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  • Proposal to Cut UH Programs Illustrates Misunderstanding

    · By Sterling Higa and Samira Fatemi

    State Rep. Isaac Choy’s recently introduced and deferred HB 555 betrayed a narrow and destructive conception of the University of Hawaii’s purpose. Furthermore, it displayed a startling misunderstanding of the structure of higher education and represented profoundly irresponsible legislative overreach.

    Choy proposed to eliminate all undergraduate programs that graduated less than 10 students a year unless the program was financially self-sustaining.

    Ka Leo reported that among those programs which would have needed to prove self-sufficiency were French, German, Russian, Dance, Physics, Pacific Island Studies, Geology, Meteorology, Biological Engineering, and Tropical Plant and Soil Sciences. Also under threat of elimination were 11 of the 12 secondary education programs on offer.

    The proposal was deferred, but in the future, Choy would do well to consider three things.

    First, the number of program graduates is not indicative of utility or value to the University. There will never be a time when Meteorology students are more numerous than Business majors – we need fewer meteorologists than capable business leaders, and foreclosing the possibility of studying meteorology for this reason is irresponsible.

    Further, some small programs represent new and emerging fields. Biological engineering is a rapidly growing field, stretching from alternative energy sources to environmental remediation techniques like wastewater treatment. Competitive research institutions across the U.S. are investing in fields like biological engineering despite the potential for losses in the short term.

    The University of Hawaii, as a land-grant institution, has a responsibility to maintain programs that advance practical science and

  • Top Hawaii Business Execs Tapped to Find New UH Athletics Director

    · By Nathan Eagle

    University of Hawaii Chancellor Robert Bley-Vroman has announced the formation of an eight-person search advisory committee to find a new athletic director, who will be tasked with turning around a department that’s expected to end this year $3.5 million in the hole.

    Current Athletic Director Ben Jay said last month that he plans to resign for “personal and professional reasons.”

    Top Hawaii business executives and doctors will steer the committee along with UH faculty members. Warren Haruki, president and CEO of Grove Farm Co. and chairman and CEO of Maui Land and Pineapple Co., will chair the committee, the university said Tuesday.

    Robert Bley-Vroman, right, chancellor at University of Hawaii at Manoa, speaks to media after UH Athletics Director Ben Jay announced his resignation, Dec. 9, 2014. A search committee has been formed to find a replacement by mid-year.

    Cory Lum/Civil Beat

    “We are looking for a leader capable of excelling in multiple areas including community outreach and partnership building, with the dual goals of continuing academic achievement of our student-athletes while putting UH’s 21 teams in the best possible position to win,” Bley-Vroman said. “We also need someone with the ability and agility to lead UH during this complex and important time in the evolving national collegiate athletics landscape.”

    Jay appeared last month before a panel of state lawmakers as university officials made their case for more taxpayer-funded budget support.

    They said athletics is important to Hawaii as a community, not just to the university and students. And as such, they said it’s

  • Audit Faults University of Hawaii’s Use of Certain Funding Sources

    · By Nathan Eagle

    The state auditor’s office, led by Jan Yamane, has found that 17 of 65 funding sources for the University of Hawaii have at least one thing wrong with them and some should be repealed altogether because they no longer serve their original purpose.

    The auditor’s 74-page report, released Tuesday, offers a look at UH’s special, revolving and trust funds and trust accounts. Together, the funds collected more than $641 million last year and spent or transferred almost $637 million. The report shows an ending balance of almost $267 million as of June 30.

    The audit raises questions about the university supplementing at least 10 revolving and special funds with general fund money.

    The state auditor has reviewed 65 funding sources for the University of Hawaii.

    Civil Beat file photo

    For instance, the report notes that the Student Health Center Revolving Fund reported fiscal year ending balances ranging from $444,000 in 2010 to $3.6 million in 2014. During that same period, the center received general fund appropriations of $320,000 in 2010 and as much as $530,000 in 2013.

    “It appears the revolving fund could have paid for core administrative personnel and that general fund appropriations used were not necessary,” the auditor wrote, noting that the fund’s ending balance was $2.8 million.

    UH President David Lassner responded in a letter to the auditor, saying the center relies on the general fund money to fund administrative personnel.

