Thankful for the Value of Unions

Aloha UHPA Members:

Hawaii’s high cost of living can make living in paradise a living hell and a financial struggle for many in Hawaii. It’s not easy to make ends meet when wages are not commensurate with the high costs for housing, food, fuel, and other essentials.

But it’s fair to say that without unions and its engaged members, wages would be even lower, leading to the unfortunate reality of seeing more residents leaving our state in search of greener, less costly pastures. We can all be thankful for the positive presence of all labor unions here in Hawaii. 

Hawaii’s High Union Ranking

According to data compiled from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and by SmartAsset, Hawaii is ranked as one of the top 10 states with the strongest unions in 2022. This was based on total union membership percentage by state and the change in membership over the last four years. There was an important correlation to wages: those states with a higher number of union jobs in comparison to the total workforce also enjoyed higher wages.

Here are two key findings from the data:

  • States with higher union membership rates have higher wages. Six of the top 10 states have average worker wages that rank in the top fifth of states.
  • Although union members make up only about 10% of the nation’s workforce, it exceeds 20% in two states. In Hawaii, total union members in 2022 22.36% of the total workforce, and in New York, union membership was 22.24%.

Mahalo to all of our UHPA members for contributing to a better quality of life for all in our islands. 

And if you’re a faculty member who has enjoyed the salary increases and benefits of faculty members who are shouldering the responsibility of investing their own personal time in being active and involved in union activities, including contract negotiations through their membership in UHPA, please consider sharing the responsibility and becoming a UHPA member if you haven’t already done so. Our strength lies in the solidarity and unity of our membership and the purpose of pursuing a cause greater than themselves by serving for the benefit of all. 

Thankful to all of you in our UHPA ‘ohana,

Christian Fern
Executive Director

Aloha Kekahi I Kekahi

There are no words that can describe the devastation, loss, and tragedy that occurred in Lahaina, Maui.  The incident has impacted so many families who have lost so much, not to mention the loss of life. As an island state, we are all connected and feel the loss either personally or emotionally.


UHPA was informed that three of its Lahaina members have been significantly impacted by the incident and unfortunately lost their homes or were displaced.  As we pray for those we lost and for the victims of this unfortunate tragedy, the UHPA Executive Committee authorized UHPA Executive Director Christian Fern to withdraw funds from the UHPA Emergency Relief Fund to help these three members. UHPA established this emergency fund after Hurricane Iwa hit the islands to help faculty members impacted by disasters.  In addition, the American Federation of Teachers, the second largest teacher’s labor organization in America, through its President Randi Weingarten, generously donated $10,000 to help UHPA members who were adversely impacted by the incident.  

With the combined resources of the UHPA Emergency Relief Fund, the AFT donation, and the UH Foundation, $10,000 checks were distributed to each of the three UHPA faculty members on August 23, 2023 at UH Maui College to help kick-start their recovery efforts.

From left to right: UHMC Chancellor Lui Hokoana, UHPA Executive Director Christian Fern, UHMC Staff Member Mike Asami, UHMC Staff Member Dwight Kalua , UHPA Faculty Member Michael Young, UHPA Faculty Member Velma Panlasigui, UH Foundation Associate Vice President Karla Zarate-Ramirez. Missing: UHPA Faculty Member Laureen Kodani.

It’s Only A Start

While the $10,000 donation is miniscule to the financial challenges ahead for these three UHPA Faculty Members, any amount of support and donations are going to help ease the burden and stress these members are going to face in the long road of recovery.

Organizations You Can Support

If you are interested in making a donation to help support those impacted, UHPA recommends the following vetted nonprofit organizations:

UH Foundation’s Help Maui

The University of Hawaiʻi is uniquely positioned to respond quickly in emergencies affecting our students, faculty, and staff.  Visit here to make a donation to directly support impacted faculty and staff.  

