UH marketing polls
Questions are raised over whether
political motives drove surveys
Marketing surveys done for former University of Hawaii President Evan Dobelle also asked respondents to rate their opinion of elected local officials, including Gov. Linda Lingle and former Lt. Gov. Mazie Hirono, according to people who have seen the polls.
The polls, conducted in September 2001 and January 2003, also asked about how the public viewed Dobelle.
In all, there were up to 20 to 25 questions that asked for "favorable" or "unfavorable" ratings for elected officials and other influential people in the islands, said John Gorman, president of Opinion Dynamics Corp., the Cambridge, Mass., company that conducted the surveys. The survey asked between 90 and 100 questions, he said.
Gorman confirmed that favorable/unfavorable questions were asked about Lingle and Hirono. Sources who have seen the poll said questions were also asked about Hawaii's congressional delegation and other elected officials.
Don Clegg, a local political pollster, said favorable/unfavorable surveys can be used for both marketing and political purposes. He said the results can be useful to find out who would be the best people among Hawaii's movers and shakers to ask to support the university.
The same questions can also be used for election purposes, Clegg said.
Dobelle, who was fired by the Board of Regents last month, said yesterday there were no political motives behind the polls.
He said he prefers to say that the favorable/unfavorable questions were about "the leaders of Hawaii" and not specifically about elected officials. He said favorable/unfavorable questions were also asked about others, including UH football coach June Jones; First Hawaiian Bank Chief Executive Walter Dods, who had led a previous fund-raising campaign; former Gov. George Ariyoshi; and Polynesian Voyaging Society navigator Nainoa Thompson.
Dobelle said the polls were for the benefit of the university and were going to be used to identify key leaders for the upcoming Centennial Campaign in 2007 to raise $200 million for UH to celebrate its 100th anniversary.
"Only a cynic would make something different out of it," he said.
Dobelle said the September 2001 poll and the January 2003 poll asked questions about subjects like support for the film school or a new stadium for UH as well as other marketing questions.
The results about specific university projects were matched with the results from the favorable/unfavorable questions. By comparing the poll results, Dobelle said he could figure out if the same people who supported a local leader also supported a specific program and then identify key leaders to ask to help with fund raising.
He said the first survey, taken only a few months after he took office, helped familiarize him with key leaders and the public perception of the university.
Dobelle said the polls, which cost a total of $85,000, were paid for with UH Foundation money and that no state funds were used.
Dobelle has said the nonbid contracts for the polls were issued to Opinion Dynamics Corp. because of the company's national reputation, not because of Dobelle's friendship with the company's president. Gorman and Dobelle have known each other since the 1970s when Dobelle worked for former U.S. Sen. Ed Brooke.
A draft audit raised questions about the January 2003 survey because auditors could not locate a copy of the poll and the results had not been presented to the UH Foundation board as of May 2004. Since the draft audit was circulated, Gorman has sent the university a copy of the poll questions and results.
The final audit report was one of the things regents considered in Dobelle's firing. However, regents still have not made public the exact reason or reasons they fired the former president "for cause," effectively denying him a $2.26 million severance payment.
The university and Dobelle are now in mediation.
Bob Brock, president of Educational Marketing Group Inc., a Colorado company that specializes in brand development and marketing for higher-education institutions, said it is "relatively unusual to survey any perceptions of elected officials within an institutional survey."
"There may have been some reasons for that, but I don't know exactly what they would be," he said. "We've never done it ourselves in any of the survey work we've done, and I've never seen it in any other university surveys."
Lou DiNatale, a senior fellow at the University of Massachusetts McCormack Institute of Public Affairs, said, "You do your best to keep politics and marketing separate, but you can't do marketing properly without some political intelligence."
DiNatale said he thinks there are good reasons for a university to conduct political research.
"It's not an ethical problem," he said. "It's a political problem in so far as legislators could choose to view that as a hostile act, the fact that you went and took a look and you're a state agency," he said.
Spokesmen for U.S. Sen. Daniel Akaka, U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye and Lingle said the public officials were not aware that the university had conducted opinion polls on them.
Lingle's spokesman said the governor has not been asked to participate in an effort to help market or raise funds for the university.
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Dobelle to receive say
in making papers public
The state Office of Information Practices is giving former University of Hawaii President Evan Dobelle a chance to say why documents relating to his termination should or should not be made public.
The university turned over most of the requested records to OIP for the agency's review and is cooperating in turning over the other documents, OIP Director Les Kondo said in a letter yesterday. The agency will review the documents and issue an opinion on whether they should be made public.
Among the documents released to OIP were the minutes of the June 15 UH Board of Regents' closed-door meeting when the regents decided to fire Dobelle, and a final Deloitte & Touche audit report of Dobelle's protocol fund spending.
Dobelle is being given until Friday to comment on whether the release of the documents would violate his privacy.
"Given the circumstances, we wish to allow you an opportunity to provide us with any information that you believe is relevant for our consideration," Kondo wrote to Dobelle.
The letter also was sent to news media, which have requested the documents.
The university has denied the Star-Bulletin, UH journalism professor Bev Keever and other media organizations access to the documents, citing privacy, the ongoing mediation to resolve the dispute with Dobelle, and a possible lawsuit.
Other records that were requested include:
» Project management reports and procurement records relating to the 2001 renovation work at the president's College Hill home, which is owned by the university.
» Side agreements to Dobelle's employment contract.
» Dobelle's correspondence with his staff and the regents relating to his absence at the board's June 15 meeting.
» E-mails, memos and correspondence between Dobelle and his staff with the UH Foundation relating to his protocol fund.
» A copy of the Opinion Dynamics Corp. opinion surveys conducted for the university and e-mails, memos and correspondence regarding the surveys.
» Contracts between UH and the private attorneys hired to represent UH and regents in Dobelle's firing.