own affairs or they believe more oversight by the State Legislature is needed, 39 percent of the poll's respondents said UH can handle its own affairs. But more people, 43 percent, felt more oversight by lawmakers is necessary. Another 19 percent said they either didn't know or refused to answer. 

"Boy isn't that a surprise, I mean we're not used to people coming to the legislature to solve problems," said State Sen. Sam Slom, who served on Kim's special committee that heard testimony from top UH officials during more than 13 hours of hearings over two days. "This just bears out the kinds of questions that those of us on the committee have gotten from people and also the kinds of responses." 

Speaking about the regents and top UH officials, Kim said, "We're reluctant to put more oversight on them because we feel that they should be the masters of their ship and they should be the one to right the wrongs.  But we need to hold them accountable. And that's exactly what the hearings did." 

UH officials, in their written statement, offered a different interpretation of the results about UH oversight.

"The poll numbers indicate that many members of the public understand the critical importance of the university having independence from political and other types of interference.  This is, in fact, an unequivocal requirement of our accrediting agency," the UH statement said, referring to the Western Association of Schools and Colleges, known as WASC, which recently praised UH leadership in a review this fall but also asked for updates in the aftermath of the canceled concert.

Slom said UH "is the only public taxpayer-financed public university that we've got, and so a lot of people are very concerned about it.  And there will be proposed legislation in the 2013 session to make some changes."

Donovan declined to comment.

Ward Research conducted the poll of 786 people who were reached via landline and cell phone. The margin of error was plus or minus three and a half percent.

UH officials said the university will conduct an extensive "listening tour" on all campuses beginning in mid-November, to include university leadership and regents.  

"Please watch for announcements in your local community for specific dates and times to attend and share your perspectives on how we can do a better job of serving Hawaii's people," UH said in a statement Monday.

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