Hawaii Community Foundation Maui Strong Fund

HCF is collaborating with state and county leaders, nonprofit organizations, businesses, and philanthropists to identify evolving priorities for Maui communities impacted by the fire. Visit Maui Strong’s website to make a donation. 

Maui United Way

Maui United Way provides direct relief to families and nonprofit organizations. Visit the Maui United Way website.

The Salvation Army

As the fires continue to upend lives on Maui, the Salvation Army Hawaiian and Pacific Islands Division is quickly responding with food, shelter, emotional and spiritual care, and other critical services. Visit the Salvation Army website.

In Solidarity We Stand.

Here We Go Again On Tenure Battles

“Those that fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”
— Winston Churchill

Permitted Interaction Group (PIG) or Wild Pig

On Friday, September 10, 2021, the University of Hawai‘i Board of Regents posted their agenda and meeting materials for the September 16, 2021 meeting.  Included on the agenda was the report of the Tenure PIG.  Based on the February 18, 2021 BOR meeting, the Tenure PIGʻs purpose and scope was to review and investigate the issue of tenure in areas including the history and purpose of tenure at IHEs, particularly regarding the University of Hawai‘i (UH); the evolution of, and current views and developments on, tenure at institutions outside of UH; and the current process, criteria, and decision making on tenure at UH.  We question Tenure PIG Chair Ben Kudo whether the report submitted by the Tenure PIG meets the purpose and scope of its original intention.  Nevertheless, the following is UHPAʻs critique of the proposed changes to UH Regents Policy RP 9.213.

Destroying the basic tenets of tenure and academic freedom

On October 16, 1981, almost 40 years ago, the University of Hawai‘i Board of Regents unilaterally adopted a policy entitled, Evaluation of Board of Regents Appointees, otherwise known today as RP 9.213, Evaluation of Board or Regents Appointees. This caused the UHPA to file a prohibited practice complaint (PPC) with Hawaii Labor Relations Board (HLRB) alleging violation of Chapter 89, HRS, more specifically subsections §89-13 (a)(1), (2), (3), (5), and (8).  UHPA challenged the policy on the basis that it implemented a post-tenure review system, which, in effect, modified or eliminated the tenure rights of faculty members as set forth in the Unit 7 agreement that former UHPA Executive Director JN Musto proclaimed as “…aimed at destroying the basic tenets of tenure and academic freedom.”

Disguised as an assessment tool and not a rating instrument

The UH President at that time, Dr. Fujio Matsuda, stated that the policy would allow the administration to:

  1. Provide assurances to the University and its constituents that professional staff resources and particular areas of expertise are being used to the best advantage;
  2. Provide for the systematic recognition of excellence and develop incentives for superior performance, and
  3. Provide means for the improvement of performance in furtherance of the Universityʻs mission.

Dr. Matsuda also proclaimed that the proposed policy would not be a rating instrument per se, but an assessment tool to indicate strengths and weaknesses in an employeeʻs work. However, HLRB did not buy this argument. 

HLRB rules faculty evaluations are negotiable

HLRB Decision 199 specifically noted that “While we agree with the BOR that it may implement its evaluation procedures, we are not convinced that the impact of an “unsatisfactory” rating in and of itself would not affect working conditions to a degree so as to constitute a negotiable matter.” 

UH was required to negotiate with UHPA over the implementation of its desired five-year evaluation policy.  During the negotiations process, UHPA maintained its original position that while it did not disagree with the administration’s right to discipline tenured faculty members or to remove faculty members if they fail to perform their duties, the burden to show such failure solely rests with the administration and that other faculty peers should not be involved in the review process.  Furthermore, that it should not be considered a tenure review process or a reapplication of tenure since there should be an automatic presumption that a faculty member has met all the duties, responsibilities, requirements, and performance of a tenured faculty.

