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Retired Hilo Faculty Member Speaks Out on Hurting Students and Faculty!

Dear Editor,

Too many folks can’t see the forest for the trees in the mess between public sector unions and the State of Hawai`i. Here is my perspective as a retired history teacher and lifetime member of the University of Hawai`i Professional Assembly:

Governor Lingle and legislators claim they value education, but they are hurting students, faculty and staff by trying to reduce education salaries at all levels.  Many other solutions are available before these cuts should be implemented. 

Before the Legislature convened, the Governor said all options were on the table, but by February she said no revenue increases would be considered.  Legislators immediately caved; maybe they were only too happy to blame her for having less money.  As the year wore on and things got worse, legislative leaders and the governor refused to call a special legislative session to deal with the new reality.  The decision had been made to bleed public workers and so they stayed the course no matter what.  Instead of searching honestly for alternatives, they trotted out the phrase “shared sacrifice” to deflect responsibility from their own narrow shoulders.

Unions pleaded with state government to augment revenues.  Our excise tax is one of the lowest in the country and has been for 40 years.  A two-cent-on-the-dollar increase would solve the current crisis.  Increasing taxes on visitors and “sin” items also would have been better than squeezing education.

Unions also pointed to other ways to save money, such as cutting administrative costs, providing early retirement incentives for workers, reduction of services, retrenchment of UH programs, and so on.  These proposals were rejected by state “leaders” and administrators who do not have the courage to either raise revenues or choose which services to cut.  They want it all, on the backs of workers.

UHPA, for example, points out that UH administrative costs are about the same as other state systems with nine times the number of students.  Duplication and other inefficiencies are everywhere you look, and we have pleaded for years for the administration to get its house in order. UH administration continues to propose adding more administrative positions paying a minimum of $100,00 on various campuses while at the same time telling faculty they need to cut their salaries to make up for the governor’s budget restrictions. They must either fail to care or fail to understand the impact this has in classrooms as resources that could directly assist students are siphoned off.

In Hilo last night, new UH President Greenwood gloated that she’s asking for $29 million dollars for a new College of Hawaiian Language building for UHH (front page of the Friday, 10/2 Hawaii Tribune-Herald).  What a wonderful surprise she thinks it is, and according to the reporter the announcement met with “warm applause.”  This is the same leader who says she has no money and so all her workers must accept lower pay.  She even told faculty the other day that she wants to have a pleasant conversation with them–about the bleeding process! Talk about missing the forest for the trees!  (What were folks thinking when they applauded?)

Some folks blame DOE teachers for not teaching on forced days off without pay.  Excuse me?  No one can really expect to spend millions and millions fewer dollars and get the same value as before. To paraphrase a colleague, the state government would treat educators the way coal companies used to treat miners. 

Lastly, no one on either side thinks the government’s proposals will do any long-term good.  Governor Lingle admitted early in the process that she’s only trying to get through this recession and she has no plan for the future.  UHPA and other unions are trying to hold on to the progress the University and the union made since 2000, and to keep our goals alive. We want to build for the future.  The bad news is, to succeed; we need partners who can see the forest.

John Cole
Mountain View, BI