Kapolei, HAWAII (HawaiiNewsNow) – The Western Association of Schools and Colleges has slapped the University of Hawaii West Oahu with a "notice of concern," one step below a formal warning that its brand new Kapolei campus could be in danger of losing its accreditation.
Students filled the UH West Oahu campus off Farrington Highway for the first time Monday as classes began for the new school year. They were shocked to learn that the accreditation panel found their new school is in danger of not complying with national standards.
"If the school isn't accredited, I may need to transfer to another school or something like that. And just making sure I get my money's worth. That's very important for me. Making sure that if I'm putting in the time and effort, then I'm getting awarded what I should be awarded," said Timothy Friend of Ewa Beach, a former U.S. Army soldier who's registered as a psychology student.
Nani Bacon of Makakilo, is majoring in education and planned to attend her first class on the new campus Monday night.
"I really don't want to see that [losing accreditation] happen. I know that UH here, West Oahu campus, has the potential to develop into something greater," Bacon said. "If it wasn't for the WASC accreditation, we wouldn't get the kind of quality education that we have. Yes, it is a big concern and should be a big concern for all the students."
WASC President Ralph Wolff sent UH West Oahu a letter July 10, saying its team that visited the campus in April expressed "... concern about the institution's inability to recruit and retain experienced senior academic leadership."
The campus has people in interim appointments holding two key positions as vice chancellor of academic services and vice chancellor of student services.
A 33-page report on the visit said momentum on improvements at the school "... was lost through a numbing combination of delay in the completion of the new campus, declines in funding, and lack of focused leadership."
In a letter of response, UH West Oahu Chancellor Gene Awakuni said before moving into new digs in Kapolei, UH West Oahu has been under funded, like much of the UH system, and had to operate in temporary facilities.
"These two factors have made it difficult to attract and retain quality senior academic leadership," wrote Awakuni, who was on Maui Monday and unavailable for an interview. "Despite these challenges, recently hired, innovative and experienced academic leaders have come to the campus with no increase in pay to offset increases in expense and responsibility, and some have taken significant salary decreases."
Awakuni said he waited on hiring key personnel because there was no where to put them until new buildings were complete in the new Kapolei location. UH West Oahu had been tucked away in a corner of Leeward Community College and professors were doubled up in offices there, UH officials said.
But the visiting WASC team noted "almost all of the senior staff [has] been replaced since 2008."
The WASC panel also complained about what it called a "serious situation" at the school's new two-story library, which was being managed by an entry-level librarian and staffed with just two or three casual hires earlier in the summer. Two more staffers have since been added to the library pay roll.
The panel said many of the problems a previous visiting team of WASC officials found in 2008 had not been solved or improved upon in the past four years.
Awakuni has been chancellor of the school since 2005.
He said the WASC team ignored a 100-page academic plan submitted by UH West Oahu as part of its evaluation.
UH West Oahu officials said their current WASC accreditation is good through 2014. They plan to meet one-on-one with the accreditation board in the weeks ahead to discuss what they said was their continuing progress toward making improvements, in reaction to WASC's request for a meeting within 90 days after the July 10 letter outlining problems it found at UH's newest campus.
The UH has spent $175 million building the new 76-acre campus in Kapolei, with about 1,800 students and 60 faculty members.
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