Real change is needed in selection process for UH regents
DURING the past few years, we in the Legislature have heard a growing chorus of concern about appointments to the University of Hawaii Board of Regents. In particular, we face questions regarding conflicts of interest and issues with sitting regents. There have been hints of appointments being made for political payback instead of vision and advocacy. Seats on the Board of Regents have become political plums, instead of positions with a singular focus on elevating our state university system to great heights. It seems that the main qualification for a position on the board has become what you have done for a political insider, and not what you will do for the future of our university.
And yet we legislators have long made it our goal to support our university. One example is the greater autonomy that has been granted to the UH system over the years, including giving the UH control over its tuition rates.
We have come to a greater awareness of the connection of the university to our workforce. We recognize that the economic well-being of our state and our Asia Pacific neighbors will be greatly affected by the ability of the Board of Regents to fuel inspiration, prioritize the myriad possibilities and reward the dedication of those who are committed to advanced education in our state.
Your elected members of the Legislature want the University of Hawaii to excel, thrive and soar.
Based on those concerns, and after much deliberation, the people of Hawaii were asked whether to amend the state Constitution to allow an advisory council to assist in naming the members of the Board of Regents. The proposed council would present to the governor a list of nominees qualified to help navigate our educational fleet from the realm of great ideas, through the challenges of planning and implementation, to the success we should find reflected in our system, our state and our students.
The proposal was the subject of a great deal of public debate. The current chairwoman of the Board of Regents took the lead in defending the current structure. The exchange of ideas was vigorous, and both sides honed their messages and presented their positions clearly and professionally.
IN THE end, the voters said "Yes." The people chose change, not the status quo. But the question remained: What would the new council look like?
We attempted to answer this question last session. The Legislature passed Senate Bill 1256 in 2006, but the governor vetoed that measure, calling it premature. The measure was reintroduced this year based on the voters' call for change.
We want to respect and honor the voters' choice and we indeed have no other option. We have a responsibility to bring life to the express wishes of Hawaii's voters. The Constitution was amended to change the process. We have an obligation to act as agents for that change.
The Senate Committee on Education provided an opportunity for all interested parties to present concerns regarding our proposed advisory council, as set forth in Senate Bill 14. When the administration did not submit written testimony at the hearing on this bill, we contacted the governor's education point person, her senior policy adviser. We asked for the governor's input on SB14.
INSTEAD, we received comments on Senate Bill 617, which had been introduced at the governor's request, stating that the governor should choose the council and appoint its chairman. It was clear that they felt the governor's wish to maintain control superseded the people's unequivocal call to remove politics from the equation. They denied the need for change, ignored the call for change and fought our efforts to bring about change.
The governor's bill called for a council appointed by the governor, and whose terms would run with that of the governor. In essence, the governor's proposal would replace one hand-picked board with another. It would allow a committee of surrogates to do for the governor what the public has said she should not be able to do for herself. The public has called for real change. We cannot in good conscience allow the formality of a council of surrogates to stand in for the reality of a council of outstanding individuals who share a commitment to rising above partisan politics and provincial concerns. The public has called for real change, and we will deliver real change.
Norman Sakamoto (D, Salt Lake-Foster Village) is chairman of the Senate Education Committee.