    “To impose this cost to our students at this time would mean having to raise our mandatory student health fee again,” he said. “Students are already

  • University of Hawaii Makes Its Case for More State Support

    · By Nathan Eagle

    University of Hawaii officials want state taxpayers to help the 10-campus system pay its electric bills and unfunded federal mandates like the gender-equity dictates of Title IX that they project will cost more than $70 million over the next two years.

    UH President David Lassner, Board of Regents Chair Randy Moore, interim Manoa Chancellor Robert Bley-Vroman and other officials presented their biennium budget request — $74 million in additional funding on the operating side, $400 million in capital improvements — to the House Higher Education Committee during an all-day informational briefing Thursday at the Capitol.

    Gov. David Ige’s executive budget request is due next week. The 2015 legislative session convenes Jan. 21 and lawmakers will be hashing out the overall state budget bill over the following few months.

    University of Hawaii President David Lassner listens to a question from Rep. Calvin Say during a legislative briefing Thursday at the Capitol.

    Nathan Eagle/Civil Beat

    Rep. Isaac Choy, who chairs the Higher Education Committee, and several other representatives grilled university officials over various aspects of their budget request, often seeking assurances that whatever money the state contributes to UH’s overall budget will be well spent.

    Paying for rising electricity bills has become a problem throughout the university system despite efforts to use less energy. Almost $51 million of the $74 million two-year operating budget request is for utility costs.

    At the Manoa campus, Bley-Vroman said Hawaiian Electric Company rates have increased 44 percent in recent years, jumping to 27

  • The Projector: Pre-holiday Food Bank, UH Football and Where Rail Meets Highway

    · By Cory Lum

    Food Bank Finds Kekoa Eter, 2, clutches boxes of cereal after his mother stopped off at the Kaumakapili Church food bank on Wednesday. Scores of people arrived at 6 a.m. to await donated canned goods and cereal from various churches and nonprofit groups on the day before Thanksgiving.

    Helping Hands Volunteer Alfredo Garcia, right, assists a food recipient by carrying a large bag of canned goods upstairs at the Kaumakapili Church food bank.

    By the Bagful Volunteer Kim Thai of Honolulu works with bags containing canned goods during the Kaumakapili Church food bank.

    The Small Version An architectural model of Aloha Stadium on display in an entrance to the full-size version.

    The Real Deal Aloha Stadium is all too spacious for the turnout at the University of Hawaii’s season finale football game Saturday against UNLV.

    Pregame Show Lance Williams leads his Rainbow Warrior teammates in pregame chants Saturday.

    Plenty of Elbow Room A pair of fans have a section of the stadium to themselves during the Saturday night game.

    Crowd-Surfing University of Hawaii cheerleaders head onto the field before the game as the band plays the ‘Hawaii 5-0′ theme song.

    Pausing to Pray Some of the UH football players join a pre-game prayer in the north end zone.

    Saying Aloha Senior members of the UH football team pose for a group photograph after the Warriors pull out a last-second victory

  • Meet the University of Hawaii’s Newest Lobbyists

    · By Nick Grube

    The University of Hawaii has enlisted a familiar face to lobby for federal research dollars in Washington, D.C., under a new contract signed last month.

    Jennifer Sabas, the former chief of staff for the late U.S. Sen. Dan Inouye, will be part of a two-person lobbying team from The National Group that will try to secure funds in fields such as astronomy, ocean sciences and food sustainability.

    The $189,000 annual contract also calls for the lobbyists to push for policies that will increase affordability at the university, in particular for immigrants, veterans and under-served minorities.

    The UH wants more research dollars to bolster some of its top tier programs, including those in astronomy and ocean sciences.

    PF Bentley/Civil Beat

    Sabas is well-connected both in Hawaii and Washington, D.C., and was a major force behind Inouye’s wish to see a $5.2 billion rail line built on Oahu.

    She told Civil Beat she plans to use her decades of experience working for Inouye to help increase the university’s clout.

    “We’re going to focus on those areas where UH is nationally renowned,” Sabas said. “Our goal is actually connecting the dots with the executive branch and, of course, our own delegation.”

    Jennifer Sabas

    Submitted photo

    She’s currently involved in a number of other endeavors, including rail advocacy through Move Oahu Forward and consulting with the Hawaii Chamber of Commerce to restructure its military affairs department.

