UH Manoa Interim Chancellor’s View: Letters of Hire

Interim Chancellor Bley-Vroman’s Clarification of HLRB’s Ruling on Letters of Hire

On June 16, 2016, the University of Hawai‘i Professional Assembly (UHPA) sent a message to its members regarding a recent Hawai‘i Labor Relations Board (HLRB) ruling on letters of hire, also known as offer letters, for prospective faculty members. The University acknowledges and respects the position UHPA has taken and would like to take this opportunity to provide additional clarification and information on this very important issue.

UH honors offer letters
First and foremost, the University believes letters of hire to be contracts, and has never stated publicly or otherwise that such letters will not be honored or cannot be enforced. Countless faculty members have been hired through letters of hire without significant concerns or litigious disputes. The question raised in this unique situation was whether the HLRB has jurisdiction over the disputes regarding letters of hire.

Hawai‘i Labor Relations Board ruling
The HLRB is the administrative agency responsible for administering and enforcing the laws governing public sector collective bargaining rights in Hawai‘i.

On May 25, 2016, the HLRB clarified the dispute and dismissed all of UHPA’s claims. The board determined that this letter of hire, executed by the dean of the College of Natural Sciences and prospective faculty member before he was ever a University employee or an UHPA member, is a “contract” and not part of a “collective bargaining agreement.” The HLRB followed the definitions and limitations enacted by the Hawai‘i State Legislature and ruled that UHPA’s position was “unsupported by the law, risky and potentially harmful to the collective bargaining process in Hawai‘i.” HLRB concluded that the board lacks jurisdiction and dismissed the prohibited practice complaint.

Letter of hire in question
The specific situation that gave rise to this dispute is related to one particular section of a June 2012 letter of hire regarding the UH’s commitment to purchase an MRI machine for about a million dollars and establish a specialized research facility. No one contested or disagreed that the other portions of the letter of hire were honored, including provisions regarding salary, reduced teaching load and the granting of tenure, all of which were completed. The University believes it acted in good faith to attempt to purchase the MRI machine as outlined in the letter of hire. But before the required specialized facility was prepared to receive the MRI machine that had been ordered as specified in the letter of hire, the manufacturer of the MRI machine notified UH that it was ceasing manufacture and service of the specific model that had been ordered. Thereafter, the purchase and receipt of the MRI machine was cancelled with the full support of the faculty member.

The University then attempted to pursue the purchase of an alternative MRI machine for the faculty member and continues to work diligently to accommodate the faculty member’s needs and desires to ensure he is able to continue his research. Currently, UH pays for travel expenses to the continental United States for the faculty member and his graduate assistants so they will have access to an MRI machine to support their research activities. The University has tried to work cooperatively toward the purchase of another MRI machine and has requested that the faculty member provide a business plan/model that would identify the users and how the operating and maintenance costs of the machine would be addressed.

Budget realities
As with most UH Mānoa units, the College of Natural Sciences is continuing to address a significant budget deficit that has led to a hiring freeze, despite the fact that some departments within the College are already critically short of instructional faculty. The College has not been able to afford to replace tenure or tenure-track faculty lost to retirement or resignations. Given its financial state, the College had to establish priorities and decided in 2016 not to immediately purchase an MRI machine. In addition to the immediate budget challenges posed by the initial purchase, the University believes it is essential that a business plan/model be developed to address the operating and future maintenance expenses for the next MRI machine. The University has been hopeful that in working with the faculty member on a business plan/model, we will be able to justify the purchase of another MRI machine, even under difficult conditions. This decision to defer this specific acquisition during a major budget crisis for the College, and other difficult decisions, are made in order to address the essential and core services of the College and its many stakeholders, including our students.

UH considers letters of hire to be contracts but not collective bargaining agreements. The University fully intends to continue its commitment to honor the terms and conditions of such letters when hiring new faculty members, as it has done countless times in the past. UH continues to try to work collaboratively with this faculty member to find an agreeable resolution for this difficult situation — a resolution that meets the needs of the faculty member and is fiscally prudent and ethically responsible for the sake of the College and its many stakeholders, including our students.

Thank you for your time and consideration,
Robert Bley-Vroman

Faculty Members Take On UH Over Claims of Broken Promises, Retribution

A case heard Thursday by the Hawaii Labor Relations Board alleges the university didn’t honor key conditions of one professor’s hire letter and retaliated against another.