The UH administration and the UHPA essentially agreed a tenured faculty memberʻs five-year review will be an evaluation between the tenured faculty member and the respective Department Chair.  If itʻs deemed “satisfactory” by the Department Chair, a memo is sent to the Dean/Director for filing.  If itʻs deemed “unsatisfactory” by the Department Chair, the Department Chair and the tenured faculty member would develop a Performance Development Plan (PDP) that is then given to the Dean/Director.  In most situations, the PDP satisfactorily resolves the Department Chairs concerns and thereafter a memo is sent to the Dean/Director for filing.  In those unusual situations in which the PDP is unsuccessful, a memo is sent to the Dean/Director by the Chair depicting that the PDP hasnʻt met its desired outcome in addressing the tenured Faculty memberʻs performance concerns.  Thereafter, the five-year review process is closed and management can begin the process under the Unit 7 Agreement to begin taking appropriate administrative actions, including termination of a tenured faculty memberʻs appointment, for failure to meet the performance requirements of the position.

The five-year review has worked just fine

For the past 40 years, the five-year review under RP 9.213, Evaluation of Board or Regents Appointees has met its desired purpose and intent.  It provided the avenue that Dr. Matsuda was seeking through the negotiated process between the UH administration and UHPA.  

History will attempt to repeat itself

While every single historical moment is distinctly different from the past, if we do not learn from our mistakes, we risk the chances of repeating it.  Four decades later, we have a different political, social, and leadership climate.  Unfortunately, there are a few individuals interested in revisiting RP 9.213, Evaluation of Board or Regents Appointees to again bring into the conversation the ability for management to use it as a rating tool and to take disciplinary action against those tenured faculty members who they believe are not meeting the performance requirements of the position.  UHPA believes that this is an unnecessary and ill-advised tactic since we have already gone down this road and have already developed a pathway forward for the UH administration to follow.  Whether this is being driven by undue political interference, lack of knowledge or understanding, or just pure hubris, it is definitely a path that will only lead to confusion and uncertainty.  There is already a system in place that was developed through negotiations between the UH administration and UHPA that has worked for over four decades.  Is all this necessary?

Lessons from Hawaii’s history of organized labor

Don’t Let History Repeat Itself

The struggle for justice in the workplace has been a consistent theme in our islands since the sugar plantation era began in the 1800s. Hawai‘i’s sugar plantation workers toiled for little pay and zero benefits. Sugar plantation owners used manipulative techniques to create a servile workforce, but their tactics eventually turned against them as workers ultimately overcame adversity by organizing together as a union.

Although Hawai‘i today may no longer have a plantation economy and employers may not be as blatantly exploitive, we are constantly faced with threats and attempts to chip away at the core rights of employees in subtle, almost imperceptible, ways. History holds valuable lessons to address today’s workplace challenges and constant changes.

While some may have nostalgic, romanticized notions of the sugar plantation era, the reality was different. Many immigrants surprisingly found themselves in unfavorable working conditions – enslaved in the fields or in the mills, enduring constant pain and suffering – clinging to the hope that they would be able improve the quality of life for their families, all the while enriching their employers.

Lesson #1: Hold true to your values. Don’t let others define the “good life” for you.

The first commercially viable sugar cane plantation began in 1835 by Ladd and Company in Koloa, Kaua‘i. That’s also where the earliest recorded labor strike occurred just six years later.

Employers felt they were giving their workers a “good life” by providing paying jobs. However, when workers requested a reasonable pay increase to 25 cents a day, the plantation owners refused to honor their fair request. Native Hawaiian laborers walked off the job in unity to show that they would not put up with intolerable and inhumane work conditions. Working for the plantation owners for scrips didn’t make sense to Hawaiians. They preferred to work for themselves and take care of their families by fishing and farming. The eight-day strike served as a foretaste of what was to come and displayed the possibilities of organizing for common goals and objectives.

Lesson #2: Standing together in solidarity with aloha leads to triumph.

