SENATOR DONNA MERCADO KIM – Fiscal accountability or strategic targeting?

Targeted Faculty RIFs:

Senator Donna Mercado Kim’s Modus Operandi

The parti-pris decisions and actions made by Hawai‘i’s legislators this past session speak volumes about their views and support over Hawai‘i’s public higher education system – namely the University of Hawai‘i. It’s especially clear that those in the Senate who continue to chip away at the core foundation that makes the University of Hawai‘i a nationally respected research institution and demand justification for its existence – will better serve our community and its constituents – by working to build up this valuable economic engine for the state. 

Harmful Legislation will Jeopardize R1 Status

Sen. Donna Mercado Kim, Chair of the Senate Committee on Higher Education, did not hold back this past legislative session pushing for proposed legislation that would negatively impact the nucleus that allowed the University of Hawai‘i to obtain the distinguished Carnegie R1 institution. The Senator’s proposals would have altered UH policies and practices that unfortunately have long-term, difficult-to-reverse ramifications, that not only jeopardize the institution but impact the recruitment, retention, and competitiveness of UH faculty members.  The Senator believes the institution, in and by itself, magically obtained the R1 distinction not the Faculty who excelled and propelled the institution to get there. Ultimately, these impacts would have adversely affected the quality of instruction for students and the quality of life for the broader community.

The Silent Ones

As in previous legislative sessions, Sen. Mercado Kim has an ax-to-grind and has made a public fiasco and mockery of the University of Hawai‘i based on her perceived beliefs and perceptions. She had no qualms proposing to legislate the elimination of specific faculty positions under the guise of “a matter of statewide concern” all the while proclaiming that dismantling the university is justified and being done as the guardian of public funds. Her Higher Education Committee members and others in the Senate are complicit – rubber stamping her decisions – and failing to challenge the false narratives and innuendos. If it were not for the strong efforts and pushback from UHPA and the UH against these legislative endeavors, this past session would have been an unmitigated disaster waiting to happen.

Tampering with Funding and Compensation

Currently, general funds are used to pay for the majority of UH faculty salaries. However, if Sen. Mercado Kim had her way, she would demand that at least 25% or more of the cost of salaries of UH researchers would be the UH’s sole responsibility to fund via extramural funds or the research and training revolving fund (RTRF). As proposed in SB 1394, this would’ve been the new expectation going forward beginning on July 1, 2021, the start of the next fiscal year.

Refuses to Recognize Restrictions on Research Grant Funds

Her grandiose plans to single out UH researchers fell flat. If she had done her homework, asked the right questions, and taken the time to listen and learn, Sen. Mercado Kim would have realized that research grants often prohibit funds from being allocated for salaries for Principal Investigators (PI). This caveat ensures the university that the faculty member applying for a grant also has a vested interest in the success of the research project or equally a shared responsibility. This is just one example and one restriction that would’ve rendered her legislative proposal not actionable.  

Questioning Value of Tenure

Another case in point: SB 1328 called into question the value of tenured faculty. It not only revealed Sen. Mercado Kim’s lack of basic understanding of university systems, but also her disrespect and disregard for faculty who work hard to achieve tenure. The bill attempts to unjustly support the Senator’s meddling by pointing out that a tenured position “results in the long term commitment of public resources for that position.”

Fish or Cut Bait? How About Just a Switch?

After successfully pointing out the purpose of tenure in higher education systems to preserve and protect academic freedom, Sen. Mercado Kim agreed to have the University of Hawaii Professional Assembly and the University of Hawai‘i administration prepare a joint resolution to reflect their concerns and opinions before the start of the 2022 legislative session.

UHPA and UH dutifully obliged, and immediately drafted a joint resolution way ahead of schedule – reiterating key points about the intent of tenured positions; the difficult process in obtaining tenure; and the value of tenure to retain faculty.

Espousing Her Cause

Not surprisingly, Sen. Mercado Kim disregarded the UHPA-UH administration resolution and created a resolution of her own, urging the UH and UHPA to convene a task force to examine the UH’s tenure system specifically targeting researchers and other non-instructional faculty.  She also rolled in a compensation structure of faculty engaged in activities that are supported by extramural funding and grants, comparing this with peer U.S. higher education institutions.

