In Memoriam: UHPA’s First Executive Director Jerome “Jerry” Comcowich

UHPA joins others in mourning the loss of Jerome “Jerry” Comcowich, a retired UH faculty member who was UHPA’s first executive director. Jerry became a founding member of UHPA in 1973 and served the union for decades as a board member and as delegate to National Education Association meetings.

Jerry was walking in a bike lane near his Enchanted Lake residence on the morning of September 3, when a driver of a pick-up truck struck him and two other parked vehicles. He was taken to the hospital in critical condition where he later passed away.

The loss of this healthy 80-year-old who enjoyed running 10 miles a week is tragic, but Jerry’s commitment to service and contributions to the community will not be forgotten.

“Everyone who has crossed our path over the years has had an important role in shaping what the UHPA is today,” said Christian Fern, UHPA executive director. “We’re proud to be beneficiaries of the work of people like Jerry.”

Jerry joined the UH as an assistant professor in the College of Education in 1969, serving as an academic advisor and developmental counselor. He later joined the School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology (SOEST) and was instrumental in planning the SOEST building. Jerry retired in 2009 from his tenured faculty position at SOEST’s International Center for Climate and Society.

While at the University, he took several leaves of absence to grow professionally and serve the community. In 1977, he was named special assistant to U.S. Sen. Spark Matsunaga, working in Washington, D.C. His primary areas of focus were higher education, transportation and labor. He also worked as a special assistant to U.S. Sen. Daniel Akaka, beginning in 1990, and focused on labor, education and foreign affairs legislation.
In 1994, he was appointed by President Bill Clinton as a special assistant to Assistant Secretary for Postsecondary Education David Longanecker in the U.S. Department of Education. In that position, he advocated for student financial aid to ease the burden of debt from tuition for college graduates.

Jerry’s family has requested memorial gifts be directed to the Hawaii Food Bank. On behalf of all UHPA members, UHPA has made a contribution as a tribute to Jerry and in honor of his life and support to UHPA.

Political Action Fund Objection

The University of Hawaii Professional Assembly (UHPA) has an active Political Endorsement Committee that has participated in state & federal elections through political endorsements, contributions to candidates and independent expenditures on behalf of our endorsed candidates. The UHPA Board of Directors has taken action to allocate from the dues of all UHPA Active members an amount of $5.00 a month to be placed in a Political Action Fund. The Fund will be subject to the accounting requirements and used for purposes consistent with the Hawaii State Election and Federal Election laws.

Our policy allows Active members of UHPA to object to the $5.00 per month allocation to the Political Action Fund. This will not lower their total dues, but it will not add to the total amount of funds allocated for partisan political purposes with respect to candidate endorsements and contributions. If an Active member chooses to object to this funding, they will not be allowed to vote on any recommendation for candidate endorsements made by the Board of Directors.

The request to withhold funding from the Political Action account must be made each year.  If you do not wish to contribute to the “candidate endorsement” fund for fiscal year 2020-2021, then you must sign, date, and return an UHPA Allocation Objection Form by November 2, 2020.

The UHPA Board of Directors has taken this action in response to the strong feelings held by some members that the union should not participate in making candidate endorsements or political contributions. However, we believe it is essential for a public sector union to maintain a political presence since the fundamental work of our bargaining with the State of Hawaii is ultimately subject to legislative approval.

John Radcliffe, A Fighter to the Very End

John Radcliffe, our friend and staunch advocate of University of Hawai‘i faculty, died on Tuesday, August 11. With the same fierce determination, courage, and tenacity to protect and defend the rights of faculty, he fought a six-year battle with cancer to the very end. He was 78 years old.

John served as associate executive director of the University of Hawaii Professional Assembly (UHPA) for 16 years, working with his long-time friend JN Musto, who was executive director at the time. John served from September 1991 to January 2007, and then served as a lobbyist on behalf of UHPA until June 2016.

“We have lost someone who had a deep understanding of people and politics,” said Christian Fern, UHPA’s executive director. “He worked relentlessly to advocate for fairness and had strong relationships based on years of mutual respect and trust. He was the consummate networker and was able to remember people’s names and took the time to learn about them. This made him warmly welcomed with all those he encountered.”

“His contributions endure today. He helped secure the rights and freedom faculty and others enjoy today and leaves behind an excellent model of caring for us to emulate,” Christian said.

