Wednesday, November 3, 1999

By Craig T. Kojima, Star-Bulletin
Donald Kim, chairman of the University of Hawaii Board of Regents,
says increased fund-raising is vital to the university's future.

UH donor criticizes

He hopes his gift to the
College of Engineering starts a
trend of supporting the school

By Susan Kreifels


Donald Kim wanted to keep his $1 million gift to the University of Hawaii College of Engineering a "secret."

But UH fund-raisers persuaded Kim, chairman of the Board of Regents, to go public, hoping it might trigger other alumni to follow.

University of HawaiiThe university has seen a rough year, and Kim knows that now, more than ever, the community needs to come forward, not only to donate much needed money, but to regenerate confidence in the school. So the normally quiet regent, known for consensus-building, finally spoke out. And he didn't mince words.

Kim wants to shake the bureaucracy, and many others who live in the state, out of their complacency.

"We have a second-class mentality in Hawaii," said Kim, who's distressed that many parents feel they must send their children to the mainland for a good education. "We have to wipe this mentality out. We have a good program but we're not advertising. The university must be the state's dream and hope."

Kim, chairman of the board at the engineering firm R.M. Towill Corp., also wants to wipe out the "bureaucratic attitude" at UH -- something he prescribes for the whole state.

"The university bureaucracy has to pay more attention to its customers," Kim said recently in a wide-ranging interview. "They don't tell you what can be done, but what cannot be done.

"This prevails in the state. People accept negatives."

'The university bureaucracy
has to pay more attention
to its customers.'

Donald Kim


To show his faith in UH, Kim donated $1 million to the College of Engineering, where he earned a degree in 1958. A quarter of the donation will go to build a high-tech instructional laboratory of computers, sophisticated software and multimedia equipment. The rest of the money will establish an endowment to support and upgrade the lab.

For too long, he says, people in Hawaii have assumed the government will take care of them. But while legislators must continue to support UH, the dreary economy of the 1990s makes competition for dwindled state funds "like throwing a piece of steak into a cage of hungry dogs."

The university has suffered major hits, with its share of the state budget dropping from 12 percent a decade ago to 8.9 percent: the nation's largest decrease in state funding for public higher education.

'There's complacency'

Kim, who moved to Hawaii from South Korea in 1952, says it's time for people to look elsewhere for support. A UH Foundation trustee and past president of the UH Alumni Association, he sees increased fund raising a key element. While foundation money is earmarked for capital projects, UH now needs cash just to keep daily operations going, Kim said. "We haven't reached out enough. People don't know we have to raise funds to sustain education. There's complacency."

Despite record-high research grants in recent years, UH also must bring in more national and international contracts, he said.

At the same time, Kim believes waste and inefficiency can still be weeded out, even though faculty members say they're working with bare-bone budgets and short staffs already. Cutting red tape is atop Kim's list.

Bureaucracy beef

Regent Billy Bergin from the Big Island says he and other regents share Kim's frustration with a too-large and not-productive-enough bureaucracy that is "overlapping, redundant, and very, very expensive." Bergin says the board becomes frustrated because of the time lag between a decision and seeing it put into action. "It's so paternalistic that you preserve positions of people in multiple layers. It's really disappointing to try to get good things done."

Bergin also believes that "academically UH is very sound." While many young Hawaiians may benefit from studying outside the islands, he worries about families who are convinced a mainland education is the only good education. "We have a tremendous comparative advantage in certain fields," Bergin said.

UH President Kenneth Mortimer agrees that the university must be promoted more in the community. Of more than 100,000 alumni, only 3,000-4,000 are dues-paying members. But Mortimer said this year's football success is creating a "groundswell" of support and he expects more gifts from alumni. "We're moving in the right direction but we must go faster and be more aggressive," Mortimer said.

Poor policy?

s Some critics of regent decisions, like the controversial closing of the UH-Manoa School of Public Health, believe UH problems are more about poor policy than bureaucracy or budget. That was the focus of a campus campaign last week that Mamo Kim, president of the Graduate Students Organization and former president of the undergraduate student government, helped organize. A rally attracted several hundred students over two hours on Friday, she estimated.

While she called UH a good university, it's not "a great university." Of 15 student volunteers at the rally, 14 told her they were leaving UH for the mainland, fearing UH-Manoa problems might get worse. "They don't want to fight for their education and get a lousy degree. We need to fight for our school. The public should get more involved."

Mary Tiles, who leads the UH-Manoa Faculty Senate, wants more autonomy and less bureaucracy. Any further cuts, she said, should not come from the instructional side. The university "has been underrated. It has very good programs. If we don't start to do something, we can't keep it like that much longer."

Kim has led regents through difficult cuts already, like the school of public health, which lost its accreditation last summer.

As for a critical accreditation report released last summer on UH-Manoa, Kim agreed that campus communication is a major problem. He has faith in Mortimer, who has since initiated more talk with faculty and students. "Give him more time, relieve him of secondary duties," Kim said.

Possible solutions

But appointing a separate UH-Manoa chancellor, a hat Mortimer also wears and one the faculty wants to change, "creates another level that is costly" -- exactly what Kim doesn't want.

Some faculty members and students want to change the way regents are appointed: either by lengthening the time served beyond four years so they outstay the politician who nominates them; or being publicly elected. Critics say regents never stray from what the administration wants.

Kim said he didn't feel strongly one way or the other. "Nobody pressures me," Kim said, adding that the four-year term is very time-consuming. "Sometimes I have nightmares worrying about problems. How long can you sustain?"

Kim, however, sees a silver lining to the negative publicity of the past year. People finally realize "we are in trouble. The people of Hawaii should not give up on Hawaii. This is our intellectual capital, after all. We have to nourish and support it."

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