Forms Task Force to Advance the Agenda

The Senator’s resolution convenes a task force to examine and assess the UH’s tenure system for researchers and other non-instructional faculty, and compensation structure of faculty engaged in activities supported by extramural funding and grants, in comparison to peer institutions in the UH and proposes best practices for the UH.  Essentially, the narrative has been written and desired outcomes have been pre-defined for the task force.  Bottom line is the belief that all non-instructional faculty do not deserve the opportunity and granting of tenure irrespective of their work and contributions to the UH and the students they serve.  We hope that this seven-member task force chaired by the UH Board of Regents’ Chair will perform their due diligence in considering the meaning and value of providing tenure to Faculty irrespective of their classification and the true value and benefits that are provided to the institution and the students they serve and not capitulate to political interference and pressures.

The Relentless Pursuit

Perhaps Sen. Mercado Kim is hoping this new task force will give her a different response from what has already been shared with her. This being insisted by someone who claims to be focused and more concerned about saving public funds is puzzling. This time consuming exercise in futility will only waste money, time, and resources that could be put to better and more productive use elsewhere. 

Killing the Living and Saving the Dead

The legislature has already proposed budget cuts that could impact a number of existing tenured positions. There is currently an occupied position slated for the chopping block to save $343,000, but six (6) vacant positions totaling nearly $692,000 have been kept intact. These types of decisions have to make you wonder if these actions are in fact purely budgetary decisions intended to save money or if they are part of a hidden-agenda to attack specific positions designed to enact a legislative reduction in force. No matter how you look at it, it seems to be more of a targeted RIF than a strategic fiscal decision as the guardian of public funds.  What do you think? 

Watch for upcoming information about our observations to hold our lawmakers accountable.

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.

Our Senate’s punch to the gut of UH

It’s deja vu all over again with budget cuts

As a faculty member of the University of Hawaii system, you play a key and significant role in supporting our state’s economic recovery. Unfortunately, our legislators, particularly those in the Senate, do not see you in this way.

After having to endure a tumultuous year of on-again/off-again threats of furloughs, layoffs and pay cuts from Gov. David Ige, we find ourselves back in a tenuous situation, only this time the  problem stems from actions by legislators in the Senate.

Federal Funds Not Being Tapped to Continue Vital Functions

Our state’s budget deficit has required all of us — UHPA, UH administration, legislators and others — to come together to have an open dialogue to explore possible solutions. We had come up with the ideal solution: the House updated the budget using federal relief funds to fill in the budget gaps to ensure the University of Hawai‘i could continue to operate without interruption. The proposed House budget provided the necessary components to ensure stability in our local economy and ensured faculty could continue to deliver key and vital services and functions — exactly what the federal relief funds were intended to do.

UH’s budget got gutted – by our Senate

With a solid budget in hand, we were all ready to move forward. Unfortunately, the Senate had other plans that no one had known about earlier. The Senate decided to throw a wrench into everyone’s plan by suggesting that the University of Hawai‘i make up the budget shortfall by seeking other sources of funding. Our elected senators decided to instead gut and replace as much as they were allowed under federal guidelines. With no regard for transparency and openness, they offered no rhyme or reason for their changes. Their rationale and modus operandi still remains a mystery. Unfortunately, their actions and decisions will place many of you in a precarious position.

Manoa caught the worst of it

They are apparently delighted in putting a squeeze on faculty, the very employees who are vitally necessary for Hawai‘i’s economic recovery. At the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa, which would be the campus most impacted by their capricious decision, there will be a 13.8% budget reduction compared to the current fiscal year. This has grave implications for all UHPA members employed on the Mānoa campus.

Furloughs, Layoffs and Pay Cuts All Over Again?