Link to the article on Civil Beat

UH Mismanagement No Longer Confined to Athletics


Date:               February 2, 2016

Contact:         Kris Hanselman, Executive Director  (kris@uhpa.org / (808) 593-2157)


UH Mismanagement No Longer Confined to Athletics Department

Hawaii Labor Relations Board to Weigh Merits of Prohibited Practice Complaint
on Thursday, February 4, at 9 a.m.

Ongoing mismanagement of personnel and the breaking of promises at the University of Hawaii are no longer limited to the athletics department. These factors now impede good instruction and research, and threaten the ability to attract and retain quality faculty.

The same dysfunction is now becoming more evident in the academic arena, which has prompted the University of Hawaii Professional Assembly (UHPA) to file a prohibited practice complaint with the Hawaii Labor Relations Board on behalf of two faculty members. UHPA is the union that represents nearly 4,000 faculty at all 10 UH campuses statewide.

University of Hawaii administrators will attempt to dismiss the complaint and will present oral arguments at a Hawaii Labor Relations Board hearing this Thursday, February 4, at 9 a.m. The hearing is open to media and the public.

The Hawaii Labor Relations Board conducts hearings to decide complaints filed by public and private sector employees, employee organizations or unions, and employers alleging prohibited or unfair labor practice complaints. In the public sector, the Board has jurisdiction over employers and employees of the State of Hawaii and counties, the Judiciary, the Department of Education, including the public charter schools, the University of Hawaii system, and the Hawaii Health Systems Corporation.

Kevin Bennett, Ph.D., an associate professor of biology at the University of Hawaii-Manoa, was recruited from Arizona State University in 2013 to establish a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) center to support local research. The research detects cells and molecules in the body, so that diseases can be treated at a very early stage, long before it affects a patient.

The MRI center is critical in cancer research, drug discovery, and neurological problems. It supports Bennett’s research in discovering cures for kidney disease through early detection of kidney damage. The research explores how to prevent worsening damage to the kidneys and other organs from chronic health problems such as hypertension and diabetes.

When Bennett joined the UH, initially the university was not able to provide the space for the MRI equipment and the selected vendor had stopped manufacturing the equipment. Undaunted and determined, Bennett found an alternative source for the MRI equipment in England. As an added benefit, the UH would be able to house this substitute equipment without extraordinary facility requirements.

During this period, Bennett was granted a well-deserved tenure because of the quality and significance of his work in teaching and research that involved using the MRI center at Arizona State University.

Elated with the news the MRI equipment would finally be coming to the UH after two and half years, there was teamwork among UH administrators, the dean at the time, faculty, and students. The UH could boast of its acquisition and look forward to having an MRI center of its own.

Bennett’s diligence was finally paying off. He had been patient and accommodating as he continued his research using out-of-state equipment. He also inspired and engaged graduate students in MRI research, all while fulfilling his teaching obligations.

Prohibited Practice Complaint
“There was a sense of anticipation at all levels at the UH, with support from vice presidents, vice chancellors of research, graduate students and other faculty.  After two years of hard work, the momentum abruptly ended in late September 2015,” said Kris Hanselman, Executive Director of the University of Hawaii Professional Assembly.

It all changed when Kristin Kumashiro, Ph.D. was named Interim Dean of Natural Sciences last summer. Just five weeks into her position, she pulled the plug on the MRI center, even though the funds were available and the UH was prepared to make the purchase.

Bennett was not the only one affected by the capricious whims of Kumashiro.  Kathleen Cole, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Biology at UH-Manoa, who was serving as Chair of the UH Department of Biology at the time, was stripped of her position and authority, apparently for siding with Bennett and others in her department.

The University of Hawaii Professional Assembly, which represents faculty on contractual issues, intervened on behalf of Bennett and Cole, and filed the prohibited practice complaint with the Hawaii Labor Relations Board.

As expected, University of Hawaii administrators will attempt to have the claim dismissed, contending they never made any promises to Bennett about an MRI center, even though this was expressly documented in a written letter of hire to Bennett.

“This sends an unsettling message to UH faculty. The UH administration do not feel compelled to honor the commitments they have made when hiring faculty,” Hanselman said. “A change of administrator means the career of a faculty member can come to a grinding halt. This impacts the ability to attract and retain faculty at the UH.”