Importing Laborers for the Plantations

Sugar was becoming a big business in Hawai‘i, with increasingly favorable world market conditions. Yet, with the native Hawaiian population declining because of diseases brought by foreigners, sugar plantation owners needed to import people from other countries to work on their plantations. Immigrants in search of a better life and a way to support their families back home were willing to make the arduous journey to Hawai‘i and make significant sacrifices to improve the quality of life for their families.

The immigrants, however, did not expect the tedious, back-breaking work of cutting and carrying sugar cane 10 hours a day, six days a week. Some accounts indicate those who worked in the mills had to face 12-hour workdays. Women had it worse. They were responsible for weeding the sugar cane fields, stripping off the dry leaves — for roughly only two-thirds compensation of what men were paid.

Diversity with Bad Intentions

The first wave of immigrants were from China in 1850. The plantation owners relished the idea of cheap labor and intended to keep it that way. The first group of Chinese workers reportedly had five-year contracts for a mere $3.00 a month, plus travel, food, clothing and housing.

The Japanese, Koreans and Filipinos came after the Chinese. Diversity was important to the sugar plantation owners, but not for the same reasons we value diversity in the workplace today. For the owners, diversity had a self-serving, utilitarian purpose: increased productivity and profitability. Some owners paid the ethnic groups different wages to sow discord and distrust. Pitting the ethnic groups against each other prevented the workforce from banding together to gain power and possibly start a revolt.

The owners divided the ethnic groups into different camps. Yet, the islands’ natural Spirit of Aloha through collaboration and mutual trust and respect eventually prevailed in the plantations. The different groups shared their culture and traditions, and developed their own common hybrid language — Hawaiian pidgin — a combination of Hawaiian, English, Japanese, Chinese, and Portuguese. It was a reverse Tower of Babel experience. The owners brought in workers from other countries to further diversify the workforce. Their strategy was to flood the marketplace with immigrant laborers, thereby enabling the owners to lower wages, knowing workers had no other option but to accept the wages or be jobless and possibly disgrace their families.

Lesson #3: Be bold. Knowing your rights is liberating.

Imagine being constantly whipped by your boss for not following company rules. This was commonplace on the plantations. Luna, the foreman or supervisors of the plantations, did not hesitate to wield their power with whips to discipline plantation workers for getting out of line. The workers were even subject to rules and conduct codes during non-working hours. They were forbidden to leave the plantations in the evening and had to be in bed by 8:30 p.m.

Workers were also subjected to a law called the Master and Servants Act of 1850.   Because of the need for cheap labor, the Kingdom of Hawaii adopted the Master and Servants Act of 1850 which essentially was just human slavery under a different name.  The law provided the legal framework for “indentured servants” or laborers in bondage to a plantation enforced by cruel and unusual punishment from the Kingdom – the shared economic goal of slave-law to harness labor. 

For example, under the law,  absenteeism or refusal to work allowed the contract laborer to be apprehended by legal authorities (police officers or agents of the Kingdom) and subsequently sentenced to work for the employer an extra amount of time over and above the absence. In addition, if the contract laborer tried to run away, the law permitted their employers to use “coercive force” such as “bounty hunters” to apprehend them as if they were runaway slaves.  These conditions made it impossible for these contract workers to escape from a life of eternal servitude.

However, things changed on June 14, 1900 when Hawai‘i was formally recognized as a U.S. territory. It abruptly shifted the power dynamics on the plantations. The existing labor contracts with the sugar plantation workers were deemed illegal because they violated the U.S. Constitution, which prohibits slavery and involuntary servitude.

Finding new found freedom, thousands of plantation workers walked off their jobs. Many who left the plantations never looked back. They left with their families to other states or returned to their home countries. Although there were no formal organized unions, that year 25 strikes were documented. The cumulative effect of all of those strikers was positive: within a year, wages increased by 10 cents a day to 70 cents a day. This left the owners no other choice, but to look for additional sources of immigrant labor, luring more Japanese, Puerto Ricans, Koreans, Spanish, Filipinos and other groups or nationalities.

