Sunday, June 13, 2004

University of Hawaii

UH regents considering
whether to fire Dobelle

The president's contract calls
for $2.26 million severence
payment if he is terminated

» Golden Parachute
» Assessing Dobelle's job performance

University of Hawaii regents are wrestling with whether to fire UH President Evan Dobelle, a move that could cost the university $2.26 million in severance pay.

Several regents, who talked to the Star-Bulletin under condition of anonymity, emphasized that no decision has been made and that they have not yet discussed with each other whether to end Dobelle's contract.

However, after listening to information presented during a closed-door meeting June 2 on Dobelle's third-year evaluation, the regents acknowledged that when the board meets again Tuesday morning they expect to talk about whether Dobelle should go.

Not all the regents agree. Regent James Haynes dismissed talk of firing the president as "irresponsible" and "conjecture."

One regent cautioned that because they have not discussed the issue, it is difficult to predict what they will do and that there are several options the board can take short of firing Dobelle. The regent would not go into detail about those options.

During the June 2 evaluation meeting, regents heard from Dobelle, who presented a self-evaluation of more than 500 pages detailing his accomplishments during his three years as UH president.

Regents also heard by phone from Florida-based consultant Robert Atwell, who was hired to do the evaluation, and from auditors who raised questions about Dobelle's spending from a $200,000 a year protocol fund at the UH Foundation.

Regents were able to ask questions of Atwell, the auditors and a task force made up of five regents about information gathered for the evaluation. But because of a legal interpretation of the sunshine law, they are not able to discuss the evaluation with each other until Tuesday.

When asked on June 2 whether he thought his job was in jeopardy, Dobelle replied that the regents cannot fire him; they have to buy out the remaining four years on his contract.

He also said he hoped that he and the regents could reach agreement on goals and performance expectations for the next year as part of the evaluation process.

Dobelle did not return a phone call late last week asking for further comment. UH spokeswoman Carolyn Tanaka said Dobelle was traveling on vacation.

Tanaka said she was not sure if the president would be back to attend Tuesday's meeting.

According to Star-Bulletin calculations, if Dobelle is terminated without cause, he would receive about $496,000 from an incentive fund set up to encourage him to stay for the full seven years of his contract, plus about $1.76 million as payment for the remainder of his contract

The $2.2 million severance payment is a major factor for undecided regents as they consider whether to end Dobelle's employment.

One regent has spent hours reviewing documents and other information presented earlier this month and is "struggling" with what to do Tuesday.

The relationship between the regents and Dobelle has been deteriorating since last year's evaluation of the president. The regents gave him a negative second-year review and Dobelle refused to accept the goals and performance objectives that the regents set up for him.

Dobelle said the evaluation process was flawed and overly secret. He complained that six new regents were appointed to the board in the middle of the process and the new regents did not observe him during the year for which he was evaluated.

Gov. Linda Lingle appointed the regents to fill vacancies created by resignations and normal turnover.

One of the resignations was prompted by Dobelle's appearance in a television commercial endorsing Lingle's opponent, Mazie Hirono, just before the November 2002 election.

As they evaluate Dobelle, regents are also reviewing a follow-up report from the accrediting body for UH-Manoa, UH-Hilo and UH-West Oahu. The report from the Western Association of Schools and Colleges was finished last month, but has not yet been made public by the administration, pending a WASC meeting at the end of this week and the issuance of an "action letter" confirming recommendations for improvement.

Sources said the report on the UH system administration is critical of the regents for micromanaging the university, but is also critical of Dobelle for a lack of leadership. It encouraged him and the regents to fix the problem between them.

Ralph Wolff, the WASC executive director, said last year's WASC report found "real promise" in the system administration set up by Dobelle, but also "serious concerns" about governance, administration, finance and strategic planning.

The concerns were serious enough to prompt another review this year on how issues at the system level could affect the accreditation of UH-Manoa, UH-Hilo, and UH-West Oahu, Wolff said.

During the accreditation team's visit earlier this year, the UH-Manoa Faculty Senate passed a resolution expressing "no confidence" in the system administration.

Former interim regent Ted Hong, who did not participate in the June 2 evaluation meeting, said a change in the membership of the regents is also putting pressure on the board to make a decision this month.

The terms of two regents -- Walter Nunokawa and Charles Kawakami -- end on June 30 and up to four new regents will take office beginning in July.

"(For the new regents), any kind of personnel decision at that high level will take some time," Hong said. "If something doesn't happen at the next meeting, it's going to get postponed for a while."

