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.

Governor confirms furloughs on hold

On Friday Jan 15, 2021, UHPA received the attached PDF and we’ve excerpted the key message from the State’s Chief Negotiator Ryker Wada:

On December 29, 2020, Governor Ige sent a message to the entire Executive Branch notifying employees that due to the $900 Billion federal COVID-19 relief bill, there was enough direct support to programs in the State of Hawaii so that furloughs would be
delayed for Executive Branch employees until at least July 1, 2021.

I understand that President Lassner sent a similar message to the University employees on the same day.

This message confirms that Governor Ige intends to delay furloughs until at least July 1, 2021.


When will UH Faculty receive COVID-19 vaccinations?

UHPA has received a number of inquiries from Unit 7 Faculty Members about the State of Hawaii’s plans on the COVID-19 vaccination roll out and when Unit 7 Faculty Members can expect to be able to register and obtain a vaccination if they choose.

Vaccine distribution is outside of our legal authority

The State of Hawaii, Department of Health, has been put in charge of the Statewide effort and is the sole authority in making decisions on priority and vaccine distribution.  Unfortunately, UHPA does not have any legal right to assert a role or authority on these matters since it is outside the realm of collective bargaining.

But we’re working on a plan with President Lassner

Nevertheless, UHPA has been in communications with UH President David Lassner and other UH Administrators in trying to obtain information on the Stateʻs plans for the deployment of COVID-19 vaccinations as it applies to University of Hawaii employees, including Faculty.  The response UHPA has received was that the UH Administration is currently working on a plan.  On Thursday Jan 14, President Lassner sent this email regarding their plans

Faculty might be considered “Frontline”

The presentation by the Department of Health (January 5, 2021) states that the State is in Phase 1b: Frontline Essential Workers includes “Teachers and childcare and educational support staff (childcare, preschool, early education, K-12, post-secondary).”  The presentation can be found in this recent Civil Beat Article.  

Oahu not clear on what deployment phase we are in

In a recent Hawaii News Now report dated January 12, 2021, the Department of Health (DOH) is now stating that the priority groups could now depend on where you live.  DOH is stating that the priority groups and pace of the vaccination effort will not be consistent across the State.  As an example, on the island of Kauai nearly 500 educators received a vaccination this past Monday.  However, on Oahu they are still working on vaccinating frontline caregivers and first responders.  On the Windward side of Oahu, Castle Adventist Health has now started Phase 1b and has been offering vaccination to residents age 75 and older and educators who live in areas with Windward Oahu zip codes.  The DOH further stated that “Movement through various phases of the vaccination plan will vary from island to island due to population differences, operational considerations and available resources.”  

We will keep you posted when new information comes in

There are other resources and information that is available to the general public that UHPA has been monitoring.  The DOH has a dedicated website on the COVID-19 vaccination plans and provides updated vaccine information.  As more information becomes available to UHPA that pertains specifically to vaccination of Unit 7 Faculty Members, we will be sure to share such information promptly.

Join a live conversation on UH’s coronavirus vaccination effort

On Friday 1/15, UH supplied the below information to UHPA and we are redistributing to assist participation efforts:

Vax Facts UH

Science, Safety & Society

Wednesday, January 20, 2021, 3:00 pm Hawai‘i Time

Please register and submit questions or comments HERE

During this special UH forum, state officials and specialists from JABSOM in vaccine development, clinical trials, and public health will provide up-to-date information on vaccine prioritization, logistics, efficacy, and safety. Find out how and when to get vaccinated, how to communicate accurate information to your students, and get answers to any other questions you might have. 

Our physician panelists include Lee Buenconsejo-Lum, JABSOM Associate Dean; Sandra Chang, JABSOM faculty and expert in vaccine development, and Lieutenant Governor Josh Green. 

Sponsors of this conversation include: Better Tomorrow Speaker Series, College of Social Sciences, UH Mānoa Faculty Senate Executive Committee, Hawai‘i Community Foundation, John A. Burns School of Medicine, Kamehameha Schools, Office of the Provost, Office of Public Health Studies, William S. Richardson School of Law.

For more information, contact

New Legislative Protocols

The State Legislature has instituted new protocols for the 2021 Legislative Session.  Starting with their offices are officially closed to the public.  All meetings, hearings, floor sessions will be conducted virtually.

All House and Senate Hearings can be easily located on our webpage, UHPA At The Legislature,  Hearings on Demand.  These hearings are broadcast via YouTube and show previously held hearings.

The Legislative calendar has been modified by one week, reducing recess days from thirteen to nine.

For full details of new protocols click on the link above.

