UHPA Defends Tenure at the Legislature

Legislative Bill to Eliminate Academic Tenure for Non-Instructional Faculty Thwarted 

A legislative bill that would have adversely impacted the quality of education at the University of Hawai‘i — and affect the ability to attract and retain high quality faculty — has been put on hold. UH faculty can now breathe a sigh of relief — for now.

SB 1328 proposed to eliminate academic tenure for all “non-instructional” faculty based on the premise that their primary duties and responsibilities do not involve instruction with a commitment to student achievement and success and that granting tenure for these positions requires a long-term commitment of public resources.

UHPA Requested to Prepare a Resolution on Academic Tenure

Over the past several weeks, the UHPA leadership has been engaged in a series of productive and respectful dialogue and conversations with Sen. Donna Mercado Kim, the Chair of the Senate Higher Education Committee.  Based on UHPA recommendations, at a committee hearing last Tuesday, Feb. 16,  Sen. Mercado Kim deferred the bill and sought UHPA’s assistance to draft a resolution for the 2022 legislative session. UHPA plans to work collaboratively with the UH administration to develop a resolution for the committee to consider.

In its testimony, UHPA noted tenure for eligible faculty has been clearly outlined in collective bargaining agreements between UHPA and the UH Board of Regents since its first contract in 1975 and the subject of tenure is a cornerstone of bargainable matters under Hawaii’s collective bargaining law, Chapter 89, Hawaii Revised Statutes.

All of the other testimonies from both tenured and non-tenured faculty alike strongly opposed the bill including the University of Hawai‘i administration.

Dynamic, Multi-faceted Role of Faculty

Faculty also presented strong, compelling, and eye-opening rationale and reasons opposing the bill. Currently, Faculty are divided into different classifications based on their primary functions and some are classified with an “I” designation for “instruction.” However, these designations do not adequately and accurately convey the multi-faceted roles of faculty. Even if faculty are branded as “R” for “researcher” or “S” for “specialist,” they are still actively engaged in the instruction and provide a wealth of services and support functions focused on student achievement and success. This underscores that designations assigned to faculty do not truly reflect the diverse professional roles, responsibilities, and work they perform for the academy and the students that they serve.   

For example, research faculty mentors graduate students in the field or in laboratories, and specialists develop lesson plans, mix lectures with activities, discussion, and practice and work with distressed students or those with disabilities to insure their success. In this sense, all faculty are involved with instruction and significantly contribute to student achievement and success.

Miriam Stark, a UH anthropology professor, cited the significant contributions of faculty at the UH Cancer Research Center, UH Economic Research Organization, Water Resources Research Center and College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources that do not fit neatly into the definition of instructional faculty but overall contribute to student achievement and success.

Faculty also noted their roles are dynamic and ever changing to accommodate the needs and priorities of the university.  This makes the amount of instruction and service to student achievement and success fluid.

Purpose of Tenure

It’s important to reiterate the purpose of tenure: academic freedom for faculty. This is just as important for faculty members engaged in research as it is for an instructional faculty member. For example, tenure ensures faculty can engage in controversial research and instruction with impunity.

Another Potentially Overreaching Bill

In addition to the bill on academic tenure, the Senate Higher Education Committee also heard another bill (SB 1394), which would require that 25% of the UH research faculty’s salary be paid with extramural funds. The bill proposed to make it a requirement for all new grants,

contracts, and agreements that begin on July l, 2021, would have to stipulate that these extramural funds would be used to pay for the research faculty’s salary.

The intent of this bill was also a way to address the state’s budget, but UHPA pointed out that in the aggregate, extramural funding sources already make up more than 25% of the research faculty salaries. This bill was deferred and UHPA will collaborate with the UH administration to provide a report on this data.

Legislative update on measures that matter

Legislative update February 12, 2021


We are in the midst of the 2021 Legislative Session, actively monitoring and testifying on a multitude of measures that impact our membership.  Two bills in particular, SB1328 Relating to Academic Tenure at the University of Hawai‘i and SB1394 Relating to the University of Hawai‘i were particularly concerning and were introduced by Senator Donna Mercado Kim.

There is a Legislative Hearing taking place on Tuesday, February 16, 2021 at 3:05 PM in the Senate Higher Education Committee on both of these bills.  UHPA has been engaged in numerous discussions and conversations with Senator Kim and the UH Administration on SB1328 and SB1394.  I am pleased to report that UHPA has confirmed that both bills will be deferred in Committee, preferring the introduction of a Senate Resolution that would seek to address the issues concerning the Legislature.  

UHPAʻs goal all along was to ensure that these bills, as drafted, did not move forward.  The fact that these bills are being deferred is a positive sign and hopefully something that we can build upon moving forward.

