EXCLUSIVE: Interim president, retired Army general are 2 UH president finalists
Lieutenant General Francis "Frank" Wiercinski
HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) -
The search for the next University of Hawaii president has narrowed to as few as two candidates, including current Interim President David Lassner, after several other finalists dropped out, sources told Hawaii News Now.
A source said one of the finalists, Lassner, has been interim UH president since September and is paid $325,008 a year.
Lassner has worked at UH since 1977 and for the last seven years has been the university's first vice president for information technology and chief information officer.
A second finalist, according to sources familiar with the search, is the retired commander of the Army in the Pacific, Lieutenant General Francis "Frank" Wiercinski.
Before retiring from a 34-year Army career last July, Wiercinski was based in Honolulu and oversaw 80-thousand soldiers and thousands more civilian employees throughout Asia and the Pacific.
Wiercinski was the official escort to U.S. Sen. Dan Inouye's widow Irene at his Punchbowl funeral in December of 2012.
Some members of Hawaii's business community have been pushing for Wiercinski to get the UH president's job, seeing him as a university outsider who can clean up UH who also has diplomatic experience around the Pacific.
But his selection could anger Native Hawaiians and progressive members of the UH faculty, who would oppose a former U.S. military leader running the state's university system.
After interviewing candidates, the Board of Regents search committee came up with five finalists, but as many as three of them dropped out, including at least one who withdrew because Lassner, the interim president, is in the running for the permanent job and is considered to have the inside track, sources said.
In a statement released Tuesday by Carl Carlson, chairman of the Board of Regents' presidential selection committee, declined to name the finalists or confirm Hawaii News Now's information on their identities.
"The Committee on Presidential Selection will continue to follow the procedure it has committed to; therefore, out of respect for the process, the applicants, and the Board of Regents, we are not in a position to comment until we present our report to the board next week," Carlson said.
The selection committee will send its final report to the regents before they hold a special meeting Monday, April 28, during which the board will go into executive session, behind closed doors, to "receive and review a report from the Regents' Committee on Presidential Selection."
The regents will also accept public testimony.
When Hawaii News Now asked Board of Regents Chair John Holzman Monday if any UH employee or administrator is among the finalists being considered, he said, "I'm not even going to go there. The only thing we'd be doing is feeding speculation. And what's best is to give the board a chance to take a look at the names, see them with an open mind and decide a way forward and that's what we intend to do."
The UH regents considered re-opening the search because there are so few finalists remaining, but so far have rejected that idea, sources said.
The UH has claimed its search process has been "transparent," but so far has not released basic information, such as the number of applicants for the president's job, how many of them were interviewed and how many became finalists. UH said that information will be released when the search panel compiles a final report.
A similar situation happened in 2009, when UH chose its last president, MRC Greenwood, who was one of three finalists. Two finalists withdrew from consideration, leaving only Greenwood who was ultimately approved as UH president.
Sources said a slim majority vote of the regents, 8 to 7, voted not to open the search to bring in more candidates for the job. The regents then unanimously selected Greenwood and she took office at UH's 14th president and its first woman at the helm.
She stepped down last September with two years remaining on her contract, claiming she wanted to spend more time with her family and deal with health issues.
Her departure followed the canceled Stevie Wonder concert, an event that was supposed to be a fundraiser for UH Manoa athletics but ended up with UH scammed out of a $200,000 deposit, tarnishing the school's reputation and raising questions about the competence of UH management and fiscal decisions.