Friday, August 27, 2004

Dobelle concerned
regents early on

Session minutes show that
UH regents feared the president
was not living up to promises

In his first year as University of Hawaii president, Evan Dobelle stirred criticisms from regents about his leadership style.

According to minutes of a June 2002 closed-door meeting, former regent Ah Quon McElrath said, "Many faculty are now waking up to the reality that President Dobelle has done more in the way of public relations to enhance his image rather deliver on his promises."

University of Hawaii Even within months of Dobelle's July 2001 start, regents had concerns about his performance. Portions of regents' committee minutes from November 2001 say, "The board, according to Chairperson (Allan) Ikawa, has been concerned about the lack of communication from the president."

In June of this year, the regents unanimously fired Dobelle "for cause." The board and Dobelle began mediation after Dobelle hired attorneys to look into a possible lawsuit. Last month, a settlement was reached giving Dobelle about $1.5 million in cash and benefits and requiring him to resign. The regents also withdrew the firing for cause.

Dobelle said yesterday the complaints by the regents had never been brought to him. "No one said anything except that I did a good job," Dobelle said.

Dobelle called the disclosure of just some of the minutes "juvenile behavior."

"I don't know how to respond except with sadness," Dobelle said.

Dobelle had started in July 2001 after a search committee headed by Ikawa had recommended him for the post.

But within four months there were concerns.

"Too often, for example, the board learns of critical decisions through the media," the minutes quoted Ikawa as saying.

"In many instances, the president did not even have the authority to make those decisions."

According to the minutes of the executive session, Dobelle said he "would think of a way to better communicate with the board."

Asked about the executive session minutes, Ikawa declined yesterday to comment on them.

The minutes of Personnel Committee meetings in April and June 2002 show that as the regents discussed their evaluation of Dobelle's first year, there were more concerns about communication.

In August 2002, Ikawa called Dobelle's self-assessment (which was delivered as part of his evaluation) "exaggerated because he had omitted the areas he needs to improve on."

In June 2002, Ikawa said it was important to reinforce lines of communication, clarify misunderstandings and expectations and generally strengthen the relationship between the board and president, according to the minutes.

Noting that Dobelle had called himself in his self-evaluation a "problem-solver," Ikawa disagreed.

He was hired as a fund-raiser and had yet to show any significant productivity, Ikawa said.

In response, Dobelle said: "If Allan is right that I was only hired as a fund-raiser, I should have gotten an A-plus, because I raised $63 million."

Dobelle said the regents had criticized his fund raising for the UH capital campaign, but he had brought in money directly to UH.

At the same June meeting, McElrath said more and more faculty were beginning to feel that "the hope that he (Dobelle) supposedly brought to 'reinvigorate' the university is slowly 'dissipating.'"

In August 2002, McElrath said her major concern was "the way he makes decisions without board approval."

McElrath described Dobelle as a "poor listener who is insensitive when he constantly interrupts people."

Another regent who had been appointed by former Gov. Ben Cayetano, Everett Dowling, said in September 2002 that his concerns could be summarized in one word: courtesy.

"He feels that there is a lack of courtesy at this present time by President Dobelle of the board responsibility to the public and its fiduciary responsibilities," the executive session minutes read.

To improve communications, the regents instituted in 2002 an "informal social setting during the evening after the monthly board committee," according to the minutes.

"These meeting will facilitate the continuing dialogue with the president and the board," the minutes read.

Former regent Billy Bergin said at the July 2002 meeting that he agreed with the concerns, but the board should have set down ground rules as soon as the president was hired.

He noted a "deterioration of trust between the board and President Dobelle."

"He (Bergin) remains concerned that the president's purported mission of fund-raising for the (UH) Foundation and alumni as well as his stand-above role as university leader has not been productive to the level commensurate with the rhetoric," the minutes read.

UH Regent Patricia Lee said Dobelle had publicized his fund-raising attempt on the mainland but had "yet to produce a significant gift."

"She summarized that while the president is viewed as a visionary and some of his people seem capable in specific areas, there was much to be anticipated from him in the future. It was time to hold him accountable."

University of Hawaii


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