How Tenure Benefits Us All

Editor’s note: Many faculty may know about the importance of tenure, but not many may fully realize the inherent value, principle, and standards tenure offers an institution and in this situation for the University of Hawai‘i and our state. This is the second in series on the importance of tenure to help UH faculty and the UH administration collaboratively work together in examining and determining best practices and to present recommendations to legislators before the start of the 2022 legislative session.

Five Reasons Tenure Benefits the University of Hawai‘i and the Community

Every faculty member may be well versed and acquainted with how tenure supports their academic endeavors, but not many faculty may realize how tenure benefits the University of Hawai‘i and our State. Here are the top reasons tenure creates a win-win situation for everyone:

Reason #1: Tenure upholds the University of Hawai‘i’s academic reputation

The University of Hawaii is classified as an R1: Doctoral University (very high research activity), that participates in the sea-grant, space-grant, and sun-grant research consortia and is one of only four such universities across the country (Oregon State University, Cornell University, and Pennsylvania State University are the three others). Without tenure and academic freedom, faculty would not have the latitude able to stretch the boundaries of research and innovation. Ultimately, independent inquiry and research supports and enhances the reputation of the University of Hawai‘i.

Faculty who believe they could be terminated arbitrarily would be less inclined to take risks in their research to avoid commercial or political pressure. They might also be hesitant about sharing their research findings with students. (Yes, faculty classified as researchers are also involved with teaching students sometimes in a classroom but more often in the field or laboratories.)

Reason #2: Tenure supports community service

When University of Hawai‘i faculty feel they work for a university system that has a vested interest in their success, this creates a sense of reciprocity. Faculty want to contribute back to their community. They want to volunteer their expertise and be involved. And with tenure, they can support issues that are important to them and the community without political or commercial pressure.

Reason #3: Tenure is a quality control mechanism

There is a misnomer that once a faculty member is tenured, they are set for life. Tenure simply means a faculty member has undergone a rigorous probation period that involves having their scholarly works published in journals and other requirements to showcase their professional capabilities. However, the journey doesn’t end there. Tenured faculty must continue to be subject to annual post-tenure evaluations by their peers and demonstrate that they are subject matter experts and still being productive.

Reason #4: Tenure keeps the best and the brightest

Tenure is a retention tool. Tenure attracts and retains quality faculty. This is especially important for the University of Hawai‘i because we constantly compete with so many external factors. Hawai‘i’s high cost of living, including lack of truly affordable housing, make it challenging for faculty to make a long-term commitment to Hawai‘i, even though they may be passionate about what they do and may genuinely love Hawai‘i and its people. Top-notch faculty may also be lured away by more promising or lucrative private-sector jobs or better compensated faculty positions — with tenure — at competing universities.

Reason #5: Tenure Supports Student Enrollment

When the University of Hawai‘i strives to lower its operating costs by hiring more part-time faculty or placing them in positions that are not considered tenure-track positions, this sends a signal to prospective students that the university is not committed to academic excellence. (Currently, only about half of University of Hawai‘i members of bargaining unit 7 are tenured or in tenure-track positions.) This may give Hawai‘i students second thoughts about applying or remaining at the University of Hawai‘i. As other universities have noted, this negatively impacts enrollment. Student tuition makes up about 40% of the University of Hawai‘i’s revenue.

If a university prohibits tenure, this would impede the ability to hire and retain the most promising professors, and degrees awarded to students would not be as valued. The value of University of Hawai‘i graduates would also decline.

Tenured senior faculty bring in the lion’s share of external funding. 

Non tenure track faculty if they do bring in funds then become very attractive to other universities and can move, taking their awards with them..

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.

It’s Time to Own Our Future

(Editor’s note: The following op-ed was submitted to the Star Advertiser and a version of it appeared in the 2/28 issue)

By Liz Ho, and Wilbert Holck

In trying times, it’s tempting to cut government spending. But eliminating or curtailing essential services has devastating impacts on the public. It may seem counterintuitive, but this is the time to invest in services that support the community to accelerate economic recovery.

Most of us have not lived through a pandemic before, but this isn’t our first experience with a recession. We know what works for economic recovery. We’ve also learned — the hard way — what doesn’t work.

It’s easy to forget that throughout the pandemic, dedicated people in the public sector — members of the Hawaii Fire Fighters Association, Hawaii Government Employees Association, Hawaii State Teachers Association, State of Hawaii Organization of Police Officers, University of Hawaii Professional Assembly, and United Public Workers — have been providing critical services to keep our state functioning. These same people will be key to our state’s economic recovery. It would be a grievous misstep to furlough or lay off the very people who provide the services that will lift us out of economic despair.

Unfortunately, some may hold negative views of the public sector. Their argument is simplistic: “The state has a budget shortfall of $1.4 billion. The solution is to cut government jobs and eliminate programs.”

This false, perverse notion of shared suffering will not make things better. Clearly, self-centered, crabs-in-the-bucket thinking will not move Hawaii toward economic recovery. Government spending, jobs and the services provided have historically pulled our country and states out of the worst recessions and depressions.

Sadly, government employees have been portrayed as entitled. Fortunately, there are legislators who have not bought the artificial demarcations between private-sector and public-sector employees and are looking at the greater good. 

We can learn from the ill-conceived furloughs and budget cuts imposed by past administrations. Those bad decisions still haunt us today. This time we must be more circumspect and confront the hard questions:

  • Do we cut spending in public health during our ongoing battle with the pandemic?
  • Do we curtail allocations for human services when enrollment in Medicaid and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) have become even more vital safety net government programs to escape the clutches of our ailing economy?
  • Do we forgo inspections for invasive species and enforcement of natural conservation efforts that can permanently alter our precious ecosystem?
  • When many have turned to outdoor recreation to alleviate the stress of this pandemic, is it best to cut back on care and maintenance of our public parks and recreational facilities?  
  • Do we fire teachers and educational assistants when we already have a teacher shortage?   
  • Do we cut funding for higher education, making students unable to meet graduation requirements and hinder their job prospects? Are we willing to jeopardize hundreds of millions of dollars in non-state funding for university-level research that creates jobs and learning opportunities for students?
  • Do we dismantle the systems in place to protect the public from COVID-19 scams?
  • Do we eliminate social services provided by government agencies when emotional stress is at an all-time high? If we follow the small-minded line of thinking, should the nonprofit sector also share in the pain?

In the absence of strong, visionary leadership, the public-sector unions have been at the forefront of advocating for a better future. We have an opportunity to define Hawaii’s future. How we invest — or don’t invest — will determine the future we create for ourselves and future generations. It’s time to stop tearing each other down, own our future, and begin to work together.

Christian Fern is executive director of the University of Hawaii Professional Assembly (UHPA); Liz Ho is administrator of United Public Workers (UPW); Wilbert Holck is executive director of the Hawaii State Teachers Association (HSTA). Randy Perreira, executive director of the Hawaii Government Employees Association (HGEA), Bobby Lee, president of the Hawaii Fire Fighters Association (HFFA) and Malcolm Lutu, president of the State of Hawaii Organization of Police Officers (SHOPO), contributed to this commentary.

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

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.

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.