    Sabas is also working to bring a $50 million center dedicated to her former boss to the

  • Former Judge Among New Picks for UH Board of Regents

    · By Alia Wong

    Gov. Neil Abercrombie has selected his candidates for the four University of Hawaii Board of Regents seats that were vacated because of a new law requiring regents to publicize their financial disclosure statements.

    They are Simeon Acoba, a former Hawaii Supreme Court associate justice who would represent Oahu; Dileep Bal, a Department of Health officer on Kauai; Peter Hoffman, a former Hawaii County councilman; and Helen Nielsen, a field representative for U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz who lives on Maui. (Their bios are included below.)

    Abercrombie made his selections from a list of 14 candidates provided by the council in charge of identifying prospective regents. The four nominees are subject to a confirmation from the Senate and would fill the seats on an interim basis.

    The seats were vacated by four former regents who weren’t comfortable with publicizing their financial interests. The new law requires public financial disclosures for an additional 15 boards and commissions, including the 15-member governing board for UH. At least a dozen members of other boards and commissions also resigned in response to the law.

    Abercrombie intended to veto the legislation, citing his concern that the new requirement would discourage worthy people from public service. He eventually let the measure become law without his signature.

    But from the looks of his four picks, the concern about candidates’ caliber appears unfounded. Civil Beat checked in with some of the candidates last month and got the same feedback.

    “With backgrounds in law, health, the military and environmental sustainability, these appointees bring a diverse spectrum of leadership to the University of Hawaii,”

  • National Campaign to End Campus Assaults Doesn’t Involve Hawaii Students

    · By Alia Wong

    The White House unveiled a new public-service campaign today that aims to combat sexual violence on college campuses through a network of student leaders, advocacy groups and corporations tasked with shifting the way people think about such assaults.

    The “It’s On Us” campaign wants everyone to see that it’s his or her responsibility to prevent sexual assault.

    “The campaign reflects the belief that sexual assault isn’t just an issue involving a crime committed by a perpetrator against a victim, but one in which the rest of us also have a role to play,” a White House press release says. “We are committed to creating an environment – be it a dorm room, a party, a bar or club, or the greater college campus – where sexual assault is unacceptable and survivors are supported.”

    UH Manoa was one of the many colleges and universities recently investigated for potentially mishandling sexual violence. The school, however, doesn’t appear to have any representatives participating in the White House’s new student-driven campaign to combat college assault.

    PF Bentley/Civil Beat

    The student representatives are key to bringing the campaign to individual campuses. A key goal involves motivating college men to participate.

    But a Civil Beat review of the list of the nearly 200 schools represented in the student-led campaign reveals that Hawaii doesn’t have a single delegate. It’s one of just five states without student representation on the campaign.

    Hawaii’s omission from the list is particularly noteworthy because its flagship campus — the University of Hawaii at Manoa — was recently investigated

  • Candidates for Vacant UH Board of Regents Seats Announced

    · By Alia Wong

    The council in charge of nominating candidates for the University of Hawaii’s Board of Regents today announced the finalists for the four seats that were vacated because of a new law requiring members to submit public financial disclosure statements.

    Specifically, the law requires that members of the Board of Regents and another 14 boards and commissions publicize their financial interests. Earlier this summer, the measure prompted the resignations of at least 16 members, including four regents: Carl Carlson (Hawaii County), John Dean (Honolulu), Saedene Ota (Maui) and Tom Shigemoto (Kauai).

    The board is made up of 15 seats total.

    Photo illustration showing the four members of the UH Board of Regents who have resigned in recently. From left, Carl Carlson Jr., John Dean, Tom Shigemoto and Saedene Ota.

    PF Bentley/Civil Beat

    Now, the regents’ Candidate Advisory Council has presented a list of candidates to Gov. Neil Abercrombie to fill the four seats on an interim basis. The duration of the appointments is subject to confirmation by the state Senate.

    Here are the candidates:

    City and County of Honolulu (term expires in June 2017)

    Simeon Acoba, Jr.
    Peter Adler
    Maralyn Kurshals
    Michael McEnerney
    Russel Nagata

    Hawaii County (term expires in June 2016)

    Wayne Higaki
    Peter Hoffmann
    Roy Vitousek III

    Kauai County (term expires in June 2017)

    Dileep Bal
    David Iha
    Klaus Keil

    Maui County (term expires in June 2015)

    Sherrilee Dodson
    Anders Lyons
    Helen Nielsen

    The advisory council began recruiting nominees in July following the resignations. The candidates were personally recruited by council members or recommended by government and community leaders.