Lesson #4: Harness the collective power of unions

By 1946, the sugar industry had grown into a major economic engine in Hawai‘i. More than 100,000 people lived and worked on the plantations — equivalent to 20 percent of Hawai‘i’s total population.

The International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) was able to successfully unite and organize the different ethnic groups from every camp on every plantation. As a result, they were able to launch a strike in 1946 that lasted 79 days. Unlike other attempts to create disruption, this was the first time a strike shut down the sugar industry. All but one of the 34 largest plantations were impacted.

A Solid Foundation

This was a pivotal event in Hawai‘i’s labor history which eventually became a part of the fabric of our society today.  It was from these events that the unions were recognized as a formidable force in leveling the playing field and as a means to address social, political and economic injustice. Community organizing became a way of life for workers and their families. The Aloha Spirit eventually transformed and empowered the plantation workers and strengthened their support for each other. Today, the Aloha Spirit continues to prosper and guide our people and embodied as a State law under HRS, §5-7.5

Those early plantation experiences set the stage for ongoing change and advancements in the labor movement that eventually led to the public’s support for oppressed public employees, who at the time were the lowest paid in the nation and had the least favorable job security and benefits. Their work lives were subject to the vagaries of political machinations. For years, the public-sector unions sought to enact collective bargaining rights for its members. It wasn’t until the 1968 Constitutional Convention that convention delegates made a strong statement and pushed for public employees to have a right to engage in collective bargaining.  

During the general election of November 5, 1968, the people of Hawai’i voted to amend the State’s Constitution to grant public employees the right to engage in collective bargaining under Article XIII, Section 2.  Two years later, the Legislature passed Act 171, the Hawaii Collective Bargaining Law for Public Employees, in 1970. This law provided public employees the right to elect an exclusive bargaining agent for representation and to negotiate an employment contract with the executive branch of government. At last, public-sector employees could enjoy the same rights and benefits as those employed in the private sector.

The decades of struggle have proven to be fruitful. Due to the collaborative work of the unions, in combination with other civil rights actions, today all ethnicities can enjoy middle-class mobility and reach for the American dream.  Today, all Hawai‘i residents can enjoy rights and freedoms with access and availability to not only public primary education but also higher education through the University of Hawai‘i system. Individuals can strive and realize their dreams of becoming professors, legislators, physicians, attorneys, and other highly sought after professions as a result of the tremendous sacrifices, pain, suffering, and perseverance of past generations who fought to provide all of us with the better life we have today.

Shaping the Destiny of Hawai‘i

We must each, in our way, confront the deeper questions: What can we do to ensure that the hard-won freedoms that we have been entrusted with are not stripped away from the bloody hands who fought for them?  How do we ensure that these hard-earned gains will be handed down to not only our children but also our grandchildren, and great-grandchildren? 

We must not simply enjoy the benefits gained from those who worked so hard in the past without consideration for the future.  We cannot achieve improved working conditions and standards of living just by ourselves. We must work collectively together and utilize our legal and constitutional rights to engage in collective bargaining to ensure our continued academic freedom, tenure, equity, democracy, and all our other hard earned rights. 

During these unprecedented times we must work collectively together and utilize our legal and constitutional rights to engage in collective bargaining to ensure our continued academic freedom, tenure, equity, and democracy.  We must protect these and all other hard-earned and hard-fought for rights.

Tenure: A Key to Creating a Virtuous Cycle

Editor’s note: In previous articles about tenure (Historical Roots of Tenure, How Tenure Benefits Us All) , we emphasized the importance of tenure to protect academic freedom and to maintain high standards of quality for instruction and research at the University of Hawai‘i. In this third, in a series of articles, we take a look at the value of tenure for universities, students and the broader community.


Today, we recognize this as the formula that helped change the world, an expression of Albert Einstein’s groundbreaking scientific work on the theory of relativity. The formula, based on his exploration of the mathematics of relativity, serves as the basis of modern physics and has shaped our understanding of mass and energy.

