HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - University of Hawaii Cancer Center Director Dr. Michele Carbone asked for an employment agreement a year ago, after nearly two and a half years on the job, but still has not received such an agreement from his boss, UH Manoa Chancellor Tom Apple.
Carbone has recruited top researchers from Yale, Brown, the University of North Carolina and other well-known research universities. He said the center has tripled its research grant funding under his leadership to $32 million and raised another $22.5 million in donations during his tenure.
But he has also been criticized by some UH faculty and staff for his management style and a my-way-or-the-highway approach to leadership.
Carbone is paid $391,416 a year and has been administrator of the Cancer Center since September of 2009. He is the fourth highest-paid administrator in the UH system, behind UH Medical School Dean Jerris Hedges, UH President MRC Greenwood and Apple.
"So far I'm still on a handshake," Carbone told Hawaii News Now in one of his two offices at the Cancer Center last Friday.
He said he made a handshake agreement – and no written contract -- with former UH Chancellor Virginia Hinshaw when he took the job in the fall of 2009.
Carbone said few people expected UH to be able to renew its designation from the National Cancer Institute last year, but that happened.
"The agreement was if I didn't renew the Cancer Center designation, that was it. Out! I was going to go, end of it," Carbone said.
Then, in early June of last year, right after the cancer center won re-designation from the National Cancer Institute, just before Hinshaw stepped down, Carbone met with Hinshaw.
"I said to her, "You know chancellor, I am in this job with a shake hand with you. But you are leaving. Maybe I need a contract now," Carbone said.
But he said since Hinshaw was leaving her post, she didn't feel it was right for her to approve a new contract for him in her final days so she wrote up an offer and left it for Apple, the incoming UH chancellor. That was one year ago.
In an email, Apple told Hawaii News Now, "The fact that Dr. Carbone has not been offered a reappointment contract is not an oversight. His reappointment is being actively discussed."
Apple said it would be inappropriate to discuss details of the conversations he's having with Carbone, Cancer Center faculty and others involved with the Cancer Center as he decides what to do about Carbone's contract.
"This is not a rubber stamp situation," Apple said. "There are important conversations that need to be wrapped up before this facet of the Cancer Center's future can be determined."
Carbone had this exchange in an interview with Hawaii News Now's Keoki Kerr:
Carbone: I think that it would be nice for the university to give me a contract, considering the fact that in fact, things have worked fantastically well around here. But that's where we are.
Kerr: But they haven't said no, they just haven't gotten back to you, is that right?
Carbone: I have not heard from them, yes, exactly.
Sources said while some top UH administrators feel Carbone has the personality of a start-up CEO who's a brilliant researcher, they don't feel he's been a good manager and administrator.
Four researchers have successfully filed complaints against him.
After disagreements with the UH Manoa Vice Chancellor for Research and Graduate Education's office over spending and hiring issues, Carbone began reporting directly to then-Chancellor Hinshaw.
Carbone described the situation this way:
"The previous vice chancellor office, was difficult to get things done quickly and so often I had to go to Chancellor Hinshaw and say 'Look, this thing needs to be done now. I can't wait another six months. We agreed to do this. We had to do it.' So many, many times, she had to step in and in the end, in fact, I was working only with her, because that was the only way to get things done quickly," Carbone said.
"It worked very well. You see how we did," he said, gesturing to the new Cancer Center, that was completed three months before schedule and about 13 percent under budget at $104 million. The UH is still paying $1 million a year to rent space at the former Gold Bond building a few blocks away, even though between 35 and 30 percent of the space in the new center and the rented site is empty.
Even if he's not retained as director, Carbone can remain at the Cancer Center, where he has a tenured professorship.
Before being elevated to the director's post, Carbone was interim director of the UH Cancer Center, at the salary of $356,112. When the UH Board of Regents approved his hiring as director in August 2009, Carbone's UH hiring memo said his $412,008 salary was appropriate, since the median salary for cancer center directors across the country was slightly higher at $415,000. Carbone, like all UH administrative staff, took a pay cut to match the pay reductions faced by other UH employees, so his temporary salary reduction in 2009 brought his pay down to $379,056, and it was increased in June 2011 to $391,416, which continues today, UH officials said.