Thursday, July 8, 1999

Mortimer urged to let
regents determine fate of
public health school

Student boardmember: No 'rubber stamp'

By Susan Kreifels


About 20 students and faculty have demanded that University of Hawaii President Kenneth Mortimer let the Board of Regents decide the fate of the school of public health at its meeting next week.

Otherwise, they said they would have little faith in Mortimer's promise to communicate more with the campus community in decision-making.

Mortimer called a news conference yesterday to emphasize that UH-Manoa had been "fully reaccredited with no time limit, no expiration date, and no finding of failures to meet standards."

But Mortimer's attempt to downplay media attention to a newly released accreditation report was sometimes drowned out by students chanting "Mortimer's going to get fired," then accusing Mortimer of not communicating with them, nor standing up to the Legislature and Gov. Ben Cayetano during budget cuts.

Piilani Smith, president of the Associated Students of the University of Hawaii, called the report an example of "more apathy of the UH administration toward students. It really hurts."

Mortimer later held an impromptu talk with students and faculty to hear their complaints and ideas for better communication. He said he would consider their request to put a decision on the school of public health before the regents.

The Western Association of Schools and Colleges, the accrediting body for the Western region, said it would visit the campus again in three years and warned that the university's accreditation would be endangered if major issues weren't addressed: planning, communication, administration and governance, and budgetary decline.

The report listed about 30 recommendations.

WASC doesn't accredit for a given period of time but normally reviews institutions about every 10 years. Accreditation teams made follow-up visits at half of all universities, Mortimer said.

Students and faculty have complained for the past year that the administration ignores them in decision-making. A survey of all UH campuses showed morale was lowest at Manoa.

A rallying point has been the school of public health, which will lose its accreditation next year. Many faculty and staff blame the administration for deliberately letting the school die.

Asked if he had any regrets about the way he had handled issues, Mortimer said the WASC report was "a learning experience for me and the Manoa community. ... We can improve communication."

Mortimer, emphasizing that the university had seen nine straight years of budget cuts, said the report should be used "for public debate, to increase public concern about issues. We need support and public understanding."

Mortimer quoted a July 7 letter from Ralph Wolff, executive director of the WASC Senior Accrediting Commission, which said the team's visit in spring 2002 was not a sanction.

"It is an opportunity for the commission to determine that the university has made progress in addressing issues from the team report," the letter said.

Mary Tiles, newly elected chairwoman of the UH-Manoa Faculty Senate, said that while WASC accreditation was maintained and the university was not on probation, "it's quite clear that if in three years they don't see something happening, we could lose it, or at the very least be put on probation."

KA LEO: Mortimer says accreditation not threatened
KA LEO: Student fights for school's future

Student who served on
UH board says ‘rubber-
stamping’ not on his agenda

By Susan Kreifels


When the University of Hawaii Board of Regents was handed a list of faculty applying for tenure, Wayne Kaho'onei Panoke took three days to go through 160 files.

Panoke, the first voting student member appointed to the board, knew what it was like having bad professors. And he felt that if regents simply approved the administration's recommendations without seeing the applicants' files themselves, "we were just rubber-stamping."

At times, he felt that's what regents did.

"I changed that. I asked questions. It's not micromanaging, it's our responsibility," he said.

Panoke stepped down from the board in June after serving for 13 months. Gov. Ben Cayetano did not reappoint him.

He leaves believing regents should be elected here like they are in other states, not appointed. "If you think about it, regents are not accountable to anybody," Panoke said. "There's no room for politics in education."

Panoke is a Kamehameha Schools graduate and kumu hula who worked in the tourist industry for 30 years before going back to school in Hawaiian studies. He said some thought he paid too much attention to native Hawaiian issues, but he believes his record shows differently.

Panoke attended every monthly meeting as well as hearings on university issues. He prides himself on being accessible to the public, visiting every UH campus, and listening to concerns of the community.

During meetings, he was known for asking many questions. Fellow regent Nainoa Thompson praised Panoke's dedication.

Panoke was an advocate of tuition waivers for all native Hawaiians. He said he believes that movement gained momentum in the last legislative session and will eventually be approved.

Panoke is also against shutting down the UH school of public health and making it a master's degree program in the school of medicine. He said regents were never given complete information about the reasons the UH administration wanted the move, nor have they been asked to take any votes on keeping the school alive. He added, however, that he wouldn't want money taken from other departments to do so.

He also criticized the Legislature and the governor for lack of support and tight funding. "If the governor wants this to be a health state, he needs to keep the school open," Panoke said.

Panoke believes student evaluations should be considered more in tenure applications.

And he wants customer service for students improved. "Students need to be treated with dignity," Panoke said.

He was not surprised by a recently released accreditation report on UH-Manoa that said the university had to address such major issues as planning, communication, administration and governance, and budgetary decline.

"President Mortimer lacks the charismatic leadership required to jump-start interest in the university at the Legislature and in the state government. He's lost tremendous credibility with the faculty."

Panoke praised the community colleges. And he believes UH-Manoa could be the most respected university in the region.

The two ingredients for being that: "Taxpayers must want it and invest. And we need creative leadership," he said.

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