“Current and prospective faculty should be wary of promises made to them when they are recruited to join the UH. Clearly, what they are promised, may not be what they end up with because of erratic decision making. This creates a very unpredictable work environment,” Hanselman added.

For more details on the prohibited practice complaint, download a PDF of the complaint:

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About the University of Hawaii Professional Assembly
The University of Hawaii Professional Assembly (UHPA) has been the exclusive bargaining agent for all UH faculty since 1974 and currently represents nearly 4,000 faculty members at 10 campuses in the University of Hawaii system statewide.

Your input requested on Cancer Center Proposal

Dean Hedges of JABSOM is proposing a new business plan for the Cancer Center with major changes being presented to the Board of Regents for discussion. Under this proposed approach all future faculty at the Cancer Center would have significantly different compensation guarantees and conditions of work then those presently employed.

UHPA needs input from UH Manoa faculty as to how you believe the proposed changes will affect research and instruction at the Cancer Center and the broader implications for UH Manoa–your specific department or Organized Research Unit.

We have sent a SurveyMonkey invite to all UH Manoa faculty. Please give us your feedback and if you’ve not received the invitation please contact our office.


UH Manoa Microbiology–Its fight for survival

Department Chair Stuart Donachie demonstrates the impact of the loss of tenured faculty positions on instruction and research along with the dysfunction in facility planning for a new science building. Other departments experience similar circumstances. UHPA is experiencing an increase in grievances and complaints due to faculty members being impeded in their ability to advance student instruction and research.

Response from the Department of Microbiology to the Manoa Planning Committee’s ‘Preliminary Program Documents.

Faculty Op-Ed: A Hard Knocks Education

By Robert Cooney, PhD

As a young research professor, working within a university research unit in which faculty were fairly judged by their accomplishments and potential, I could not understand why in the world faculty needed a union. After all, didn’t academics believe in truth and honor above all else? Why would one even need a contract in such circumstances? Over the last 30 years I have learned and discovered a lot concerning the role of vitamins in health, epidemiology of cancer, and the chemistry of tocopherols, but what stands out is my free and extensive continuing education relating to narcissism, greed, jealousy, sociopathy, and most recently, misogyny. This hard knocks education into personality disorders along with the passage of time has eroded my early perception that leaders and administrators base actions and decisions on fairness and what is best for the institution. Unfortunately individuals that lack moral integrity increasingly occupy positions of power, both within the university system and in our broader society, and the consequences can be devastating, particularly for those that are most vulnerable.

Although none of us like to perceive ourselves as “vulnerable”, especially when we are young, the reality is that students, staff, and untenured faculty are easy targets for exploitation, abuse, and mistreatment. Even tenure does not provide a guaranteed defense against the forces of darkness when they choose to attack. It usually is only at the point that one comes up against such an attack that one appreciates the value of having an employment contract and the strength of a cooperative organization behind you, such as UHPA. JN Musto one day made one of the best analogies I have ever heard to the UHPA Board of Directors that “UHPA was like health insurance, nobody likes paying for it but the day you need it, you are awfully glad you have it”. To further the analogy, health insurance cannot always save you from the ravages of an incurable disease such as pancreatic cancer, but there are many diseases that it can save you from and it certainly can help save your family from economic ruin as you fight the disease. As many without the benefits of union representation have learned, the cost and emotional strain of fighting for justice, finding the right lawyer, and taking the fight to a large and uncaring institution while collecting unemployment can be too much for most to handle and, indeed, many give up the fight early on because of the enormity of the battle.

While UHPA is often constrained by the limits of labor law and our contract, as an organization it has not been limited by lack of expertise or desire to fight on behalf of its constituents. On balance I have personally observed many success stories where UHPA has gone to bat for the rights of faculty and perhaps of greater importance is the deterrent effect that UHPA has on egregious behavior of administrators. At least the more enlightened administrators soon learn that behaving properly is better than taking on UHPA. Alas, as a researcher in the field of cancer prevention, I clearly understand the frustration that comes with preventing a problem – there are no grateful patients at the end of the road! The problems that a well-negotiated contract and a reputation for success save us from every day may never fully reveal themselves to our consciousness, however, it behooves us to consider once in a while what life might be like in a world in which there was no counterbalance to power in the workplace. I know that without UHPA I would not be where I am today. Now If only my health insurance only cost 1% of my salary!