    The council is also seeking candidates for five-year appointments to the Honolulu and Maui County

  • UH Launching Center to Help Commercialize Research

    · By Alia Wong

    A great idea rarely achieves its full potential if it fails to make it into the marketplace.

    That’s the premise behind a new center at the University of Hawaii — the XLR8UH Proof of Concept Center — that aims to connect researchers and startup entrepreneurs with investors, “providing a launch pad for commercialization.”

    Vassilis Syrmos, UH vice president for research and innovation, says the absence of such a center often results in a “valley of death” — “the vast chasm that often prevents a great idea from reaching commercial viability.”

    The University of Hawaii’s Innovation Initiative aims to double outside research funding to $1 billion annually.

    UH

    “The crossover to commercialization is expensive and for many scientists, including our own, success without the proper ecosystem that a POCC provides often results in the proverbial ‘valley of death’,” Syrmos said in a statement.

    UH is already engaging in world-class research, and it has been for some time. A UH scientist cloned the world’s first green mouse back in the 1990s. More recently, students designed and built a small satellite that deployed into space last year.

    But without a proof of concept center, many ideas struggle to get recognition, a UH press release says. Proof of concept centers are growing in popularity at universities across the country.

    “XLR8UH will harvest promising UH research, develop talented UH entrepreneurs and connect them to a diverse network of investors and businesses,” the press release says. Successful technologies could also be eligible for further funding from the Upside Fund, a UH-focused venture fund

  • Gov. Abercrombie Releases $39M for UH Facilities Upgrades

    · By Alia Wong

    With fall semester classes starting up today, Gov. Neil Abercrombie has announced the release of $39 million to the University of Hawaii for capital improvement projects at various campuses statewide.

    The projects include repairs, maintenance and upgrades “to ensure functional academic environments and accessible, affordable higher education opportunities for the people of Hawaii,” Abercrombie said in a statement.

    A laboratory sink area at Snyder Hall, UH Manoa, on July 9, 2014.

    PF Bentley/Civil Beat

    Here are details on the projects, taken from a press release:

    $29,000,000 – Systemwide Health, Safety and Code Requirements, statewide – Construction funds for health and safety projects at UH Manoa and UH Hilo. Projects at UH Manoa include accessibility improvements, sewer and storm drain upgrades, health and safety improvements at Lyon Arboretum, and walkway upgrades. Projects at UH Hilo include a lead roof replacement of Hale Kehau, a Kawili Street pedestrian overpass, an emergency shelter, traffic safety improvements at Panaewa Farms, sidewalk/crosswalk upgrades at Kapiolani and Lanikaula Streets, and emergency generators.

    $10,000,000 – Minor CIP Projects for Campuses of the Community College System, statewide – Design and construction funds for capital renewal and deferred maintenance projects of UH Community College (CC) campuses, including the renovation of the cafeteria at Honolulu CC, refurbishment of Ohia Auditorium at Kapiolani CC, renovation of the Diamond Head portables at Leeward CC, renovation of storage space to science lab/classroom at Hawaii CC, renovation of the former Ceramics Building at Maui CC, and renovation of the Fine Arts I Building at

  • Money 101: The State of Fiscal Affairs at the University of Hawaii at Manoa

    · By Alia Wong

    Lately the University of Hawaii at Manoa’s finances have garnered a lot of attention as faculty members, students and the public speculate about the firing of Chancellor Tom Apple and its connection with his directive to freeze all hiring in an effort to stop the budget bleeding.

    Talk about the budget has gotten especially heated as Apple supporters and others scrutinize the university’s Cancer Center, a research unit administratively attached to UH Manoa that’s been criticized for its divisive leadership and alleged over-reliance on students’ tuition money.

    In a recent letter, Apple primarily blamed his demise on the Cancer Center and his unsuccessful attempts to remove its director, Michele Carbone, and restrict its spending. Apple said he took a range of measures to deal with the campus’s financial shortfalls.

    New UH Manoa students on a walking tour of the campus Thursday.