The board is made up of four Cayetano administration appointees, including chairwoman Patricia Lee, and six Lingle appointees, including Personnel Committee Chairwoman and board Vice Chairwoman Kitty Lagareta. There are two vacancies.

John Douglass of the University of California Berkeley Center for Studies in Higher Education said a successful relationship between a board and a university president requires mutual respect and a high level of confidence.

"There has to be a working relationship. If not, you're basically talking about a dysfunctional governing system," Douglass said.

However, in disputes between public university boards and presidents, the board is the ultimate authority, he said. "The president serves under the pleasure of the board."


Golden Parachute

UH President Evan Dobelle's contract calls for him to receive 30 days notice if he is terminated without cause. He will be paid his salary for the remaining years of the seven-year agreement plus an incentive payment of $150,000 a year with interest of 5 percent annually for each year he has worked.

Remaining salary
4 years at $442,000 a year = $1,768,000

Incentive payments
$150,000 + $7,500 interest, 2001-2002
$150,000 + $15,375 interest on $307,500, 2002-2003
$150,000 + $23,644 interest on $472,875, 2003-2004

Total incentive: $496,519

Total severance: $2,264,519

Dobelle would not receive his severance payment if he is terminated for cause. Cause is defined in his contract as: Conviction for a felony offense; A determination by doctors that the president is mentally unstable or otherwise unable to perform the duties of his office; Conduct of the president that (a) constitutes moral turpitude, (b) brings public disrespect and contempt or ridicule upon the university, and (c) proven in a court of law, would constitute grounds for criminal conviction of the president or civil liability of the university.


Assessing the UH
presidentŐs job performance

These are some of the accomplishments over the last three years that UH President Evan Dobelle cites in his self-evaluation:

Academic Management and Leadership
>> Creating a vision for the university
>> Reorganizing the UH system administration
>> Raising morale and expectations
>> $20 million Banner student information computer system
>> Workforce development initiatives
>> Creating a strategic plan for the next 10 years
>> Beginning construction of the $300 million biomedical center in Kakaako
>> A new six-year contract with faculty that will raise salaries by 31 percent
>> P-20 initiative for improving education from preschool through graduate school
>> Launching of the Academy for Creative Media
>> A nearly 50 percent increase in research and training funds since 2001
>> A nearly 9 percent increase in enrollment from fall 2001 to fall 2003

Budget, Planning, Financial Management and Fund-raising
>> Starting the process of "stocktaking" in preparation for the next budget
>> First two fiscal years ended with budget surpluses
>> The UH Foundation's Centennial Campaign raises $43 million from July 1, 2002, to March 31, 2004, on its way to a goal of $200 million by 2007

Internal and External Relations
>> Creation of a Hawaii Public Television talk show called "One on One," featuring celebrities and academics
>> Creation of a public affairs program on KHNL-TV and a radio talk show on KKEA as part of the television and radio sports contracts
>> Creation of "UH Day" at the state Capitol to showcase the university for lawmakers
>> Strengthening UH ties to the Asia-Pacific region

These are some of the criticisms of UH President Evan Dobelle over the last three years cited in the UH Regents' 2002-2003 evaluation:

Academic Management and Leadership
>> Politicizing the university with the endorsement of a gubernatorial candidate
>> Unclear separation of system and campus administrations and budgets
>> Unclear academic vision
>> Undergraduate education not a priority
>> Taking too much credit for higher enrollment and research and training fund increases

Administrative Management and Leadership
>> "Cronyism" in hiring former contacts for consultant contracts and top administrators
>> High salaries of top administrators

Budget, Planning, Financial Management and Fund-raising >> Communication gap with the board on finances
>> Flawed budgeting process
>> Confusion over how funds are allocated to each campus
>> Classes cut or not offered because of lack of funds
>> Deterioration of buildings due to lack of maintenance
>> Lack of follow-up on raising $1 million for renovation of College Hill
>> Lack of a clean plan and follow-up on raising $150 million for Kakaako biomedical center campus
>> Poor handling of UH logo contract
>> Perception of a cavalier and irresponsible attitude toward public funds and fiscal management

Internal and External Relations
>> "You vs. us" relationship with board
>> Concern over lavish travel spending
>> Credibility gap with legislature and governor
>> Making promises or commitments without proper authority


E-mail to City Desk


Text Site Directory:
[News] [Business] [Features] [Sports] [Editorial] [Do It Electric!]
[Classified Ads] [Search] [Subscribe] [Info] [Letter to Editor]
© 2004 Honolulu Star-Bulletin --