Regent Jan Sullivan Attacks Academic Freedom

Academic Tenure is Essential to Preserving Academic Freedom

Freezing Tenure? Faculty Must Keep Their Guard Up in Contract Negotiations

With the current contract between the University of Hawai‘i and the UHPA Faculty coming to a close at the end of June 2021, negotiations for a successor agreement are continuing. During this economically challenging time, we should brace ourselves for difficult negotiations, with Employer proposals that seek to threaten the very core of academic life.

The UH Board of Regents meeting held on Thursday, Jan. 7, may be an indication of what’s in store for the future — unless UHPA Faculty members remain vigilant and take proactive measures to intervene.

In a discussion of the actions UH has undertaken to address the state’s budget deficit, University of Hawai‘i Regent Jan Naoe Sullivan said “freezing tenure” should be considered. She told UH President David Lassner that she believes the collective bargaining agreement has been a hindrance in the past and that the current economic climate presented an opportunity to introduce the concept of suspension of tenure that she proclaimed other universities have followed. (Sullivan has brought up similar challenges to the concept of tenure several years back, but that proposal was justifiably shot down.)

A Brazen Attack – Biting The Hand That Powers Your Company

This ongoing, brazen attack on the fundamental principle of academic life was being live streamed statewide and immediately set off a flurry of text and email messages among UH Faculty. Some Faculty were aghast that Sullivan, chief operating officer of Oceanit — which relies heavily on the UH for research to further her company’s business interests — apparently does not understand, recognize nor appreciate the value of a university system. We can only speculate why Sullivan seems hell-bent on insisting tenure be frozen before her term as a Regent ends this year and Gov. David Ige appoints a successor to her seat.

A Lone Voice

Fortunately, there were strong indications Sullivan was once again a lone voice, an outlier among the Board of Regents on this issue. UH BOR Chair Ben Kudo, attempting to appeal to her legal mind, delicately reasoned with her that tenure can only be questioned if a faculty member commits acts that violate the law or contract. Lassner suavely appeared to acquiesce, pointing out tenure suspensions have only been applied at small, private colleges, but also disturbingly suggested perhaps a “targeted” approach to tenure suspensions at the UH. The other Regents remained noticeably silent, perhaps because they understand, recognize, and appreciate the value of tenure and did not wish to embarrass her or themselves.

Let’s work with, not against each other

We hope these kinds of theatrics in the public eye do not represent the sentiment of the entire Board of Regents. Drama like this has no place in negotiations at a time when the state’s dire situation requires all us to work together — rather than against each other. These ill-conceived notions breed distrust and suspicion. They become distractions to moving us forward to meaningful and respectful discussions. We can and must do better when each of us at the table shares the same goals and aspirations for the University of Hawai‘i and appreciates how much higher education and research contribute to our community and our State.



Image credit:

DRAWING OF PEOPLE WHO CUT DOWN THE BRANCH ON WHICH THEY SIT is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. Image has been resized or cropped from original along with minor text changes.

State of Hawaii launches “AlohaSafe” COVID exposure notification app

From their website:

AlohaSafe Alert is a free, voluntary new service that helps slow the spread of COVID-19. It is the State of Hawaii’s official exposure notification app and has been developed in partnership with the Hawaii State Department of Health.


You control whether or not you receive notifications (you can opt-in/opt-out anytime). Notifications are only triggered if minimum thresholds of exposure are met.


The app does not track your location. It anonymously keeps track of devices you’ve been in close contact with for the past 14 days. Google and Apple cannot see your identity, nor can anyone who receives an exposure alert should you test positive for COVID-19.

Free & Simple

Anyone can download the app to their smartphone at no charge.
The app is a safe way to alert you to potential exposure to COVID-19 and help stop the spread of the virus.



Collective Bargaining Standing Report going forward

This will be the default collective bargaining and retirement incentive plan update unless otherwise published

To reduce unnecessary traffic and redundancy of information from UHPA, you can assume that this report will be the same every week and therefore UHPA will only be publishing news and updates that are substantively different from the following weekly status items: 

  • Mid-term bargaining is on hold until further notice.
  • Governor Ige intends to delay furloughs until at least July 1, 2021.
  • Negotiations over a successor UHPA/BOR Unit 7 Agreement will continue until January 31, 2021 before the statutory impasse date of February 1, 2021.  
  • The UHPA Negotiations Committee and the Employer continues to meet every Monday.
    • We cannot share details about any negotiation specifics.
  • Retirement incentives:  UHPA has not received a formal response from the State’s Chief Negotiator Ryker Wada, Governor David Ige, and the State’s Attorney General over the draft MOU.  
    • We continue to remain hopeful that the Employer revisits this matter for further review and consideration.  

If there are any changes to the above or other items of interest, they will be published and sent out on the Monday report email newsletter.