MRC Greenwood to retire as University of Hawaii president

MRC Greenwood leaving as University of Hawaii president: 10 p.m. report
Published: May. 6, 2013 at 8:56 PM HST|Updated: May. 7, 2013 at 8:30 AM HST
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University of Hawaii President M.R.C. Greenwood plans to retire two years before the end of her contract, a departure she claimed had nothing to do with the failed Stevie Wonder concert that brought her leadership under scrutiny. Her last day at the school will be August 31, sources said.

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - In a statement, UH said the reason for her departure was health-related and family oriented.

"This university has accomplished an amazing amount in a rather short and extremely challenging time," said Greenwood in a news release from the UH. "As the economy shows signs of improvement, I am proud of how well we've coped with the greatest recession in modern memory and serious state spending restrictions."

In responding to her retirement announcement, Board of Regents Chair Eric Martinson called her accomplishments "outstanding."

"The university's reputation has advanced nationally and internationally, the strategic goals set by the Board of Regents have advanced, and she helped navigate the university through one of our nation's and state's most severe recessions," Martinson said in a written statement.

Greenwood's $475,000-a-year contract expires in July of 2015.  Her contract also pays her a housing allowance of $5,000 a month and guarantees her a tenured faculty post at UH.

According to the UH news release, Greenwood plans to take an unpaid year-long leave of absence upon her retirement before then returning to her tenured UH faculty position, most likely at the UH John A. Burns School of Medicine.  A position at the medical school would guarantee her a high salary, since she must be paid similarly to her peers at the med school who are medical doctors. Some medical faculty earn $200,000 and higher a year.

She was hired in 2009 after a national search and took office in August of that year, and was UH's first female president.

"I am proud of what we accomplished under very difficult circumstances," Greenwood said in a statement.  "I am looking forward to my retirement to once again be 'grandma' and to write, teach and do some policy work." Greenwood is an expert in obesity and diabetes.

In August 2012, UH canceled a fundraising Stevie Wonder concert, announcing that it had been scammed out of a $200,000 deposit.  Greenwood and UH officials came under criticism for spending as much as $1 million in the aftermath of the failed event, money spent on investigations, lawyers, public relations experts, management consultants and a newly created and high-paying job for former UH Athletics Director Jim Donovan, who later left UH for an AD job at Cal State Fullerton.

Last fall, Greenwood wrote a confidential letter to the UH Board of Regents, first revealed by Hawaii News Now, in which she offered to leave the UH in exchange for a $2 million payment, if the regents no longer had faith in her.  Greenwood later withdrew the offer and the regents released a statement supporting her.

But state lawmakers were critical of her leadership and cut millions of dollars from the UH in the legislative session that just concluded while trimming some of Greenwood's power to oversee UH procurement.

"We still have problems with accreditation, with the West Oahu campus, payment of vendors, procurement. You're going to see some more stories about buildings that have been completed that are not up to code and a lot of other things," said State Sen. Sam Slom (R-Hawaii Kai, Aina Haina, Kahala). "I think that we can do a better job and I hope that we will because we've had some very poor choices and I hope that we're not going to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars more for head hunters when we have real local talent here."

"I believe this a good opportunity for us to get new leadership at UH. We can restore some of the issues that have been plaguing UH and bring in more transparency and accountability as well as restore the university's credibility," said Senate President Donna Mercado Kim (D-Kalihi Valley, Moanalua, Halawa). "I think the regents have a lot to do with the problems at UH, not just the president. So there is a lot more work to be done by everyone to improve the situation."

Slom served on a special Senate committee that Kim chaired last fall which held two day-long hearings looking into the failed concert and raised questions about UH management and financial decisions, showing UH Regents broke their own policies and state 'sunshine' law in dealing with the fallout from the event.

Gov. Neil Abercrombie said, "From the moment I met President Greenwood, I was impressed with her commitment and her desire to give her very best effort on behalf of the University of Hawaii. She brought a wealth of experience and determination to put that to work for the university. I personally wish her every good fortune in the years to come." 

"As for the university and the presidency, I will be contacting the Board of Regents and the wider university community as we chart our next steps," Abercrombie said.

David Duffy, president of the University of Hawaii Professional Assembly (UHPA) said, "We appreciate President MRC Greenwood for sharing her experience and knowledge with the University of Hawaii over the past four years. We understand and respect her decision to make her health and spending time with family priorities for the upcoming year. We wish her well in achieving her personal endeavors. The UH is a major economic engine in our state and the state's center of higher education. We look forward to helping state and university leaders manage a smooth transition and the selection of a new president. We will continue to work to strengthen the university as a top-tier research and teaching institution."

The announcement created a buzz on the UH Manoa campus.

"I think that she's making the right decision to leave and have hopefully a better successor," said UH Manoa freshman Kendrick Go.

"I think just like any other student here, we're just wanting to get our degrees, and if something goes down, then we're looking at the administration, we're looking at people like MRC Greenwood or other people as well to see like what changes need to be done," said UH Manoa senior Francis Rigor.

Greenwood, who appeared in a live interview Monday morning on Hawaii News Now's Sunrise program, gave no indication of her plans to step down early in the day. Sources said she said nothing about her pending retirement in meetings with members of her executive team and other staff Monday morning.

Greenwood did not notify Martinson and other key regents about her departure until after lunch Monday, sources said. UH Manoa Chancellor Tom Apple and UH General Counsel Darolyn Lendio, who heads UH's legal office, did not find out about Greenwood's plans until after 4 p.m., less than an hour before Hawaii News Now broke the news on its 5 p.m. newscast.

Privately, some state lawmakers complained Greenwood barely appeared at the legislature during the 2013 session, and many of them expected her to leave before her contract ended.  Most legislators, even those who supported Greenwood, felt her credibility was damaged because of the Wonder blunder and she could no longer effectively represent the university.

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