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Are We Doing The Dobelle Dance Again?

Searching for the Next UH President Demands Transparency

By David Duffy, Karla Hayashi and Sarita Rai

Finding the right person to lead the University of Hawai‘i after UH President David Lassner retires at the end of 2024 is too important to be done in secrecy and silos.

Let’s Keep it Transparent

UH Board of Regent Chair Alapaki Nahale-a confirmed there are many who want to have their say in the selection process and are sharing their perspectives or preferences with members of the Board of Regents. That’s fine as long as faculty also have their say in the selection process and everything remains transparent and above board.  In the last two Board of Regents’ meetings, certain regents unabashedly made their desires known and suggested removing Lassner prematurely and installing a new president – revealing a haphazard process that  indicates that a candidate has been chosen in secrecy.   This type of clandestine behavior would give any legitimate candidate pause about even throwing their name in the hat.

Respect the Process

The rationale that the new president has to be in place at the start of the new academic year or to approve the next UH budget simply does not pass the red-face test. We hope legislators respect the process and will not pre-select their preferred candidates and force regents to oblige simply because legislators control the purse strings of the UH. Faculty will be keeping a keen eye on what transpires in the upcoming Board of Regents meeting on Jan. 4.

Puppets Need Not Apply

Faculty recognize we cannot afford to have a puppet and servant at the helm of the university. It needs to be an individual who has demonstrated strong academic leadership, operates with integrity, and promotes academic freedom at a time when academic freedom is being threatened at universities across our nation. Our new UH president must also have a deep appreciation for our multi-ethnic and multi-cultural environment that draws upon the rich traditions of Hawai‘i, Asia, and the Pacific rim.

Hawaii Families Have Deep Personal Stake in UH

Everyone in Hawai‘i has a vested interest in the future of the UH. Tuition at mainland universities is simply out of reach for many local families. The UH’s 10 campuses statewide are a Hawai‘i high school graduate’s ticket to higher education and a better quality of life and future.

Don’t Jeopardize UH’s Standing

For faculty, the UH’s Carnegie R1 designation as a top-tier research institution is a place to build their career and engage in groundbreaking research that benefits the state and the world. As one of the main economic engines in our state, we all need the UH to be successful and prosperous.

Let’s Not Have A Dobelle Debacle Again

The Board of Regents have made big mistakes in the past. In 2001, the UH Board of Regents conducted unannounced, closed-door meetings, and agreed to a lucrative contract with former UH President Evan Dobelle. In his first year, he was paid $442,000 — more than double the salary of outgoing UH President Kenneth Mortimer and four times the salary of then Gov. Ben Cayetano.

Ironically, at the same time, the regents raised tuition for students and Gov. Cayetano claimed that the state could not afford to increase faculty pay.  This scenario led to a faculty strike. Adding insult to injury, Dobelle brought in his own management team, paying them up to twice as much as those who were being replaced.

Dobelle Cost us Dearly

Dobelle was eventually terminated, and Hawai’i taxpayers had to foot the bill for his departure. Dobelle and his attorneys made out  with $1.6 million in their pockets. 

Do It Right This Time

Lack of transparency affects all of us, and as individuals who are concerned about the future of the UH, we hope we have all learned that clandestine meetings come with a hefty price tag.

The process needs to be pono. The UH deserves better, the State deserves better, and the people of Hawai‘i deserve better.  Fool us once, shame on you.  Fool us twice, shame on us.

Take Action and Make Your Voice Heard

We recognize you will still be on break the first week of January, but if you are able to participate in the upcoming UH Board of Regents meeting on Jan. 4, it will show that the search for a UH president is important to faculty. If you would like to share your thoughts in a brief, two-minute testimony, you can also sign up that day. Mahalo!

David Duffy of UH-Mānoa, Karla Hayashi of UH-Hilo, and Sarita Rai of UH-Mānoa are the president, vice president and treasurer, respectively, of the board of directors of the University of Hawaii Professional Assembly (UHPA), which represents 2,700 faculty across all 10 UH system campuses statewide.