UH faculty beyond dollars


POSTED: Saturday, August 01, 2009

Recently we heard the good news that the University of Hawaii Foundation had raised $330 million in charitable donations over a six-year period. What got less press attention was that the UH faculty had raised over $400 million in grant support, not over six years but in a single year. At the same time we learned that top UH executives, who earn mainly at or above the national average, were taking voluntary pay cuts by up to 10 percent, while lower-level executives would be cut 6 percent to 7 percent. Meanwhile, UH faculty, who (despite some recent raises) still earn well below our colleagues at peer institutions, are being asked to take a 15 percent cut.

I'm not going to belabor the pay issue here; salaries are being hashed out at the bargaining table. I do however want to make some general comments about the cuts to UH-Manoa from a faculty point of view.

We who teach and do research at UHM are grieved to see the impact that the state's economic downturn is having on our family, friends, neighbors, and of course our students and their families, and we are determined to do what we can to help the state and the university weather this crisis. However, we are disappointed that so little effort has been made to find nuanced, creative solutions to our state's problems. The currently proposed cuts, under the guise of sharing the pain, are likely to increase the amount of pain overall.

UH-Manoa's mission within the UH system and in Hawaii is a complex one. UHM is a major player in the global knowledge industry; the faculty exports such knowledge in the form of our research, imports it in the form of scholarship, and we pass it on to our students so that they and the state might share in the associated intellectual, cultural, and economic growth.

One result of the faculty's efforts is UHM's ability to offer a world-standard level of higher education to the people of Hawaii, to ensure that the next generation is ready to engage with whatever the future brings to the nation and to our state. A more immediate benefit is our ability to bring in far more in grant support than we cost in the state's general fund; a recent economic analysis shows that UHM generates over five dollars in spending in Hawaii for every state dollar invested in the campus.

Thanks mainly to the diligence and quality of the UHM faculty, we are one of the most significant engines of productivity in the state, and one of the greatest hopes for recovery from the current financial mess.

However, as we look at the size of the cuts to UHM, and the likely places where they will be applied, we see that our ability to promote recovery is very much on the line. UHM departments, some of which haven't yet completely recovered from the cuts we suffered in the 1990s, are losing not only our instructors and lecturers, but also the secretarial and support staff, groundskeepers and janitors, all of whom are essential. Faculty are being asked to stop teaching courses at the leading edge of their field, potentially leaving students in some majors bereft of course options. Entire programs are being considered for the chopping block. Instructional workloads are being

increased, at the expense of research effort and the grant income it generates.

(As has been reported, UHM's cuts are many times deeper than that of the other institutions in the system. Ironically, part of the reason for this is our very ability to generate this extramural funding. These cuts were allocated internally according to individual campus's “;ability to pay.”; UHM's “;ability”; included so-called RTRF, a portion of our grant income which is meant to support the research effort and was largely already committed to use in this effort.)

By many independent measures, UH-Manoa remains one of the great universities in the world. We're one of only 63 public universities in the country with the highest Carnegie Foundation classification. The best-known international ranking of universities ranks us as tied for 59th in the Western Hemisphere.

These rankings are based on the quality of our faculty and programs, not our buildings or athletic records. At this level UHM is in intense competition for the best faculty, grants and students. It is not a coincidence that our successes in recent years, academic and financial, have followed the rebuilding of our faculty, both in size and in salary. We are worried that

decisions being made right now by the state and the system will not only undo the recent progress we have made, but cause irreversible harm to our competitive standing. We are already losing faculty, and the cuts will make it di cult to recruit outstanding new faculty members and the research programs that they can develop. Since university rankings are based primarily on a faculty's reputation and grants, our hard-earned status as a research-extensive university could fall into jeopardy.

We are nonplussed that at the same time that the governor is asking us to make drastic salary concessions, and the administration is contemplating deep cuts in programs and departments, the system continues to hire new executives at salaries well beyond that of nearly all faculty, and is proceeding with hundreds of millions of dollars in new building construction (beyond repairs to ailing buildings which we all agree are necessary, such as waterproof roofs on libraries).

While we are told that building funds are from a “;different pot”; than salaries, the bottom line is that impressive sums of money are being spent in the system at the same time that the most valuable components of our campus are being eroded and the sources of this money are ultimately the same as those which could be used to sustain the productive human heart of UHM.

The UH-Manoa faculty is ready to “;share the pain”; with the rest of the state, but we would far rather share our achievements. We are proud of our record of service to the people of Hawaii; we are proud of the contributions made by our graduates and by our research. We want those contributions to continue, and to increase. We ask in return that today's fiscal decisions be made with concern not only for this year's budget bottom line, but for long-term consequences to the state and its citizens.


David Ross is chairman of the UH-Manoa Faculty Senate's Executive Committee. This essay has been edited for length.