Lawmakers’ meddling at UH cited
Accreditors say legislative interference endangers the integrity of the university
The accrediting body for the University of Hawaii expressed concern over what it sees as possible "micromanagement" by state lawmakers over their attempt to transfer a Hawaiian-language faculty member from UH-Manoa to UH-West Oahu.
In a Feb. 6 letter to interim UH President David McClain, a Western Association of Schools and Colleges panel noted that while relations with the Legislature and the governor appear to be improving, "detailed actions of this type would appear to represent micromanagement and violate the integrity of the university."
The letter, from WASC Executive Director Ralph Wolff, does not specify the incident or name any legislators.
However, state Senate Higher Education Chairman Clayton Hee and House Higher Education Chairman Tommy Waters have clashed publicly with McClain over a provision inserted into last year's budget that transferred funds for a Hawaiian-language position from UH-Manoa to UH-West Oahu.
McClain was also questioned about the transfer during a meeting with the accreditation panel on Jan. 31.
At a budget briefing at the Legislature in December, McClain suggested that interference in university management like the transfer could eventually threaten the university's accreditation.
Hee (D, Kahuku-Kaneohe) said the whole controversy could have been avoided if the university had let the Senate Ways and Means Committee know last year about their opposition to the transfer.
Hee said it is common for both the Legislature and the governor to make changes in the budget of the university. He cited a move by the governor last year to add money for nursing faculty positions.
"They (the university and the regents) are not the beginning and the end when it comes to ideas to improve the university," Hee said.
Waters (D, Lanikai-Waimanalo) said yesterday that he is committed to working with and supporting the university, and after talking with McClain he is recommending to the House Finance Committee that the position go back to UH-Manoa.
McClain did not return a call for comment.
Republican leaders in the House and Senate filed ethics complaints against Hee and Waters over the incident.
According to the Senate president's office, however, the Senate majority attorney reviewed the complaint and found no evidence of misconduct under Senate rules.
House Speaker Calvin Say also determined there was no basis for further action on the ethics complaint and that Waters was acting in accordance with his role as a member of the Legislature, according to the speaker's office.
Accrediting commissions like WASC certify that universities meet standards for governance and educational quality. In 2003, WASC raised concerns about the governance of the university system under former President Evan Dobelle.
Overall, the Feb. 6 letter says the panel is pleased with the progress the university has made since then. The letter cited the "well-established and effective" relationship with the Board of Regents, an increase in state funding for the university and an increase in tuition support.
Among the other recommendations in the letter, the panel suggested that the university monitor the impact of increased tuition on enrollment, financial aid and the admission of native Hawaiians and other underrepresented groups at UH.