One Senator builds. The other destroys. Which one did UH get?

A Study of Contrasts:
Lower Education Advocate, Higher Education Antagonist

Transparency and accountability. These are essential qualities we can demand and expect from our elected officials whom we vote into office and are given our trust that they individually will do the right thing for Hawai‘i’s people. Unfortunately, these essential qualities appear to be absent from legislators serving on the Senate’s Higher Education Committee. Navigating through the murkiness of their actions, though their shallow narratives and innuendos, may prove to be difficult to see things clearly.  However, when the haze and confusion clears, one thing is certain – their recent actions will pose significant challenges and harmful effects not only to the University of Hawai‘i faculty but the institution itself. 

Nothing escapes the attention or provokes the ire of the community faster than trying to introduce policies that cause more harm than good for a child’s education and future success. 

And for good reason. Access to a quality public education is a fundamental and Constitutional right for all children in Hawai‘i free from discrimination and irrespective of their family’s socioeconomic status. In addition, the Hawai’i educational system is very unique as it is a Statewide system rather than county or jurisdictional system.  An educational system — from preschool and through grade 12 — though highly qualified teachers and rigorous standards set the future foundation for children’s lives and chances of future success. It also serves as the bedrock for the pursuit of higher education and other potential career pathways.

Action that harm our children cannot stand

It often goes without saying that the children are our future, and thus, we must do everything we can to build and support a strong and supportive educational system for children. Any attempt to undermine or weaken the educational system is not only harmful to our keiki but will result in long term negative impacts on our community and society.  Actions that harm and diminish the value of education and the return of its investments must be immediately called into question and the individuals responsible for these ill-conceived policies must be called out.

Lower Education Advocate: Sen. Kidani

Hawai‘i families are fortunate to have a strong champion for our public education system in the legislature. Sen. Michelle Kidani has consistently shown to be a tough advocate for students, teachers, school staff and administrators, and their impacted communities – relentless and unafraid of sparring with the Department of Education and the Board of Education over policies and actions that run contrary to supporting a strong educational system.

Is this what good leadership looks like?

As an example, earlier this legislative session Sen. Kidani’s unwavering  support for our public education system was critical in ensuring and maintaining ongoing support and funding for the education of Hawai‘i’s children. When Hawai‘i learned additional federal funds would be available for the schools, Sen. Kidani and other key legislators were instrumental in passing a legislative bill that was designed to use such funds to address potential budgetary reductions including personnel costs at the school level to avoid potential layoffs, furloughs, or pay reductions. 

The bill stipulated the funds would be released to the Department of Education only after the Board of Education and superintendent certified that they agreed the funds would be used as outlined in these bills.

There was unanimous agreement among the Senate Education Committee, House Education Committee and the Hawaii State Teachers Association that the funds should be allocated for teachers first instead of tutors.

Higher Education Antagonist: Sen. Kim

Sen. Donna Mercado Kim, by contrast, is the antithesis of Sen. Kidani. While Sen. Kidani’s goal is clearly to build and support our lower education system, by all indications, Sen. Mercado Kim’s personal vendetta is to destroy Hawaii’s higher education system. Sen. Mercado Kim has introduced several bills that serve no other value or purpose other than to inflict unnecessary harm and to diminish value in the University of Hawai‘i system. For example, she questioned the value and purpose of tenure for faculty  (See “UHPA Defends Tenure at the Legislature”) . 

Jeopardizing the UH’s R1 Status 

By undermining the very foundation of our university and diminishing the important role of tenure to ensure academic freedom, she put the University of Hawai‘i — perhaps knowingly and purposefully — in a precarious position. By proposing to eliminate tenure for certain faculty, she would have jeopardized the University of Hawai‘i’s status as a Carnegie Research 1 institution.

Unfortunately, facts and evidence are not important for consideration in the eyes of Sen. Mercado Kim, who has been in the Senate since 2000. She has unfortunately either dismissed or misused information to create her own biased and false narratives to achieve her personal vendetta.

How can others let this stand?

Surprisingly and worrisome is that her fellow senators have not held her accountable or challenged her unfounded and unsubstantiated claims. They let her do as she pleases — perhaps as a consolation prize for having been unseated after serving as Senate President for two years.

But wait! There’s more. 