The Senate has clearly revealed their intentions. There is no delicate way of saying this: the Senate is forcing the possibility of furloughs, pay cuts, and retrenchment on UH faculty. Just when we all thought we could confidently move forward together, we find ourselves right back to square one all over again, exactly where we were last year before the federal funds were received. The uncertainty this creates is crippling. How can the Senate expect UHPA members to continue to provide UH students with the support, services, and the quality of education they need to stay on the pathway for success and to develop the future leaders of the world in helping to rebuild our economy while simultaneously dealing with the haunting prospect of losing their jobs?

Moment of truth for Legislators – step up or stand by

It’s easy for legislators to try to appear heroic and proudly proclaim that they are deferring their own pay raises because so many in our community are unemployed. However, their actions and false narratives show a different scenario.  Is it too much to expect that they step up and prevent more unemployment of Hawai‘i residents, especially on their constituents that elected them to office?  They not only have the power to make this happen, they have a choice to do so. Whether they choose to exercise this power to do what is pono is another story. 

But it’s OK to spend millions on a project no one at UH is asking for

Even more concerning is the Senate’s allocation of $42.5 million dollars for a Resource and Education Center in Wahiawa that was not requested by both the UH Board of Regents or the UH administration. There are still many unanswered questions and uncertainties as to why such a costly and unanticipated demand was placed on the University when the monies could’ve been allocated to help maintain essential services, programs, and personnel to help the institution stay afloat.  According to Senator Donovan Dela Cruz, the project provides a new library and DOE offices and classrooms for the community college which will help revitalize the Wahiawa town. However, pursuing this project results in serious tradeoffs. The question we all have is at what expense and what impact to the UH system overall can this project be justified, especially at a time when the UH administration is already dealing with many other imminent and dangerous budgetary shortfalls? While we acknowledge the foresight, there are impending budgetary shortfalls that could more urgently use the federal allocations now.    

It’s unacceptable and we’re not going to stand for it

We have fought long and hard by pushing back against the Governor’s demands and threats.  To have the Senate reverse the effort and agreements we have made through open dialogue and discussions is insulting and offensive.  As the saying goes, when the going gets tough the tough gets going and rest assured that the leadership of UHPA will not tolerate such injustice and deceitfulness. 

We’ll get through this – together

As it has been proven in the past, joint-decision making and collaboration is the proven method to moving forward. UHPA plans to work closely with the UH administration to find a better way to advance the Universityʻs interests. Last year, because of our collective efforts to quickly mobilize with the UH administration to address the challenges of the pandemic, the UH system granted 10,850 degrees and certificates to students. For the spring semester, which is wrapping up soon, there could potentially be as many as 6,400 additional undergraduate and graduate degrees and certificates granted. The final figure will be confirmed after commencement is held on May 15. Clearly, the UH economic engine is humming, and needs to continue to operate to lift Hawai‘i’s people out of the doldrums.

    
Economic recovery will come when we work together as a team instead of against each other as opponents. Isn’t it time we finally move forward with one mind, one spirit, and one common purpose?

Mahalo nui loa,

Christian Fern

Executive Director                                                

University of Hawaii Professional Assembly

Listen to The Conversation between UH and UHPA

UHPA Executive Director Christian Fern & Mānoa Provost Michael Bruno spoke with Catherine Cruz from Hawaii Public Radio

On Dec 29, Catherine Cruz of Hawaii Public Radio invited UHPA Executive Director Christian Fern and UH Provost Michael Bruno on “The Conversation” for a one-hour discussion, “UH Administration Talks Labor Contracts, Federal Aid Ahead of 2021.”

The discussion is worth a listen and covers topics such as:

  • Reorganization efforts at UH Manoa
  • How UH positively impacts Hawaii’s economic landscape
  • Impact of furloughs on the UH community

Pay Increase Due in November

Negotiated 1.2% Retroactive Pay Increase Due November 20, 2020

In accordance with the Tentative Agreement over Article XXI, Salaries, of the UHPA/BOR Unit 7 Agreement, dated May 13, 2020, and the subsequent Legislature passage and Governor’s approval of Act 48, SLH 2020, the following negotiated pay raises are forthcoming:  

  1. Effective January 2, 2020 all Faculty Members shall have their base pay increased by 1.2%
  2. Effective January 1, 2021 all Faculty Members shall have their base pay increased by 1.2%

The State of Hawaii, Department of Budget and Finance, has released the legislative appropriations to the University of Hawaii for payment.  All Faculty Members in service before January 2, 2020 shall receive a retroactive pay increase of 1.2% of their base pay retroactive to January 2, 2020 in their November 20, 2020 paycheck.  All Faculty Members in service on January 1, 2021 shall receive a 1.2% pay increase to their base pay.