John believed in the power of solidarity and collective bargaining. Before he joined UHPA, John was the executive director of the Hawaii State Teachers Association for 13 years. He came to Hawaii in 1975 from Virginia to lead HSTA and immediately hit the ground running to address the substandard working conditions for teachers. He was driven by his own experiences as he had been a teacher himself earlier in his career.

In recent years, John became a familiar face and spokesperson for Hawaii’s Our Care, Our Choice Act. After nearly 20 years of controversial debate and grassroots mobilization in the community, the Hawaii State Legislature passed bills for medical aid-in-dying, which was signed into law by Gov. David Ige in 2018 to be effective in January 2019. John was a beneficiary of this work, choosing to end his life on a high note with a prescription at his home this week.  

John leaves behind a legacy of feats, accomplishments, and acts that few can emulate, but from which tens of thousands will continue to benefit for decades to come.

Mahalo to John for all his outstanding contributions! We will miss you, but your irrepressible triumphant spirit will always be with us.

Adjustment to UHPA Statutory Dues Deduction

For most UHPA members, the scheduled Statutory Dues (SD 725) deduction for the May 20, 2020 payroll did not get processed.  UHPA was notified by the Hawaii Information Portal (HIP) Service Center that they had experienced an issue with their system configuration last pay period. Therefore, the missed deduction amount will be processed on the June 5, 2020 paycheck as a “SD 726” deduction along with your regularly scheduled deduction “SD 725” amount.  We apologize for any inconvenience this may cause. Please feel free to contact UHPA via email at feedback@uhpa.org if you have any questions or concerns.

Aloha! Welcome to the Virtual Annual Membership Reports

As President of UHPA I am pleased to present our annual reports to you, our UHPA members, in electronic format while we are practicing social distancing during the COVID-19 crisis. Included as links to Google documents you will find a President’s Report, a report from our Executive Director Christian Fern, and a report from Tom Apple, Treasurer.  Please email feedback@uhpa.org with any questions you might have. We also welcome ideas for ways to continue to reach out to new and existing members. We all look forward to seeing you when that becomes feasible.

Warm regards,
Ashley Maynard

2020 Newly Elected UHPA Board of Directors & Officers

On Saturday, April 25, 2020 the UHPA Board of Directors met via Zoom and welcomed six (6) newly elected and two (2) re-elected Board members from across Hawai‘i .

Elected to represent their campus for three-year terms are:

  • Norman Takeya (re-elected), Assistant Professor of Architecture Engineering & CAD Technologies, representing Honolulu Community College
  • Kelli Nakamura, Assistant Professor of Arts & Humanities (History), representing Kapiolani Community College
  • Sarah Gray, Instructor & Librarian, representing Windward Community College
  • Jason Kenji Higa (re-elected), Assistant Professor of Anatomy, Biochemistry & Physiology, representing the University of Hawaii at Mānoa
  • Sarita Rai, Director of the Study Abroad Center, representing the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa
  • Joe Ramos, Researcher & Deputy Director of the UH Cancer Center, representing the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa
  • Susanne Still, Professor of Department of Information & Computer Sciences, representing the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa
  • Chun Han Wang, Professor of the Academy for Creative Media, representing the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa

An election of new officers for the UHPA Executive Committee was conducted at this BOD meeting. UHPA President Ashley Maynard’s term continues through 2021.  Congratulations to the newly elected officers:

Vice President: Karla Hayashi, UH-Hilo
Secretary: Jason Kenji Higa, UH-Mānoa
Treasurer: David Duffy, UH-Mānoa
Members-at-Large: Harald Ebeling (UH-Mānoa), Alphie Garcia (UH-West Oahu), Samuel Giordanengo (Hawai’i CC)

Faculty Working From Home

Message from UHPA Executive Director Christian Fern and UH Vice President Don Straney on behalf of the UHPA-UH Joint Workgroup

This message is to clarify the University’s intent regarding its new “work from home” form and its application to University faculty. To reiterate, instructional faculty (including lecturers), research faculty, graduate assistants, and other faculty who are not normally expected to be on campus during set working hours, are not required to fill out the work from home form or create a work from home plan. These employees also are not required to input their status as “Covid-19 Work From Home” in the online leave system. Faculty who, under normal conditions, are required to have a physical presence on campus during set working hours (for example, Librarians, or some Specialist Faculty), are the only faculty expected to fill out the work from home form (and the online leave system) to indicate the days they will be working from home or on-campus. Because the Covid-19 Work From Home status in the online leave system was intended to apply to all University employees working from home, including our hourly employees, it includes an “hours” and “minutes” data field; however, these fields are not intended to apply to faculty. The intent was not to “keep track of” faculty’s work.

