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Regent Jan Sullivan Attacks Academic Freedom

Academic Tenure is Essential to Preserving Academic Freedom

Freezing Tenure? Faculty Must Keep Their Guard Up in Contract Negotiations

With the current contract between the University of Hawai‘i and the UHPA Faculty coming to a close at the end of June 2021, negotiations for a successor agreement are continuing. During this economically challenging time, we should brace ourselves for difficult negotiations, with Employer proposals that seek to threaten the very core of academic life.

The UH Board of Regents meeting held on Thursday, Jan. 7, may be an indication of what’s in store for the future — unless UHPA Faculty members remain vigilant and take proactive measures to intervene.

In a discussion of the actions UH has undertaken to address the state’s budget deficit, University of Hawai‘i Regent Jan Naoe Sullivan said “freezing tenure” should be considered. She told UH President David Lassner that she believes the collective bargaining agreement has been a hindrance in the past and that the current economic climate presented an opportunity to introduce the concept of suspension of tenure that she proclaimed other universities have followed. (Sullivan has brought up similar challenges to the concept of tenure several years back, but that proposal was justifiably shot down.)

A Brazen Attack – Biting The Hand That Powers Your Company

This ongoing, brazen attack on the fundamental principle of academic life was being live streamed statewide and immediately set off a flurry of text and email messages among UH Faculty. Some Faculty were aghast that Sullivan, chief operating officer of Oceanit — which relies heavily on the UH for research to further her company’s business interests — apparently does not understand, recognize nor appreciate the value of a university system. We can only speculate why Sullivan seems hell-bent on insisting tenure be frozen before her term as a Regent ends this year and Gov. David Ige appoints a successor to her seat.

A Lone Voice

Fortunately, there were strong indications Sullivan was once again a lone voice, an outlier among the Board of Regents on this issue. UH BOR Chair Ben Kudo, attempting to appeal to her legal mind, delicately reasoned with her that tenure can only be questioned if a faculty member commits acts that violate the law or contract. Lassner suavely appeared to acquiesce, pointing out tenure suspensions have only been applied at small, private colleges, but also disturbingly suggested perhaps a “targeted” approach to tenure suspensions at the UH. The other Regents remained noticeably silent, perhaps because they understand, recognize, and appreciate the value of tenure and did not wish to embarrass her or themselves.

Let’s work with, not against each other

We hope these kinds of theatrics in the public eye do not represent the sentiment of the entire Board of Regents. Drama like this has no place in negotiations at a time when the state’s dire situation requires all us to work together — rather than against each other. These ill-conceived notions breed distrust and suspicion. They become distractions to moving us forward to meaningful and respectful discussions. We can and must do better when each of us at the table shares the same goals and aspirations for the University of Hawai‘i and appreciates how much higher education and research contribute to our community and our State.

 

 

Image credit:

DRAWING OF PEOPLE WHO CUT DOWN THE BRANCH ON WHICH THEY SIT is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. Image has been resized or cropped from original along with minor text changes.