In 1905, these were revolutionary concepts that the public had a hard time grasping and accepting. Fortunately, the German physicist was welcomed into the circle of Europe’s most eminent physicists and given professorships in Zurich, Prague and Berlin. In those positive academic environments, Einstein flourished even more, conducting further research and teaching, which led to more discoveries, including the existence of black holes.

But what if Einstein was unable to find universities that were committed to intellectual exploration and embraced academic freedom? Where would the world be today without his theories if he were not given the freedom and ability to explore?

The Virtuous Cycle

On the other side of the world, in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, two years later, the University of Hawaiʻi was founded in 1907 under the Morrill Act as a land-grant college of agriculture and mechanic arts near Thomas Square park. It was a bold, strong statement that Hawai‘i was prepared to make its mark in the world.

The University of Hawai‘i must drive innovation, uncover new knowledge, and share their findings with students, and the local and global communities.  This is the mission of the University of Hawai‘i and other distinguished R-1 universities. It is also the core, underlying rationale for providing faculty tenure at these universities. More than a mere pat on the back for good work, tenure demonstrates a university’s commitment and recognition to be a part of a cycle and process that propels humankind forward.

Tenure has a positive, distinctive, multiplier effect in the community. When a university grants faculty members tenure, it shows the university is committed to being a high quality institution by giving faculty the license and freedom to expand and explore their chosen disciplines. This results in quality teaching and outstanding students, who in turn can go on to pursue further research to make a positive contribution for our society and tomorrow’s world.

The Tenure Process

The tenure process is a quality control mechanism. When a new employee joins an organization, it’s customary to have a probation period that could last as long as six months. This period allows the organization that hired the employee to assess the new employee’s skills and aptitude for the job.

In a higher education system, newly-hired faculty members who have not earned tenure from another comparable university, are also subject to a probationary period. The probation period allows time to assess eligible, full-time faculty members before they are awarded tenure at a UH campus.

In the current faculty contract negotiated by UHPA with the UH administration and the UH Board of Regents, UH faculty members who hold positions in teaching and/or research and/or extension and/or specialized work are all eligible for tenure at one of the 10 UH system campuses, recognizing that all faculty contribute to a well-rounded learning experience for students. (The contract devotes an entire section to tenure and promotions. You can read it by clicking here.) 

Ensuring Quality Right from the Start

Tenure conditions and length are established when a letter of hire (or offer) is extended to the individual faculty to join the UH. This letter clearly states the terms and conditions of employment between the employer and faculty member. These letters of hire are subject to review by UHPA since these letters contain details concerning obtaining tenure and other impact on working conditions.

After nearly a year and a half of discussions, UHPA and UH administration signed a memorandum of understanding regarding letters of hire in January 2017. They mutually agreed that all Unit 7 members must receive a written offer or letter of hire that specifically detailed all the terms and conditions offered, and thereafter, accepted as an enforceable letter of hire through the collective bargaining process. This was a major step toward providing greater clarity, transparency, and consistency for faculty as well as the UH.

A Long Probation Period

Unlike professionals in other settings, a university’s probationary period far exceeds the typical six months.  At UH, the probationary period is a minimum of five years not to exceed seven years. The current contract does provide, when appropriate, a probationary period which can be shortened, lengthened, or eliminated. For specific probation periods, click on the University of Hawaii’s chart.

As a result of the extraordinary adjustments that UH faculty had to rapidly implement at the start of the pandemic last year, the UH administration and UHPA signed a memorandum of understanding in July of 2020 that allows existing probation periods to further extend for an additional year as long as the overall period does not exceed beyond eight years.

Ongoing Quality Control

Earning tenure is a rigorous process. Faculty members must demonstrate a high degree of professional competence and expertise in their respective field. Only after years of work, supported by numerous documents of evidence, does a faculty member complete her or his probationary period and earn her or his tenure.

