UH hearings begin; Greenwood tried to minimize problems in private

Published: Sep. 23, 2012 at 4:57 PM HST|Updated: Sep. 26, 2012 at 10:20 PM HST
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) -- As the State Senate's Special Committee on Accountability prepared to hold its first briefing Monday afternoon into the University of Hawaii's Stevie Wonder concert fiasco, Hawaii News Now has learned UH President M.R.C. Greenwood tried to minimize criticism of UH leadership during private meetings, sources said.

Committee chair State Sen. Donna Kim (D-Moanalua, Aiea, Halawa Valley) said she wants to find out "what went wrong that put us in this position so that we don't repeat this again in the near future."

The briefing, which is expected to last five hours or more, starts at 1 p.m. Monday in a state capitol conference room.  Hawaii News Now will live stream the hearing on its web site and the meeting will be shown live on Olelo channel 49.

While the State Senate confirms members of the UH Board of Regents, senators do not have the power to hire and fire top UH executives, Kim said. That power that is vested in the regents.

"We're here to get accountability and transparency.  We're not here to get any kind of action.  That's up to the board, based on everything that goes on, whether they are going to take any kind of action, that is up to them," Kim said.

Among those expected to testify Monday are lawyers who performed a probe of the bungled concert, Greenwood, UH Board of Regents Chairman Eric Martinson, former UH Athletics Director Jim Donovan, and Rich Sheriff, who heads UH's Stan Sheriff arena. Former UH Manoa Chancellor Virginia Hinshaw, who was asked to testify, is out of town and will not appear Monday, senators said.

Greenwood seems to be unable to understand the level of concern about management issues at the university, according to numerous people who've been in contact with her in the last few weeks.

Greenwood has told people there is nothing she or the UH did that deserves State Senate hearings, one source said.

"She is trying to minimize problems and dismiss criticisms," said another person who was in a private meeting with Greenwood and discussed the senate investigation.

Greenwood has asked business leaders to defend the UH and herself by submitting testimony to the committee, which is only accepting written comments from the public, sources said.

Greenwood has been "running around like a chicken with her head cut off," said another source, noting she has had staff members compile examples of positive developments at UH she hopes to highlight.

When Greenwood met with committee member State Sen. Sam Slom (R-Hawaii Kai, Aina Haina, Kahala) in advance of the hearings, he said she asked him for advice and the types of questions he had concerns about but also said she wasn't nervous about appearing before senators because she had testified in front the U.S. Congress before.

Slom asked Greenwood about a national accreditation team's criticism of the academic leadership at UH West Oahu, a story Hawaii News Now first reported Aug. 20. A panel from the Western Association of Schools and Colleges expressed "concern about the institution's inability to recruit and retain experienced senior academic leadership," noting almost all of UH West Oahu's senior staff had been replaced since 2008.

In a Sept. 14 letter to Martinson, who heads the regents, Slom wrote, "I was surprised that her [Greenwood's] response was to question the level of experience of the television reporter who first broke the news, to say the information was not accurate, and that while UH has received a 'letter of concern,' that that is not an unusual or problematic event.  She added that UH was given an extension to deal with issues raised by the rating organization."

"I am curious as to whether or not that response is reflective of the Board of Regents understanding and discussion of West Oahu," Slom wrote to Martinson, asking him for any additional information related to the issue.

On Sept. 19, Martinson wrote Slom a five-sentence letter in response saying the regents discussed the letter of concern at its Aug. 22 meeting. Martinson added that UH West Oahu is scheduled to meet with WASC "shortly" to discuss the panel's concerns.

"Please let me assure you that both the Board of Regents and President Greenwood are closely monitoring this situation to ensure that the questions raised are being properly addressed and that UH West Oahu's current accredited status is not impacted in any way," Martinson said.

The campus is accredited through 2014, as Hawaii News Now originally reported, and letters from WASC and UH West Oahu Chancellor Gene Awakuni were included in HNN's online story for anyone to read the concerns and Awakuni's response in detail for themselves.

Greenwood's remarks to Slom were different from those she made when she expressed a deeper level of concern about the WASC criticisms in private with other UH officials this summer, according to sources who said she was upset by the news.

Slom told Hawaii News Now he felt that she "poo-poo'd" the concerns in her meeting with him in his capitol office earlier this month.

Slom expected a lot of people will watch the hearing in person, online and on television.

"We're thinking that perhaps we can replace the money that was lost in the Stevie Wonder gate, by selling tickets to room 211.  Having VIP sections, possibly a box.  The media, of course, will have to stay outside in the dark as they usually do," Slom joked.

The union representing nearly 4,000 faculty at UH's ten campuses statewide has submitted testimony to the committee raising accountability questions about private funding for some UH operations.

'When an incident occurs such as the mismanagement of the athletic fundraising concert, it reflects a deeper and broader system failure, that, if left unaddressed, jeopardizes the fundamental integrity of the University of Hawaii within our community including students and taxpayers," wrote Adrienne Valdez, University of Hawaii Professional Assembly president and a labor education specialist at the Center for Labor Studies at UH West Oahu.

Through a variety of measures, including nonprofit foundations, grants, and service contracts, UH is committing "significant resources to increasing revenue," Valdez said in her written testimony. "Pursuing these activities does not automatically mean there is a coherent set of fiscal guidelines being followed or competency in the administration of these activities.  To the contrary, there may be assumptions regarding administrative skills, knowledge and expertise that simply are incorrect."

A second State Senate hearing has been scheduled for Oct. 2, when UH Manoa Chancellor Tom Apple and other officials are expected to testify.  Senators said they will start by looking into the failed concert and its aftermath, but will also pursue questions about other UH management and financial decisions.

Copyright 2012 Hawaii News Now. All rights reserved.