    PF Bentley/Civil Beat

    But some people say the Cancer Center and Carbone are being scapegoated.

    “It’s a result of people connecting dots that don’t actually connect that way,” said Board of Regents Chairman Randy Moore in a recent interview with Civil Beat. 

    Either way, the beginning of a new school year is a good time to analyze how money flows into, around and out of UH Manoa. Conversations with a range of key stakeholders — including Moore, UH faculty union Executive Director J.N. Musto and university Budget Director Laurel Johnston — reveal that even the insiders lack clarity as to how cash works

  • UH Closes All Campuses in Anticipation of Storm

    · By Alia Wong

    The University of Hawaii announced today that it’s closing all campuses on Oahu and Kauai tomorrow in anticipation of the severe weather expected to accompany Hurricane Iselle.

    The campuses include UH Manoa, UH West Oahu and the five community colleges on the two islands.

    UH yesterday announced the closures of all Big Island campuses all day today and tomorrow and all Maui campuses today starting at noon and all day tomorrow.

    A NOAA graphic demonstrating how Hurricane Iselle was expected to advance across the Hawaiian islands as of 12 p.m. Thursday.

    National Weather Service

    The Big Island is currently under a hurricane warning, while Oahu, Maui and Kauai counties are under tropical storm warnings.

    As of 11 a.m. Thursday, Hurricane Iselle was 190 miles east of the Big Island and advancing at about 75 mph.

    Meanwhile, close behind Iselle was Hurricane Julio, which is traveling along a similar path. As of 11 a.m. Thursday, Julio was 1,145 miles east of Hilo.

    More emergency updates from UH can be found here.

  • Fired UH Chancellor Says Cancer Center Politics Sparked His Termination

    · By Alia Wong

    Tom Apple, who was removed as head of the University of Hawaii at Manoa this week, wrote in a recent letter that his job was at risk because he ruffled the feathers of a small group of powerful people who didn’t like his approach to the campus budget.

    Apple wrote a rebuttal letter late last month to UH president David Lassner, who on July 18 had handed Apple a negative annual evaluation claiming he failed to unify leadership on campus and failed to ensure its financial stability.

    It was this evaluation that prompted Apple’s high-profile dismissal. (Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly referred to the evaluation being based on comments from 360 people.)

    Tom Apple, former chancellor of UH Manoa.

    University of Hawaii

    Apple on Thursday provided Civil Beat with several internal memos he exchanged with Lassner, including the rebuttal letter, that shed further light on the circumstances behind his termination. Apple said he had intended for all the names cited in the documents to be redacted, but the redactions were inadvertently removed because of a technological error,  revealing the names of people Apple believes precipitated his firing.

    They include Michele Carbone, director of the UH Cancer Center, and former UH Board of Regents Chairman John Holzman. Apple’s memos also reference other individuals without naming them.

    Lassner gave Apple his termination letter Wednesday, along with a settlement offer that includes a $299,000 tenured faculty position in the school’s chemistry department and a

  • Students, Faculty Slam UH President for Firing Apple

    · By Alia Wong

    Dozens of University of Hawaii at Manoa students planned to stage a sit-in Thursday morning at the UH president’s office to protest what they figured was the imminent dismissal of Chancellor Tom Apple.

    They swore they wouldn’t leave until UH President David Lassner formally pledged that he would retain Apple as head of the university’s flagship campus. 

    But then something happened late Wednesday afternoon that changed their course a bit: Lassner handed Apple his termination letter, effectively barring the students from having a say in the decision.

    UH President David Lassner with back to camera outside Bachman Hall on the UH Manoa campus speaks to student and faculty about the termination of Manoa Chancellor Tom Apple on July 31, 2014

    PF Bentley/Civil Beat

    The timing, students later said, couldn’t have been more strategic. University executives had long ago made up their mind about Apple and had no intention of giving students an opportunity to chime in, they argued; by giving him the sack before the rally was set to take place, Lassner had an easy way out.

    “Everybody feels that we had a quality head of this campus, and frankly I feel like he’s being pushed out by some administrators with a lot of power who have an interest in maintaining their share of resources,” said graduate student Nick Chagnon, referring to widespread speculation that Apple was let go because he challenged the power of certain administrators. “I don’t know why (Lassner) is