Friday, June 18, 1999

Consider the
big picture, Hirono
says of UH flap

The acting governor says cost
isn't the only issue affecting the
UH public health and
medical schools

By Helen Altonn
Star-Bulletin staff


The University of Hawaii's troubled public health and medical schools should be viewed in terms of their impact on the state -- not just how much they cost, says acting Gov. Mazie Hirono.

The quality of health care in the state, research scholars coming here, and Hawaii's goal of becoming the health care center of the Pacific are among issues that should be considered, she said yesterday.

UH plans to fold the School of Public Health into the John A. Burns School of Medicine as an accredited masters degree program. UH President Kenneth Mortimer also has said the medical school may be closed if more money isn't found to maintain it.

In developments yesterday involving the public health school, which will lose its accreditation effective June 5, 2000:

Bullet The UH Board of Regents' Committee on Academic Affairs approved a pact between the school and state Health Department for exchange of faculty and students. William Wood, interim public health school dean, had hoped to have the agreement signed several weeks ago to help get accreditation.

Bullet UH Senior Vice President Dean Smith told two public health student leaders he hopes to have a plan ready for a public health program in the medical school by June 6, 2000.

He explained that he isn't proposing Wood for another term as interim dean because he needs a dean who will plan the program. Wood has fought to keep the school intact.

Bullet About 17 Hawaii Coalition for Health members met across the hall from Smith and the students in the Biomedical Sciences Building to discuss saving both the public health and medical schools.

"We've got to stop this train from roaring out of the state," said Dr. Arleen Jouxson-Meyers, coalition president.

She said she discussed concerns of the 1,100-member coalition and the Health Care Ohana with the lieutenant governor.

Hirono said she talked to Mortimer and he agrees that the issues need to be discussed in a larger context. She said he plans to form a task force.

"We have the external community now coming to the table to participate," she said.

Meeting with Smith were graduate students Mark Diel and Justin Kunkle, who also testified at the regents' committee meeting.

(Faculty members reportedly boycotted Smith's meeting because of short notice; it was "off-duty time" and they felt the proper process wasn't followed in dropping Wood as interim dean.)

Diel and Kunkle, worried about graduating from a non-accredited program, said UH told them in letters before they arrived in January that the administration was doing everything possible to keep the school's accreditation. That was a lie, they said.

"What's my degree going to be worth?" Diel asked. "Should I be packing my bags now?"

"It's a question of quality," Kunkle said, pointing out "accreditation aspires to a certain level of excellence."

Also questioning what will happen to students if they end up in a non-accredited program was Senate Faculty Executive Committee member Chris Measures, an observer at Smith's meeting.

"It sounds to me like the university is opening itself to lawsuits," he said.

Hirono said removing Wood as interim public health dean "might be a little premature, especially when we want a good discussion on how these two programs fit into the scheme of things in the state."

She said she has talked to a number of regents and believes they would support such a discussion.

"We have to be creative in these matters," she said.

Regent Nainoa Thompson said the UH is obligated to keep the public health and medical schools accredited. He doesn't think it's too late to save the public health school.

"It's about leadership and vision."

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