While this in no way signals or disregards that the University of Hawaii will be facing significant budgetary shortfalls and challenges in the near future, these negotiated pay increases were agreed upon by the Employer on August 3, 2017 and which the Legislature has already budgeted for its payment.

In Solidarity,

Christian Fern

UHPA Executive Director

Karla Hayashi

UHPA Negotiations Committee Chairperson

Governor Ige warns of potential furloughs and pay cuts

Any salary reductions require bargaining

Yesterday afternoon, Governor David Ige met with the leaders of Hawaii’s six public worker unions, including the University of Hawaii Professional Assembly.

Because of the pandemic, Governor Ige said the state expects to be billions of dollars in deficit and that additional steps will be necessary to balance the budget.

We want to be absolutely clear and transparent. Governor Ige has not put forward any formal proposal to UHPA nor any of the other unions to initiate mid-term bargaining on these additional steps and it is not clear what the additional steps would entail. However, in addition to imposing further cuts to state departments, Governor Ige has put forward the possibility of furloughs twice a month to achieve a 9.23% salary cut for all state employees over a four-year period. Governor Ige wants those furloughs and cuts to take effect Dec. 1 of this year and use the monies saved to offset the budgetary shortfall on the backs of public employees.

Each bargaining unit has a set of unique circumstances and needs that would require bargaining and mutual consent between the parties to implement. Unilateral implementation would violate our current Unit 7 collective bargaining agreement, as well as our collective bargaining law, so terms and conditions for any reductions in pay or impact on working conditions for our bargaining unit members for this fiscal year would require negotiations with UHPA. 

In the meantime, UHPA will stand strong and in solidarity with the other public-sector unions.

UH Key to Hawaii’s economic recovery

Editor’s note: the below opinion piece by UHPA Executive Director Christian Fern appeared in the April 26, 2020 Honolulu Star Advertiser

Hawaii is caught between a rock and hard place. Our state constitution requires us to have a balanced budget, with a plan that shows anticipated revenue to cover projected expenditures. Although we’ve had budget deficits in the past, as a state we have generally been good about not spending more than what we generate.

Aggressive strategies worldwide to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 have been necessary, but it has come at a cost. State government officials project an estimated $1.5 billion drop in state tax revenue. It’s painfully clear difficult decisions must be made.

Although the pandemic has created unprecedented challenges, this is not our first encounter with an economic downturn in our state. We can learn from our experiences from the Great Recession that started in 2009. Good decisions helped to position us for better recovery, but bad decisions continue to haunt us and we are still paying for those.

Now is the time to make prudent, collaborative decisions to accelerate our economic recovery and plan the future we want for Hawai‘i.

Yet, Gov. David Ige unilaterally proposed a 20% pay cut for public employees. To many in the public sector, the pay cuts seemed to be a knee-jerk reaction that lacked careful thought and input. To make this more palatable, he later offered to cut his own pay and that of his cabinet team members, and then back-pedaled by offering to “look at all options” to balance the budget.

Those words offered a glimmer of hope that he is not focused only on cutting public employees’ pay. 

 During the Great Recession, we saw a significant decline in visitors to Hawaii and reduced spending by those visitors. We also saw a substantial loss of jobs in tourism, transportation, construction, retail and service industries, with a significant rise in unemployment rates. We also saw wages decline.

In the midst of those dismal trends, there was a bright spot. We saw enrollment in the University of Hawai‘i increase by nearly 20% at the four-year campuses and nearly 30% at the community colleges. 

