EXCLUSIVE: Inouye, Shinseki back retired general for UH president

EXCLUSIVE: Inouye, Shinseki back retired general for UH president
Published: Apr. 26, 2014 at 12:02 AM HST
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Lieutenant General Francis "Frank" Wiercinski
Lieutenant General Francis "Frank" Wiercinski
The Late Senator Daniel Inouye & Mrs. Irene Inouye
The Late Senator Daniel Inouye & Mrs. Irene Inouye
VA Secretary Eric Shinseki
VA Secretary Eric Shinseki

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Irene Hirano Inouye, the widow of U.S. Senator Daniel Inouye, is one of several heavy hitters who are personal references for University of Hawaii presidential candidate Frank Wiercinski, a retired Army general who's one of two finalists for the job, sources said.

Wiercinski was commander of the Army in the Pacific until July of 2013, when he retired after 34 years in the Army.

In December of 2012, he was Irene Inouye's official escort at her husband's Punchbowl funeral.  During the service, Wiercinski delivered her the folded flag that had been draped on the late senator's casket.

Sources said she is one of the well-known people who are professional references for Wiercinski in his application to be the next UH president.

Another of his references is U.S. Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki, a Kauai native and former Army chief of staff.

The executive director of the UH faculty union, JN Musto, wrote a letter of reference for Wiercinski. Musto said he was speaking as an individual, and not representing the University of Hawaii Professional Assembly, sources said.

Art Ushijima, president and CEO of Queens Health Systems and Queens Medical Center, also wrote a letter supporting the general, a source said.

Wiercinski, who lives in Hawaii Kai, told Hawaii News Now, "It would be unfair and not right to comment until the Board of Regents has gone through their process."

"I respect that process," said Wiercinski, a veteran of three combat tours of duty in Panama, Iraq and Afghanistan.

Public relations executive Kitty Lagareta chaired the UH Board of Regents a decade ago, when the board chose longtime UH faculty member David McClain as interim president for two years and then president for the next three years.

"There are an awful lot of people who think they know how the university should be run, who should run it and how it should all be handled, and yet the regents have to make a decision based on some pretty formal criteria," said Lagareta, who is chief executive officer of Communications Pacific.

She said selecting an ex-general as UH president with no university background would be unconventional.

"It's a rather complex system and somebody needs to really understand academic governance and all that entails to do that well," Lagareta said.   "I imagine they're two very, very good candidates, but they are quite different."

The other finalist is Interim UH President David Lassner, who's worked at the university since 1977, a source said.  Supporters have said he's brought calm leadership to UH since he took the temporary top job Sept. 1.

Sources said three finalists dropped out of the presidential search, with at least one of them withdrawing because Lassner is considered to have the inside track since he's already doing the job.

Lassner declined to comment for this story.

A special meeting of the Board of Regents scheduled for Monday, April 28 was canceled Friday.  It was rescheduled to Thursday, May 1 at 9 a.m. because more regents could be present that day, sources said.

Interestingly, the rescheduled meeting will be held at the new information technology building at the UH Manoa campus, a project that Lassner helped shape since he was UH's vice president for information technology before taking the temporary president's position.

The regents originally asked the presidential search panel to come up with five or six finalists for the position.  But sources said the list has dwindled to just two.

"Some candidates chose to withdraw from the process because of its public nature," according to a UH news release.

Some UH observers said members of the UH community could be "disenfranchised" if the presidential candidates visit all ten campuses for talk story events in the next few weeks.  That's because the spring semester is winding down, meaning faculty and staff are distracted with final exams, papers, finalizing grades, graduations and other end-of-the-school-year business, making it more difficult to attend sessions to hear from and ask questions of the top presidential candidates.

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