University selling itself at far too low of a price
The state, Legislature and University of Hawaii are so desperate to develop a UH-West Oahu campus that they have decided to sell themselves. Yes, literally, UH is selling off 300 acres of prime land to a mainland developer for only $333,333 an acre.
Is this for real? Are these the types of cheap property prices prevalent in West Oahu? Is anybody looking out for the interests of the people of the state? Selling oneself is bad enough, but selling oneself cheap is worse. Next, talk about selling the citizens of the state, as well, because that's what's happened here. The issue is scandalous.
The current proposal to sell land seems only to be a quick solution for an immediate problem -- that of raising money for constructing the West Oahu campus. And without a transparent follow-through analysis of how the next 75 years will be funded, UH is doing a disservice to subsequent generations.
In going this route, UH did not consider one major alternative -- that of developing those 300 acres itself under its auxiliary business enterprises. For all the malls, shops and homes that will come up in West Oahu after construction by the developer, UH will get not one cent in the future. It could have struck it rich by developing the land itself. So much for having a business professor as the president of UH.
Ask yourself how the operations of UH-West Oahu will be funded in future years. You got it right -- you, the taxpayer, will cough up the money one way or the other, when it needn't be that way.
Moreover, UH and its esteemed Board of Regents did not conduct a life cycle engineering economic analysis of its plan. There is no evidence that there was a detailed determination of net present worth or internal rate of return; there was no detailed analysis of time value of money. There was no transparency of the analysis and calculations conducted. This is unprofessional and unpardonable. Well-informed, educated developers use professional analytical tools in making investment decisions, but for all the education available at UH, its leaders could not use these techniques, without which not one dollar should be invested in any expensive, long-term public venture.
For all the savvy business professionals manning the BOR, its members have demonstrated they are less than business professionals in analyzing this important investment problem with far-reaching consequences. This is irresponsible. Sounds like the time for talking is over, and that the time for a peaceful revolution has arrived. This is not to say that UH-West Oahu should absolutely not be constructed, but only that it should be done right if it is to be pursued. UH seems to have a wishbone where it should have a backbone.
After all this is said and done, UH still is woefully short of faculty housing, something for which the land at West Oahu could be used at rents commensurate to faculty salaries. This is one reason why retention and recruiting are so difficult. Moreover, something like half of UH's professors are poised to retire in five years; many others would like to leave if they get half a chance on the mainland. The crisis is yet to come. At this rate, why keep UH at all? Time to sell it to the "cheapest" responsive developer.
Amarjit Singh is an associate professor in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the University of Hawaii-Manoa.