Testimony will still be accepted on both bills.  UHPAʻs testimony will focus on the following:


  • Recommend moving to a Senate Resolution to allow the stakeholders to address concerns raised by the Legislature 
  • Tenure (Articles X and XII) is a part of the UHPA-BOR Agreement and have been collectively bargained under Chapter 89, HRS, and is not provided via statutes.
  • Passage of such laws would violate the cornerstone of Hawaii’s collective bargaining law under Chapter 89, HRS
  • Article IV, outlines the the definition of teaching and outlines the responsibilities of faculty members UHPA represents (teaching, research and service)


  • Recommend moving to a Senate Resolution to allow the stakeholders to address concerns raised by the Legislature 
  • The aggregate data indicates that the University of Hawaii is exceeding the 25% outlined in the bill
  • Article III, Letters of Hire which outlines and defines the terms and conditions of employment 

UHPA will continue to keep you informed of important legislative measures that impact the University of Hawaii and the faculty that UHPA represents.  Look to our Monday Report emails for any updates.

Mahalo for your kōkua and all of the work you do!

How We Navigate Our Future at UH

The Power of Collaboration:

The Key to Navigating the University of Hawai‘i’s Future

By Christian Fern, Karla Hayashi and David Duffy

The pandemic, even with all of its devastating effects, has brought out the best in some organizations and its employees.

Pivoting has become the watch word throughout the pandemic. We have seen a number of organizations successfully adapt to new constraints. Organizations that are flexible and innovative have welcomed change instead of wallowing in despair. Many of these entities have rapidly evolved into better, more efficient organizations.

There is another quality inherent in these organizations that is often taken for granted: a commitment to collaboration and joint decision-making. Teamwork and consensus-building, based on a mutual respect of each other’s input are critical to successful change, especially in the face of the pandemic’s challenges.

The University of Hawai‘i is one of those organizations that showed it can evolve through the power of collaboration with faculty who are the best and brightest minds in a wide range of fields. The faculty also have a humility about them because they are committed to being life-long learners. Faculty have an intuitive sense that they don’t have a monopoly on knowledge. It is a gift to be freely shared to improve the quality of life for the community.

These faculty qualities were key to enabling the UH to transition from traditional in-person classroom instruction to an online learning environment in a one-week turnaround. About a dozen faculty partnered with the UH administration to ensure all 10 campuses could continue to carry on its instruction and operations safely and securely without interruption. The results? Students could continue their classes to fulfill graduation requirements. In 2020, a total of nearly 10,850 degrees and certificates were awarded to students from all 10 UH campuses statewide.

This was no small feat. It was an exhilarating experience that has left an indelible impression on the UH faculty. Even in the collective bargaining process for a successor faculty contract, which is now well underway, there has been an unprecedented level of collaboration and congenial discussion. The iterative process to refine and define the non-financial terms and conditions of the contract is rapidly progressing forward — without the usual contentious debate and distrust of each other. Actively listening to the concerns and perspectives of each other has been productive.

The response and results gave all of us at the UH a new vision of possibilities. As the UH figures out the best path forward, collaboration is more crucial than ever, especially since 60% of our funding comes from the state. With Hawaii’s $1.4 billion deficit and an economic recovery that many predict will take at least a few years, we need a meeting of the best minds. With faculty playing a key role in generating significant funding for research and support from tuition revenue, they deserve a seat at the decision-making table to ensure the ongoing success of the UH. 

We must tear down artificial walls and silos and we must create opportunities for both faculty and administration to come together to build a better future for the UH. We owe it to the students, now and those in the future, to ensure the UH can maintain its reputation as one of the top research universities in the nation and a school of choice for Hawai’i’s students.

Change is not what makes people unhappy. Faculty are intensely aware of the current financial realities in which the UH must operate. We know change is necessary. However, as with everyone else, faculty want to have a say in shaping their future. We believe any repositioning and reorganization of the UH approached carefully and collaboratively will yield the best results.

Christian Fern is executive director of the University of Hawai‘i Professional Association; Karla Hayashi is an English professor, University of Hawai‘i-Hilo and chair, UHPA negotiating committee; and David Duffy is a botany professor and graduate professor of zoology, ecology, evolution and conservation biology at University of Hawaiʻi-Mānoa and UHPA negotiating committee member.

It Takes a Village to Provide Academic Excellence In and Outside the Classroom

Creating an environment of academic excellence in which students thrive and flourish, realize their fullest potential, and discover new opportunities for growth does not happen by accident. It takes a village of committed faculty to develop a supportive culture of learning, both in and outside of the classroom.

Yet, we are aware non-instructional faculty are being attacked and may be regarded as administrative, professional and technical staff. This nothing new. We’ve been there before.

That’s why your faculty collective bargaining agreement, negotiated by UHPA’s Negotiating Committee, protects all classifications of faculty: “The performance of teaching duties, research, and service extends beyond classroom responsibilities and other direct student contact duties.”

All faculty members are important and necessary parts of a finely-tuned engine that run the organization. Our membership is composed of instructors, researchers, specialists, librarians, extension agents and lecturers. Collectively, we provide all of the teaching, research, service, and support for the entire 10-campus system and community-based learning centers across the state. Together, we all help support and maintain the University and contribute significantly to UH’s standing as one of the country’s recognized R-1 universities.

