Hawaii’s World

By A.A. Smyser

Thursday, April 22, 1999

Kenneth Mortimer’s

WESTERN Washington University is a fine institution with an exceptionally bright future. The faculty, staff and students, as well as the board of trustees and citizens of Washington, have every reason to be very proud."

The pertinence of this paragraph to Hawaii is that it was written in 1993 and sums up an evaluation of Western Washington during the five-year period, 1988-93, that Kenneth P. Mortimer was its president.

In 1993 Mortimer was invited to the presidency of the much larger University of Hawaii system and now has a contract until 2003. We can hope, I believe, for a somewhat similar evaluation when Mortimer rounds out his tenure here.

Mortimer took charge at Western Washington in Bellingham, enrollment 11,000, a few months after its president and two vice presidents were killed in a plane crash.

The report I quote was for the Commission on Colleges of the Northwest Association of Schools and Colleges, done by a single evaluator after a two-day campus visit, as an update of a much more extensive 1988 report by a 15-person team.

Among the findings of evaluator David Griffith are these:

Bullet The Mortimer administration greatly increased the commitment of the university to ethnic and racial diversity despite strict state-imposed enrollment limits that made it deny admission to hundreds of applicants.

Bullet WWU selectively has reorganized departments, revised programs and options, and eliminated some programs "to further focus the institution's resources." All vacated faculty positions revert to the provost for reallocation.

Bullet "The sophistication and responsibility of faculty governance has increased appreciably...professional development goals have been "well-addressed."

Bullet New policies "clarify and define the role of research without sacrificing the centrality of instruction at the university. These policies seem to recognize the importance of research and creative accomplishment as a component of high-quality instruction."

The evaluator adds: "Nevertheless the old and unfortunate debate of teaching vs. research continues as it does on most campuses." (At UH we see it in Manoa faculty opposition to continuing the School of Medicine.)

The evaluator's praise goes also to full involvement of the board of trustees in developing a new mission statement, to improvement of information and technology services, to strengthening of student writing requirements, to construction of a science complex, to improvement of student recreational facilities.

A tight budget is mentioned. It is, I believe, a key reason the University of Hawaii regents sought out Mortimer to reorganize here. Most probably, neither Mortimer nor the regents foresaw in 1993 just how tight UH budgets would become.

Shrunken state funding places a strait jacket on efforts to improve UH but Mortimer seems to be maneuvering inside it with some effectiveness as at Western Washington. UH regents several times have extended his contract. A 1998 coup was to win from the state greater power for UH to manage its own affairs.

Mortimer has identified a major focus for his probably final years on amassing a much larger UH endowment fund with community support.

A.A. Smyser is the contributing editor
and former editor of the the Star-Bulletin
His column runs Tuesday and Thursday.

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