Once faculty receive tenure, this does not mean they can rest on their laurels. Tenure is not the end of the academic journey, but a tool to aid in their future journeys. Tenure is followed by ongoing assessments every five years from administrators and colleagues who must determine if tenured faculty members are maintaining their commitment to furthering knowledge and sharing expertise with students, colleagues, and the institution they are committed to serve.

Ongoing Collaboration

Tenure should not be considered as an employee benefit or a reward for faculty. Rather, It is a benefit and reward that serves the institution itself, its students, the broader community, and out State. Since retaining high-quality faculty is important to the University of Hawai‘i, tenure must continue to play an important and vital role in the institution and continuously evolve in the Faculty contract.  UHPA is committed to continuing to work with the UH administration to develop a resolution that will result in a report on the reasoning and value of tenure to present to the Senate Committee on Higher Education before the start of the next legislative session in 2022.

The Historical Roots of Tenure

Editor’s Note: UHPA is currently working collaboratively with the UH administration to develop a senate resolution which will result in a report on the value of tenure to present to legislators before the start of the next legislative session in 2022. Sen. Donna Mercado Kim, chair of the Senate Higher Education Committee, requested this at a recent legislative committee hearing after deferring SB 1329, which proposed eliminating tenure for non-instructional faculty.  UHPA takes this assignment seriously. In today’s Monday Report, we present the first in a series of articles on tenure to ensure faculty have a thorough understanding of this important topic so that we can speak with one voice as we move forward together.

The Historical Roots of Tenure

Mention the word “tenure” today and chances are most people — including fellow faculty members — will immediately associate it with “job security” or “indefinite appointments.” However, the concept of tenure was initially introduced to protect academic freedom, support the common good and provide a quality learning experience for students.

A Brief Overview

How did the concept of tenure develop? In the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, a number of prominent faculty in our country were being dismissed by university administrations and governing boards for advocating and teaching unpopular views. It would be the equivalent of you being dismissed by UH administrators or the UH Board of Regents because they did not agree with the premise of the research you were pursuing or because the books you selected for your students to read for your class made them uncomfortable.

It may seem incredulous that something like this would happen today, but decades ago, this was not unusual. Those highly-publicized cases caught the attention of professors who were critical of those dismissals, but remained powerless to fight back.

Tenure Linked to High-Quality Higher Education

Those incidents prompted professors to found the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) in 1915. The focus of this new organization’s mission: to protect academic freedom. This led to the development of AAUP’s Declaration of Principles on Academic Freedom and Academic Tenure. This defining landmark statement outlined the connection between tenure and academic freedom, and why academic freedom was essential for high-quality education, research and service to benefit the public. That statement has been updated over the years, but its underlying principles continue to serve as the foundation for the current tenure system in universities.

Tenure protects against censorship or discipline of faculty from special interests, religious organizations, corporations, and government entities, including elected officials. Ultimately, this safeguards against the abuse of power and upholds the integrity of the academic institution. This allows UH faculty to teach students without commercial or political pressure and allows students to explore academic subjects without constraints.  

Academic Freedom and Constitutional Freedom

Some have attempted to argue that tenure and academic freedom are unnecessary because the First and Fourteenth Amendments already protect freedom of expression and equal protections under the law. However, it is important to note that while the First and Fourteenth Amendments may protect faculty from government interference when expressing their views outside a university setting, the Constitution does not protect them from what may occur within the university — namely from administrators and governing board members, or even other faculty members. In other words, Constitutional protections are not adequate to protect academic freedom. Tenure fills this void.

Ensuring Quality

Some may hold the misconception that tenure condones mediocrity or complacency among faculty. Some may even say a tenured faculty member can never be terminated. This is simply not true. The tenure system is not designed to protect professional incompetence. The purpose of tenure is to prevent faculty from being terminated for wrong or arbitrary reasons, such as pursuing unpopular research, teaching about controversial points of view relating to instruction, holding high academic standards, or even speaking out against the university’s administration or governing board.

