UH plans to keep controversial Cancer Center director

UH plans to keep controversial Cancer Center director
Dr. Michele Carbone
Dr. Michele Carbone

KAKAAKO, OAHU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The University of Hawaii said it's developing a plan to "strengthen" the Cancer Center under the continuing leadership of Dr. Michele Carbone as director, in spite of the efforts of UH Manoa Chancellor Tom Apple to fire him.

Carbone has been the focus of 25 complaints by faculty in the last year and a half, more than any other UH entity.

Four cancer center researchers and professors opposed to Carbone spoke with Hawaii News Now Thursday.

"If he had left us alone to do our job, to do our research and try to repeatedly try to take our grants away and block our research activity, we wouldn't be here," said Unhee Lim, an associate researcher who's been at the Cancer Center for five years.

But the center's associate director points to the new Cancer Center building, completed earlier this year, as an example as Carbone's success.

"Under this leadership we've accomplished so much. I think we're poised to accomplish a lot more. So in that sense, I just don't want to have a change that could stop us doing what we can do," said Brian Issell, the center's associate director of clinical science and translational research.

In one faculty complaint, UH found Carbone's attempts to remove Dr. Loic Le Marchand and another researcher from an $8 million research project were improper and jeopardized further funding.

"It really looks bad for the University of Hawaii and I think as well has compromised our chances of getting funded through new grant applications," Le Marchand said.

Le Marchand is one of UH's most productive researchers, who was awarded two large grants worth $40 million last year.

Issell said, "I'm really sorry that we're having these interpersonal relationship issues but I just want to move on and sort of let's try to get together to make this work for the people of Hawaii."

Sources said UH officials are thinking about bringing in former UH Chancellor Virginia Hinshaw to help Carbone run the Cancer Center, an idea that does not sit well with Carbone's critics.

"I don't see that she's an independent source who could bring anything beyond what we already have," said Lynne Wilkens, an epidemiology faculty member who's been at the center for 25 years.

Hinshaw hired Carbone as Cancer Center director in 2009 over the objections of 86 percent of its faculty members who said he was unqualified and had alienated a majority of the faculty when he was interim director.

Hinshaw did not return a phone call from Hawaii News Now Thursday.

UH has said it is working on a "plan to strengthen the center," noting that details will be released "as soon as they can be shared with the public."

But Wilkins said, "I don't understand what kind of plan they could put together. There have been many plans over the last five years and they have not worked."

Issell, the associate director of the center, said, "It's going to take a lot of mending relationships, and reconciliations.  I believe the UH will put in place a system that will allow things to happen."

Carbone is traveling and a UH spokeswoman said he was not available for an interview.

Carbone is one of the highest-paid administrators in the UH system, earning $412,008 a year.

At Hawaii News Now's request, UH asked people who'd emailed the Board of Regents letters about Carbone in the last several weeks to email Hawaii News Now their comments.  As of 6:45 p.m. Thursday, Hawaii News Now had received five letters, all of them opposed to Carbone.

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