Friday, May 7, 1999

UH to get
$8 million from
Silicon Valley firm

UH's president says a strong
research university fuels
the local economy

By Susan Kreifels


One of the world's fastest-growing companies in designing tools for semiconductors has pledged $8 million worth of software and other support to the University of Hawaii, one of the largest gifts the university has ever received.

In turn, the California-based Avant! Corp. wants access to UH's graduate students and their talent. The company has already hired three people to work at its new King Street office.

University President Kenneth Mortimer uses this "vote of confidence" in UH as an example of what he's been preaching to the Legislature and governor for the past year: A strong research university fuels the local economy.

Silicon Valley businesses, he points out, rate university access among the top factors that interest them, with tax breaks at the bottom.

Mortimer, speaking with Star-Bulletin editors yesterday, also said UH-Manoa will likely see a 2-3 percent increase in money next year, the first growth after a decade of cuts in state support totaling 19 percent.

The increase is due to higher tuition plus more research and training grants, reallocation of budget, a slight increase in state support, and returning most tuition and research dollars to the departments that generate them.

Mortimer's priorities to lift UH from its current troubles: raising more private money, improving the quality of undergraduate education, partnering with the community such as businesses and alumni, and focusing on the strongest university departments: astronomy, ocean sciences, tropical agriculture and biotechnology.

"You need sustained leadership; you can't continue to change priorities," said Mortimer, who signed his second five-year contract last year. "I'm going to hang in there."

He said an autonomy law passed last year that gave the university more freedom to make decisions was crucial in developing new partnerships with the community.

"If you're a state bureaucracy, you're not going to make it," Mortimer said. "That's anti-risk, anti-fast moving. Procedural freedom is absolutely crucial."

At the same time, autonomy doesn't mean independence. The state must continue to support its university.

A national survey spotlighted Hawaii as the state with the largest loss in state support for higher education in 1998-99.

"There must be some understanding we're at the end of the rope if you want economic recovery," Mortimer said about continued cuts.

Other points Mortimer made:

Bullet Tuition increases in recent years have raised tuition income from $38 million before increases to $62 million this year. That's despite a 15 percent decline in enrollment at UH Manoa and 3-4 percent at the community colleges.
Bullet Research and training money has totaled $160 million for the last two years, with an 11-12 percent increase this year. Seven or eight years ago, the university received half that amount.
Bullet Of local high school students, 35-40 percent choose the university or community colleges. Another 35 percent go to the mainland, with the University of Nevada-Las Vegas a fast-growing choice.
Bullet Faculty morale is lowest at UH-Manoa. The faculty senate there has asked for a separate chancellor, believing Mortimer has not been a strong advocate for the campus. Faculty also wants a separate vice president for undergraduate studies, blaming the administration for moving too slowly on improving undergraduate education.

Although Mortimer said he would consider both ideas, budget cuts make them virtually impossible. He wants to discuss other options to improve relations and plans to meet the faculty senate at a retreat next month.

A "communication gap" is the main problem, Mortimer said. "It's a rumor mill more than truth."

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