The value of tenure also extends to students as it ensures a high-quality educational experience. UH students — Hawaii’s next generation of community and business leaders — reap the benefits of tenure as they learn from faculty who are the best in their fields. The lives of students are touched and transformed by faculty in and outside of the classroom as learning occurs from researchers, instructors, specialists and extension agents. 

These and other critically important points will serve as the basis of our report that we are collaboratively developing with UH administration.

Watch for “Five Reasons Tenure Benefits the University of Hawai‘i and the Community” in next week’s Monday Report.

Will Self-Insurance Save EUTF millions?

The below letter was sent to the Editors of the Star Advertiser and publishes some financial facts in response to various voices claiming substantial EUTF liability savings if a “self-insurance” model is adopted. UHPA Executive Director Christian Fern serves as secretary-treasurer of the EUTF board of trustees.

February 18, 2021

Honolulu Star-Advertiser

To the editor:

The SARS-CoV-2 virus has brought the world to its knees, sickening and killing millions.  Not in a generation has the importance of health and sustainability been so clear.  The Hawaii Employer-Union Health Benefits Trust Fund (EUTF) provides medical, prescription drug, dental, vision and life insurance benefits to nearly 200,000 state and county employees, retirees and dependents.  As the largest provider of such benefits in the State, it has been the center of much discussion.  These discussions must start with facts.

Hawaii, like most other states prior to 2014, only paid the current retiree health care premiums under a fiscally unsustainable “pay-as-you-go” funding structure.  No money was set aside as the employees earned their retiree health benefits, resulting in an unfunded liability.  As of July 1, 2020, the State’s unfunded liability for retiree health benefits was $8.9 billion.  While this number is significant, the state‘s actuary had projected in 2013 the liability to be $10.7 billion at July 1, 2020.  Additionally, in the 2020 valuation, the state experienced a $733 million actuarial gain due to lower than projected retiree premiums that reduced projected state contributions by $3.6 billion over a 35-year period.  This progress is due to many reasons.  

The State has taken measures to address the unfunded liability by:  1) establishing a mechanism to fund the liability, 2) optimizing investment returns, 3) maximizing federal subsidies, 4) limiting growth in benefit plan costs, and 5) modifying retiree benefits for new employees.  

Self-insurance, whereby the EUTF would assume all risk for payment of all claims under the health insurance plans it offers, is another mechanism that has been discussed. This arrangement has not been pursued by the EUTF because savings would be minimal, especially in comparison to the financial risk that would be assumed. There would no administrative cost savings.  The cost to insure the EUTF against unexpected claims is estimated to be $13 million annually.  As a point of reference, the EUTF plans pay out over $750 million in state claims annually.  Self-insuring could actually result in additional costs if these plans experienced losses.  

Due to its scale, EUTF self-insured and insured methods would result in fairly stable and similar annual costs, with the insured model providing significant value in the event of catastrophe. Prefunding payments are not related to the insurance model used by EUTF plans.  As described earlier, the large prefunding payments are the result of failing to fund retiree health benefits during their employment.  The Act 268, 2013 prefunding payments will continue as scheduled unless its provisions are amended.  

Facts are always important and especially so in these difficult times that require difficult decisions.  The EUTF Board continues to provide decision makers and the public with the facts and well-supported recommendations as it undertakes its mission to provide employers, employees and retirees “quality benefit plans that are affordable, reliable and meet their changing needs.”  

EUTF Board of Trustees

  • Roderick Becker, Chairperson
  • Damien Elefante, Vice-Chairperson
  • Christian Fern, Secretary-Treasurer
  • Jacqueline Ferguson-Miyamoto
  • Audrey Hidano
  • Laurel Johnston
  • Celeste Nip
  • Osa Tui
  • Ryker Wada
  • James Wataru

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.