Read next week’s Monday Report for more details about Sen. Mercado Kim’s secretive, last-minute plan to eliminate fringe benefit payments for some University of Hawai‘i faculty.

HB 1700, HD1, Relating to The State Budget

To The Committee on Ways and Means

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

9:00 a.m.,  Room 211

RE: HB1700, HD1, Relating to The State Budget

Attention: Chair Jill Tokuda, Vice Chair Donovan Dela Cruz and Members of the Committee

The University of Hawaii Professional Assembly (UHPA) urges the Committee to amend HB1700, HD1, in the following sections:

Page  Line   Program No.

34      40       UOH100 University of Hawai‘i at Manoa            +$44.25 m (A Funds)

35      01        UOH100 University of Hawai‘i at Manoa            -$44.8 m   (N Funds)

35      10        UOH110 UOH, John A Burns Sch of Medicine   +$ 5.2 m  (A Funds)   

35      12        UOH110 UOH, John A Burns Sch of Medicine   -$ 5.2 m    (N Funds)

36      07       UOH900 UOH, Statewide Support                       -$50 m  (A Funds)

These sections of  HB1700, HD1, were amended by removing “A” funds and replacing them with “N” funds in UOH100 and UOH110.  The “A” funds were then inserted into UOH900.  We are urging the Senate Ways and Means Committee to reverse the HD1 version to the original amounts stated in HB1700.

Removing $50 million from “A” funds (general funds) and replacing that funding with “N” funds (federal funds) is the equivalent of providing a negative $50 million respectively to UH Manoa and the John A Burns School of Medicine.  These “A” funds are fundamental to support research and to give funding agencies the assurances that the University can meet its commitments that are required. Federal grants require a quid pro quo–the failure to provide that resource, which often are faculty positions, means there will be severe limitations on the institution’s ability to conduct research and the instructional opportunities that flow from that research.

Federal funds are tied to grants.  “N” funds only appear as a function of grants being awarded. The cycle for grants from writing, submitting, acceptance and finally funding can take 12 – 18 months.  Grants may provide funding for the principal researcher but rarely more than 2-3 months for employment related activities. This means it is the legislature that needs to commit the state revenues that nurture the research faculty within the University.   To do otherwise will effectively shut down a large sector of programs within UH Manoa.

Should HB1700, HD1 pass as currently submitted with a loss of $50 million in “A” funds there are recognizable consequences: These include

  • Elimination of Faculty Members, Academic Professional/Technical personnel; Teaching and Research Assistants,
  • Student enrollment declines as opportunities for undergraduates and graduate students to engage in research diminish;
  • Instruction that incorporates lab and technical experiences becomes unsustainable due to loss of funds that provide equipment;
  • A rapid exodus of faculty members as other institutions recruit and accept the grants held by the faculty member;
  • Revenue loss of over a billion dollars annually
    • Research, primarily Organized Research Unit revenue – $300 million with a Multiplier effect between 4 and 10

Perhaps most troubling with this budget proposal is the attempt to undermine the University as an independent corporation and to diminish its mission in advancing creative endeavors through research. Using the budget as a device to have a conversation hides the real  impact which is to compel certain behavior or be punished. The magnitude of this challenge raises constitutional considerations that cannot be ignored. If the legislature is seeking to change the mission and nature of the University it should be forthright in making that argument.

History can be instructive. The vision of Governor Burns and the legislature of his day recognized that Hawai‘i had special needs that required a local research focus.  Subsequent Governors and legislatures have also recognized that the competition for researchers was a world-wide one and it would be difficult to attract excellent researchers to financially unstable positions in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.  Their vision resulted in the University of Hawai‘i at Manoa becoming a Carnegie 1 research institution recognized nationally and internationally.

HB1700, HD1, represents a  profound change in this vision with an acceptance that the University of Hawai‘i at Manoa must downgrade from a Carnegie 1 research institution to a teaching college.  The resources that discover ways to meet various challenges such as  climate change, coastal erosion, chronic and epidemic diseases, and invasive species are eliminated meaning some other institution or agency will provide for Hawai‘i that once was provided here.

UHPA urges the committee to amend HB1700, HD1 as requested.

Respectfully Submitted

Kristeen Hanselman                                                                                                                                     Executive Director