Counterintuitively, state general funds to support the UH dropped by about 30% per student during that time. The budget cuts forced the university to raise tuition rates, placing a burden on families already struggling to send their kids to college.  We should not make the same mistake this time around and instead invest in Hawaii’s people appropriately. The University system must be ready and supported to offer relevant, quality training to its residents to restart the economy. A hiring freeze or staff reductions would only increase class sizes or cut entire classes.

Universities generally have countercyclical experiences during downturns in contrast to other sectors of the economy. Enrollment soars during downturns because while many are looking for a job, they return to the UH to learn new skills to become more job-ready and attractive candidates to employers. Faculty played a key role in preparing the workforce for the state’s recovery efforts in 2009, and need to continue to be on the frontlines to support our local economy. If Hawai‘i is to reduce its dependency on tourism, education through the UH is key to creating new opportunities for economic diversification and resilience. 

Academic research led by UH faculty is another economic engine for the state that is often overlooked. The expertise and reputation of the faculty are able to attract millions of dollars in funding for research, which also creates jobs for graduate students and support staff. 

When we receive the green light to venture out of our homes again, we know the world will be different from when we left it just about a month ago. We’ll need to be ready to hit the ground running. We cannot afford to make hasty decisions that create more harm than good, now and for our future.

It’s time for UH Manoa to Honor their Commitments to Faculty Members. UHPA Prohibited Practice Filed

On December 21, UHPA filed a prohibited practice charge with the Hawaii Labor Relations Board charging Natural Science Interim Dean Kumashiro with unilaterally and improperly canceling agreements contained within letters of hire and supplemental terms of service for department chairs. This is an important case to protect the rights of faculty in advancing the ability of UHPA to bargain and enforce letters of hire and the conditions set forth within.

A promise broken

In the case of Dr. Kevin Bennett, UH Manoa Biology, his letter of hire provided for a UH purchase of an MRI. Approval to purchase was granted as was the appropriate facility construction for the equipment. Within a few weeks of being appointed, Interim Dean Kumashiro notified Dr. Bennett that she would not allow the purchase of the equipment. While she had the funds, they would be used for other projects. This has significantly impacted the ability of Dr. Bennett to continue his academic work and research.

Questionable removal of dept chair

Dr. Kathleen Cole was department chair of the Biology Department. She was removed by Interim Dean Kumashiro which UHPA believes was due to her advocacy for Dr. Bennett along with expressing Biology faculty and student needs regarding a new facility on the Manoa campus–Snyder Prime. Upon her removal as department chair, a supplemental agreement, executed in 2014 for research support while department chair, was retracted leaving three graduate students and Dr. Cole without the funding to continue her academic work and research.

Senator Schatz Addresses Bias in Letter to NASA

In a memo issued in March 2013, NASA grant-awarded faculty were surprised to see Hawai’i classified with “foreign destinations” for the purposes of travel approval. Despite a correction issued a year later in March 2014,  lower-level NASA officials continued to restrict approval, asserting to Hawai’i faculty that their travel monies were non-domestic. After hearing from concerned faculty, Senator Schatz wrote to NASA Administrators in an effort to bring awareness to the difficulties which state researchers frequently face; namely, that it can be challenging to overcome stereotypes about Hawai’i in efforts to maximize research opportunities in what happens to also be a popular tourist destination.

In a response dated August 18th, Chief Financial Officer, David Radzanowski clarified the proper procedures and identified points of contact who would be able to assist grantees in remedying the misconception. Now faculty should be able to acquire approval without undue burden. Mahalo Senator Schatz.

Read the Correspondence Between Senator Schatz and NASA Officials

Could the University of Hawaii’s latest move, firing men’s basketball head coach Gib Arnold, cost the school more in the long run?

UH will pay Arnold $344,000 for the final year of his contract, which was set to expire in June 2015. He will remain officially employed until Jan. 26, but will not be coaching.

J.N. Musto, executive director of the University of Hawaii Professional Assembly, is familiar with contracts and how they and the university work. He says it’s a tragedy for the university to go through another personnel situation.

Read the rest of the article at “Recent payouts, losses cost UH nearly $1.8 million” KHON news.