Protecting Diverse Classifications of Faculty

Your contract states:

“Instructional activities encompass more than just classroom teaching. Other aspects of instruction include, but are not limited to: academic and thesis advising, supervision of instructional activities such as cooperative work experiences, practica, internships, and practice; instructional management, tutoring; curriculum and course development; and creation of teaching and instructional materials, and supervision of laboratory activities. Also, included in the work associated with instruction are the implementation of instructional systems and strategies, distance learning technologies, and student evaluation and assessment.

Faculty workload is not limited to instruction. It may include disciplinary research, scholarly activities, or creative endeavors; service to the academic community, the government, the private sector, and other public interest groups; outreach programs; student advising and counseling; equipment and facilities development and maintenance; and information systems development and implementation, including professional librarian services, or serving as a program coordinator.”

What Does Your Contract Mean?

The definition of “instructional activity” in your contract translates into a positive, comprehensive educational experience for students. Imagine what it would be like if students did not have the expert support from our librarians to access and evaluate appropriate resources for research. Imagine if a student did not have the proper guidance from advisors to determine how to successfully plot their careers. And where would students be without the encouragement and support from counselors to persevere and graduate?

A Proven Barrier of Protection

It is no secret or surprise that not everyone fully appreciates the diversity of faculty roles and responsibilities to effectively function as a whole. This is why UHPA and all faculty must continue to band together to advocate for all of our members in all classifications.

Standing together with other faculty under UHPA’s banner has proven to be the best strategy to protect our members, so that we can, in turn, support our students and the communities in which we operate. As the exclusive bargaining representative for Unit 7 faculty over the past 47 years, UHPA has always been there to look after the best interests of all faculty, and is committed to continuing to be there for the entire village of faculty members.

Attacking Tenure Threatens Democracy

Beware! A Threat to Tenure is a Threat to Democracy

At a time when our nation is still reeling from witnessing brazen acts of insurgency, we must remain vigilant to any potential threats to our democracy, even in respected institutions of higher learning.

Universities across our nation have always been beacons of democracy. Intellectual freedom has always been at the core of our nation’s higher education system. Free thought and free speech without reprisal are the norm and are the very qualities that make universities great, whether in research, in teaching or expressing informed opinions about university and public matters.

Academic Freedom Must Prevail

The rights of faculty to teach, or to speak about or publish their research findings need no justification. Free expression and open, vocal dissent and debate are a critical part of the learning process. Faculty take on the responsibility to advance and transfer their knowledge and expertise. Any threat to freely explore and share their expertise would be unthinkable.

That is why tenure is so critical to proper functioning of a university. Tenure safeguards academic freedom. No special interest group, business interest, or government agency should influence which faculty should or should not be tenured. Any attempt to eliminate tenure or tamper with the tenure process should be regarded as a threat to academic freedom.

The Rigorous Tenure Process

Tenure should not be treated lightly. It is not given out freely like service awards for years of dedicated service. It is a long arduous process that can take up to seven years, akin to being on an extended probation. By contrast, the length of a standard probation for newly hired government civil service employees is six months. The tenure process is also extremely rigorous: it involves extensive peer reviews, and audits of research and publications. Faculty work hard to attain tenure, and rightfully deserve the professional respect tenure affords.

The Connection to Academic Excellence

Tenure is also intricately linked to academic excellence and the reputation of a university. This is especially important for the University of Hawai‘i. The ability to attract and retain high-quality faculty members is largely dependent upon offering tenure as we compete with the rest of the country and world for such faculty.

Faculty involved with great research projects can easily be lured away by other universities, if there is no offering of tenure. This means their extramural funding and accompanying job creation opportunities from research projects would be taken away by faculty recruited by other competing universities out of state, putting the University of Hawai‘i at a disadvantage.

Eventually, our status as one of the 131 R1 universities in the country, defined as those with very high research activity, would also be negatively impacted. We continue to strive to become a top-tier university, and must continue to aspire and maintain the standing and respect we have all earned.  

Exacerbating Hawai‘i’s Brain Drain

It’s easy to see from this scenario that a tenure-less university would further exacerbate Hawai‘i’s brain drain, as students who would prefer to remain in Hawai‘i for school and subsequent work will have second thoughts about making the University of Hawai‘i their school of choice.

A Poignant Example

History has shown the value of tenure. In 2015, Marc Edwards, a professor of civil engineering at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, found high levels of lead in the water in Flint, Michigan. He shared his findings with the public. His tenure status protected him from being disciplined or dismissed. He refused to be silenced at risk of offending powerful business or government interests. Edwards’ commitment to transparency paid off six year later: just two weeks ago former Michigan Governor Rick Snyder and eight other officials were indicted on criminal charges related to their handling of the Flint water crisis, and rightfully charged with willful neglect of duties.

Faculty Must Remain Vigilant

Threats to democracy come in many forms. It may not be a mob attempting to disrupt democratic processes, but may be more subtle bureaucratic forces. A threat to tenure could be cleverly disguised as a way to address the state’s budget deficit without harm or to “right size” the university. Faculty must remain vigilant to threats of democracy occurring in their own backyard.