EXCLUSIVE: KCC chancellor traveled nearly 4 1/2 months in last year and a half

EXCLUSIVE: KCC chancellor traveled nearly 4 1/2 months in last year and a half
Published: Sep. 3, 2013 at 9:38 PM HST|Updated: Oct. 24, 2013 at 6:42 PM HST
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Kapiolani Community College Chancellor Leon Richards
Kapiolani Community College Chancellor Leon Richards

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Kapiolani Community College Chancellor Leon Richards, whose campus has faced a number of recent management problems, spent nearly four and a half months traveling out of state on official business in the last year and a half, a Hawaii News Now investigation has found.

Richards earns at least $155,000 a year in a post he's held since 2007.

Faculty and staff at the school who refuse to be identified for fear of retaliation complained that Richards is away from campus too much, and traveling too often.

In response to a Hawaii News Now public records request, the University of Hawaii revealed that in 2012, Richards spent 84 days on official travel during nine out-of-state trips.

In the first six months of this year, he traveled 45 days on eight trips as of the end of June.

KCC students reacted with concern.

"That's a long time to be gone," said Nicolle Uyema, a KCC sophomore from Kaimuki.

Matthew Robertson, a KCC pre-nursing student who lives in Kapahulu, said, "The man in charge is taking these trips for a very long time away from where he should be doing business.  So I'm curious.  I'm interested what he's doing on those trips."

UH said seven of the 17 trips Richards took in the last two years were paid for by other universities, governments or accreditation groups.  UH spent just under $34,000 on Richards' other ten trips.

His longer voyages in 2012 included 19 days in Indonesia and Singapore, 14 days in China and Korea as well as a 13-day trip to India, Sri Lanka and Thailand. UH spent $7,440 on Richards' Indonesia/Singapore trip, money from a grant.

From January through June of 2013, Richards spent 16 days on an official trip to India and Sri Lanka, nine days in Japan and six days in Atlanta.

UH spent $2,267 on his 2013 India and Sri Lanka trip where he was the member of a U.S. State Department delegation of community college representatives to a Government of India multi-national conference. The State Department paid for his round-trip airfare from Honolulu to New Delhi, UH said. He also went to "follow up on Sri Lankan tourism industry's hospitality/culinary training," UH said.

Richards declined an on-camera interview.

In a statement, his boss, UH Vice President for Community Colleges John Morton, himself a former chancellor of KCC, said Richards and KCC are recognized nationally among community colleges for their international efforts.

International students make up more than seven percent of the KCC student body, generating $6 million or 35 percent of its tuition revenue, Morton said.

The statement said Richards has obtained more than $4.5 million in private funding to support student study abroad and KCC has been selected by India and Indonesia to help develop their community college systems.

"These efforts have required extensive groundwork, preparation, and face to face meetings, and the results have been very positive for all Hawaii community college students," Morton said.

But in the last year and a half, while Richards has been doing all that traveling, the campus has had a number of management problems.

Earlier this year, some food and laundry vendors stopped deliveries to KCC because KCC was months and thousands of dollars behind in paying them.

At least 19 continuing education instructors went unpaid for months in the spring of 2012, some of them owed up to 4-thousand dollars.

And in April KCC's entire human resources department resigned after the head of the office retired and filed a discrimination complaint against Richards.  The head of the school's business office filed a similar complaint against Richards.  The two women, who are Japanese Americans, accuse Richards, an African American, of gender and race discrimination.

Nicolle Uyema, the KCC sophomore and liberal arts major, said, "I think the priority is all messed up, too. If people aren't getting paid here and not getting their stuff down here, then he needs to be here to fix that, if anything."

Jessica Garcia, a KCC sophomore from Kaimuki said, "If he (Richards) wants to build relations overseas and in foreign places, that's fine.  But at least make it a priority to take care of what you have going on here."

Richards' boss, Morton, said in a statement, "While we will continue to develop these international relationships, Chancellor Richards and I both anticipate that he will spend more time on campus in the coming academic year focusing on campus operations." Morton said.

KCC has 664 international students, including more students from Japan than any other college or university in the country, Morton said.

Just one of Richards' 17 trips in the last year and a half was to Japan.  He spent nine days in Tokyo and Fukuoka in April.  The JK Com Group paid for the trip and UH paid no money for the trip during which Richards was the speaker at the Jikei Com Group 2013 entrance ceremony, visited the Jikei Com Group schools and other schools with KCC partnerships, UH said.

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