Saturday, July 3, 1999

Accrediting panel: 'Trauma' of cuts hurt UH

Experts give the university
only three years of accreditation

By Helen Altonn


The University of Hawaii-Manoa has three years to begin resolving critical problems if it wants to save its accreditation.

"There is a genuine need now for leadership," the Western Association of Schools and Colleges has reported.

WASC, the accrediting body for the western region, doesn't accredit an institution for a given period of time but normally reviews institutions about every 10 years. In UH-Manoa's case, the committee is returning in three years.

After a visit to UH-Manoa in March, a committee reported significant trauma to the campus from 11 to 12 percent budget cuts and inflationary losses the past four years.

"Most notably, hard decisions on differential budget cuts and reallocations are overdue," the committee said, pointing out deep maintenance cuts will cost more in the long run.

"The extensive library cuts are especially damaging now that staff are unavailable to teach students the tools to reach an issue; uneven effects of hiring freezes and retirements, absent remedial action thus far, have left some units inordinately damaged."

This is the latest in a series of problems plaguing the Manoa Campus. Morale there is worse than at any other UH campus, it was reported earlier. And the School of Public Health recently lost accreditation, effective next July.

The commission noted the public health school "is slowly fading away. Is this intended? Hopefully, hard decisions ... will clarify the situation."

Oceanography Professor Chris Measures, member of the Faculty Senate Executive Committee, called the report "a wake-up call."

He said, "We have to have strong leadership and advocacy for the university and there is none at the moment ... The administration strikes me as like a deer frozen in the headlights."

The commission report cites many pluses at UH-Manoa, including generally satisfied students, a good teaching environment and enthusiastic faculty and staff members.

Research remains strong and there is a "comparatively generous 11 to 1 student-faculty ratio," the report said.

But it warns that the university's accreditation will be endangered if these major issues aren't addressed: planning, communication, administration and governance and budgetary decline.

"Many among the students and employees of UHM sometimes rightfully perceive major problems in UHM governance and administration," the report says.

"Individual regents have, intentionally or unintentionally, inappropriately imposed or threatened campus actions. The apparent powers and position of the executive vice chancellor are not believed to give him the authority to speak forcefully and parochially on behalf of UHM."

Neither the regents nor the administration consistently recognize the faculty's authority to share governance, the committee said.

In a written response to the commission, UH President Kenneth Mortimer said the accreditation process "has provided our Manoa campus with a healthy and very open effort at self-assessment at a particularly difficult time."

He said the administration will use a 1998 self-assessment study and the accreditation report "as the basis for discussing and debating UHM development over the months and years to come."

Senior Vice President Dean Smith said he will meet with the Faculty Senate and Manoa deans and directors over the next few months to work on issues and recommendations in the WASC report.

He also asked Assistant Vice President Thomas Bopp to reconvene the steering committee that participated in the self-study to seek comments and advice on the WASC report.

Ah Quon McElrath, UH Board of Regents member, said she hasn't seen the accreditation report but the regents are aware of the many budget-related problems.

She said recommendations have been made to the Legislature on what should be done, "and not just say we're going to be a world-class university. Give us the bucks to do it."

The WASC report says the administrators, faculty, staff and students "are committed, often passionately, to the UHM.

"However, there were recurring themes and concerns that focused on consultative processes, communication, accuracy of information and lack of meaningful participation by many key campus constituencies."

The UH-Manoa Strategic Plan is "a comprehensive, clearly presented blueprint for institutional priorities," the team said. But it was developed without much participation by the faculty, students, staff and even key administrators, so they're wary of it, the report said.

"The administration and faculty in many UHM programs are discouraged just as much about inconsistent process and communication as they are about funding," it said.

The committee stressed the need for "candid communication" among everyone on the campus.

The faculty presented two reports to the administration with recommendations on restructuring and program cuts to deal with sharply reduced funding. Both said the medical school should be closed.

"It's a highly political situation and who is going to put his neck in the guillotine?" McElrath said. "While some of us may feel vertical cuts in this or that area must be done, if you don't have the votes on the Board of Regents, what can you do? It's a tough situation."

Instead of vertical cuts, the administration plans to make across-the-board 4 percent cuts for each of the next three years on the campuses, which the WASC team said has caused great concern.

More at: Ka Leo O Hawaii

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