The campuses may request faculty to self-report when they will physically be on campus. Again, the intent is not to keep track of faculty’s work, but for logistical purposes of tracking building use. If buildings are not being used, or are only partially being used, the campus may be able to close certain buildings or portions of buildings and reduce custodial and other services to those buildings. We appreciate the cooperation that faculty have shown in this regard, and ask that you continue to help us assist our facilities’ staff in dealing with the emergency situation as best we can.

If you have any questions regarding this memo, please contact your designated campus human resources department.

Message from UHPA Executive Director Christian Fern and UH Vice President Don Straney on behalf of the UHPA-UH Joint Workgroup

Last week, the Temporary Remote Teaching Workgroup—a combined effort of the University of Hawaii Professional Assembly and UH administrators—met to review the support and resources available to faculty preparing for the transition to working with students who were not on campus. Several recent proclamations from the Governor and Mayors probably made your preparations more challenging. This week, we have been monitoring the initial stages of implementing last week’s planning on each of the 10 UH campuses.

The initial reports are that you have made a great start on this new mode of working at UH. We have heard from faculty on each campus and from some of their administrators how the first two days have gone. There have been issues, glitches, and problems for sure, but far fewer than one might have expected. The resources and mini-courses provided by instructional designers last week are definitely paying off. Most impressive to us have been the reports of faculty pitching in to help one another: explaining to colleagues how to use Zoom, offering advice on posting videos to YouTube, even videotaping each other performing lab experiments for students to critique and analyze. Librarians, advisors and other faculty supporting student learning have also had to adapt to delivering services in a climate of uncertainty about health and safety. The hard work of last week (and it has only been that long) is beginning to pay off for our students. Your professionalism, creativity and commitment to the students will carry the University of Hawai‘i community through this difficult time.

We have heard reports that some people are uncertain if they can come to campus under the current stay-at-home orders. People who provide education can leave home to come to campus for work. Instructors should feel free to use their offices and the various teaching resources on campus, including HITS classrooms. The campuses are implementing all of the CDC recommendations to maintain a safe work environment and the facilities staff have stepped up the cleaning protocols to meet current needs. The University is providing any protective equipment your work requires and you should talk with your department chair or supervisor if you have concerns, questions, or ideas.

One common report in the past few days has been that students are not all fully engaging with remotely-delivered classes and don’t always respond to instructors’ or advisors’ emails. It is important to continue reaching out to your students to help keep them engaged with the university. We have also heard of increased interactions students are having in some classes, where chat boxes, for example, make it easier for them to ask questions and interact with each other. Engaging students with learning tasks has always been the challenge for instructing, advising, or supporting learning but current situations are making it more difficult while also presenting new opportunities.

The working group will continue to meet over the next few weeks so faculty and administrators can provide input to each other on how the semester is progressing and what issues, concerns and problems arise. Please don’t hesitate to contact us via our email address with concerns you have.

UHPA MODIFIED OPERATIONS

Due to the unprecedented situation of the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as Mayor Caldwell’s Emergency Order No. 2020-02 (COVID-19 [Novel Coronavirus]) Stay at home/Work from home order, UHPA is modifying its operations to ensure that we can continue to fully service and represent our Faculty Members in the most efficient and transparent manner.

UHPA’s normal business hours will remain unchanged; operating Monday – Friday from 8:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. In order to honor social distancing, a few of UHPA support staff will be temporarily working at home as feasible and only working from the office when operations dictate. The operations for UHPA professional staff will remain unchanged.

All UHPA staff will be available and reachable during normal business hours by email (follow this link to the staff directory) or by calling 593-2157 on Oahu and 1-808-593-2157 on the neighbor islands. For social distancing purposes, we respectfully request that all visitations and in-person (face-to-face) meetings with any UHPA staff, both support and professional, be made via appointment one day in advance. We will be transitioning to virtual meetings between UHPA staff and its membership and respectfully requests this be the preferred method during this period.

UHPA would like to take this opportunity to thank and recognize all Faculty Members for their teaching, service, and contributions not only to the University of Hawai‘i but to our communities and the State. We all collectively will stand strong and come together as one. Stay safe and healthy.

UHPA Responds to UH’s Online Conversion

UHPA Executive Director Christian Fern responds to UH President David Lassner’s email regarding the plans for online course conversion.

200312 Ltr to D. Lassner re COVID-19