MANOA, OAHU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The University of Hawaii Board of Regents decided Thursday not to re-open the search for the next UH president, even though several candidates dropped out and just two finalists remain in the running.
The search panel narrowed its search to just two candidates, Interim UH President David Lassner and retired U.S. Army Lt. Gen. Frank Wiercinski, former head of the Army in the Pacific, as Hawaii News Now first reported last Tuesday. Three other finalists dropped out of the running, sources said, some of them withdrawing because Lassner, as the incumbent, is seen as having the inside track.
"They're really capable individuals and each in their own careers have accomplished an enormous amount. Both are qualified to lead the university," said John Holzman, chairman of the Board of Regents.
The regents met for more than two hours behind closed doors in executive session Thursday morning and did not discuss the presidential search in public at a special meeting at the new information technology building on the UH Manoa campus.
Holzman said during their closed-door session, the regents discussed the possibility but decided against re-opening the search because several finalists dropped out, including one who said there was no point in competing with Lassner, the insider who already has the interim job.
While Wiercinski turned in an application, Lassner did not.
"David Lassner was nominated. He did not apply," Holzman said, but declined to say who nominated him.
Both candidates will meet and take questions from students and faculty on UH campuses across the state over the next few weeks, something that an incoming regent said is bad timing, fearing low turnout during end-of-the-semester exams, papers and graduations.
Stanford Yuen, who will become a UH regent in July, urged the regents not to hold those sessions in the final weeks of the school year.
"The board must never allow the faculty and students to be disenfranchised in providing input on any critical UH decision, and especially for the process in selecting a president," Yuen testified.
Since UH has an interim president in place, there's no reason "to rush to judgment" and make a decision in the next few weeks, Yuen said.
"Basically, all the students are focusing on finals, an intense class load, job searches for us seniors," said UH senior Chris Walker, who asked the regents to slow down the process.
Abby Schroeder, another UH senior, gave similar testimony.
"We want a little more time to be able the candidates to go into the campus community and interact as is said a few times before, finals coming up, it's really busy," Schroeder said.
Maenette Benham, the dean of the UH School of Hawaiian knowledge, was a non-voting member of the regents' presidential search committee.
While she told regents she "honors" the comments made by Yuen and four UH students, she disagreed with them.
"I would also like to urge you to move forward, because we are in deep need of having leadership to help take us into this 21st century," Benham said.
Holzman said waiting until after the school year would be worse, since faculty and students leave the campus during the summer.
"We're going to make very effort to provide them (professors and students) with an opportunity to hear the candidates, to get to know them, and we hope, to provide feedback to us, because we want to hear their feedback," Holzman said.
Holzman said after hearing input from on- and off-campus, the regents hope to decide between the two men by mid-June.
Sources said Holzman and regents Vice Chair James Lee, whose terms expire at the end of June, support selecting Lassner as the next UH president.
When Hawaii News Now asked Holzman if he is pushing for a vote in June because his term expires in July and he's supporting Lassner, he told reporters, "I'm a big Lassner supporter, but I'm also a big Frank Wiercinski supporter, and I think both are capable of leading this university."
Asked to describe Wiercinski, Holzman said, "He's been a highly successful leader of one of the largest and most complex organizations in our country and maybe in the entire world. He has enormous capacities as a leader, as a manager, as a communicator."
Of Lassner, Holzman said, "He's done well as the interim president. He's collaborative, he's open. He loves Hawaii, he's been here a long time, knows our state."
Holzman said the regents will release a report on the search process in the next few days, which will detail basic information such as how many people applied or were nominated for the president's job.
"There will be an opportunity for you to hear us discuss in open the merits of the candidates after we go through the process," Holzman said.
Lassner has been the interim president since September and is being paid $325,008 a year. He replaced MRC Greenwood, who stepped down with two years remaining on her contract.