Thursday, July 15, 1999

University of Hawaii

KENNETH MORTIMER - The Man and his Mission- UH president still believes in Manoa campus

A critical accreditation report
is the campus administrator's
toughest test

Bullet Overseer: Manoa not likely to lose status
Bullet The accreditation report

By Susan Kreifels


WHEN Kenneth Mortimer was deciding to leave as president of Western Washington University in 1993, members of the business community offered a $1 million endowment through the board of trustees to increase his annual salary by $50,000 and entice him to stay.

Things were going well. An accreditation review covering five years, most of that time under Mortimer's leadership, said "substantial progress" had been made on recommendations and that a "spirit of cooperation" existed between faculty and administration.

But Mortimer had made it clear to trustees during his 4-1/2 years in Washington that he wanted to end up in Hawaii, where he had family attachments.

Kenneth Mortimer

Now, after six years as University of Hawaii president, Mortimer is faced with an accreditation report describing serious problems on the Manoa campus, with nine straight years of budget cuts, angry faculty and students, even calls for his resignation.

In an interview this week, Mortimer said he has no regrets moving from Washington to Hawaii. "I'd be a much wealthier man but that's not a big thing in my life," he said. "I still believe the university has great potential to serve the state and become a better institution."

The accreditation report by the Western Association of Schools & Colleges cited lack of leadership and communication on the Manoa campus and a need for urgent change due to budget cuts.

A team will again visit UH-Manoa in three years to see that action is taken or else "accreditation will soon be endangered."

Administration and faculty leaders say it's time to end "anger and denial" over an environment driven by budget, to stop pointing fingers, to get on with urgent changes and to force the community to finally take a stand on what it wants for the future of the state's only research university -- an institution that they say is crucial to fuel an economic revival in Hawaii.

But both sides say it won't be easy.

Mortimer's style of leadership has increasingly come under fire. Faculty members accuse him of not including them in planning or governance, nor giving timely responses to their proposals.

Students will no doubt be at today's UH Board of Regents meeting after last week demanding Mortimer ask regents to make a decision on the school of public health, which recently became the nation's first such school to lose accreditation.

Good reputation

When Mortimer arrived at Western Washington after leaving his posts as a vice president and vice chancellor at Penn State, it was much different. A year earlier the university's president and two vice presidents were killed in a plane crash, and the campus community greeted Mortimer with a standing ovation.

Mortimer, with a national reputation for higher education management, took charge of a smaller university than he now heads. One of six state universities, enrollment totaled about 11,000 and faculty about 500.

Located in a bedroom community of Seattle, it was becoming a rival to the University of Washington in popularity and quality of students.

Craig Cole, a member of Western Washington's board of trustees for 11 years, praised Mortimer's leadership, a no-nonsense style he saw more in business than government.

"He's extraordinarily strategic and decisive," Cole said. "He asks tough questions, ruffles feathers and steps on toes. He faces up to decisions that are difficult but which will be in the long-range interest of the university."

Cole said Mortimer took on controversial issues that brought him "a lot of burdens and grief," like bringing diversity in students and faculty.

Al Froderberg, vice president for external affairs at Western Washington, said most of the administration was happy with Mortimer. "He moved us to a new level of professionalism. He knows what works and what doesn't work. When it's time to cut the budget, he will protect the core strength of the university."

'Self-contained man'

Faculty gave mixed reviews. Two presidents of the faculty senate during Mortimer's years said they had good working relationships with him, especially in small groups, and that they accomplished a lot.

But they said he brought a more formal and aloof style than folks were used to, including old-boy politicians of the state legislature.

"The only way to make him change his mind was to get him before he made a public statement," said Chris Suczek, senate president in 1989-90. "He didn't want to lose face."

Suczek said Mortimer left a lot of faculty disgruntled because they felt the "self-contained man" didn't appreciate their ideas -- especially when discussed in large groups. But she said he improved community relations and was an effective advocate off campus.

Other faculty members were harsh in their criticism of Mortimer, including his eye on Hawaii. "He was absolutely intolerant to any criticism," said Robert M. Thorndike, a faculty senate president twice but not under Mortimer. "He circumvented the governance process."

Involving students in decision-making was a new thing to Mortimer, said Mark Aeserwd, associate student president during 1990-91.

So Mortimer started inviting students to his office for chats over pizza.

Mortimer arrived at UH in 1993 toward the end of Hawaii's economic boom. Roy Takeyama, chairman of the UH regents selection committee, said the board knew tough times were coming.

The committee was "not looking for a dreamer, someone reaching for the moon," Takeyama said, "but a manager who could manage under austere conditions."

The regents also knew Mortimer had been a successful fund-raiser in Washington. Private fund-raising here has jumped from $10 million to $25 million.

Unlike Washington, Mortimer found long-range planning more difficult here because "the target continually shifts" -- like the summer of 1995, when a planned budget cut of $14 million boomed to $28 million within a few weeks.

It quickly became clear that the strategic plan in place at the time wouldn't work. Urgency, he said, prevented normal strategic planning, which takes two to four years of debate and development. Still, he believes there was plenty of give and take in developing the UH-Manoa strategic plan adopted by regents in May 1998.

Mortimer intends to seek 12 percent of the state's budget over the next years so he can work out a fiscal business plan. Otherwise the university will have "to slash and burn, and I don't think there is support for that" in the state.

Retreats are planned this fall with UH-Manoa faculty senators and with academic deans. And the university will promote a series "of very hot and vocal public debates" over the strategic plan and cuts.

As for his direct working relationships, he says it's difficult with a faculty of 3,000 in the UH system, and he's built a team around him to do more of that.

"I'm candid and that gets me into trouble," Mortimer said. "I make decisions that some people don't like. But I don't lie and I don't cheat."

Alexander Malahoff, past chairman of the UH-Manoa faculty senate, says the senate executive committee and the faculty union have already started meeting to address about 30 recommendations in the accreditation report, including the need for better communication on campus. That means looking away from the past and not finger-pointing.

"The administration is so weakened by this," Malahoff said. "The faculty is getting galvanized to solve problems. We're determined to get on with it, with or without the administration."

He feels too much emphasis is put on personality and how Mortimer and the administration feel. "The president is not the king or emperor. No single person, no matter how brilliant, can run an institution singlehandedly."

Star-Bulletin reporter Dawn Sagario contributed to this report.

Overseer: Manoa not
likely to lose status

It is not expected to lose its accreditation;
it would be a first if it did, he says

By Susan Kreifels


The executive director of the accrediting body for the University of Hawaii-Manoa says no such research university has ever lost accreditation, nor does he expect UH-Manoa to lose it.

"There's no grounds for believing the university is in imminent danger of losing its accreditation," said Ralph Wolff with the Western Association of Schools & Colleges. "It just has to deal with very evident problems. The important message is that the university remains accredited."

Even if an institution is put on sanctions, that "tends to galvanize action. The endgame is not a loss of accreditation, it's improved services and quality."

The university recently received an accreditation report calling for urgent action in planning, communication, administration and governance. It also said cuts must be made in view of budget problems.

The campus remains accredited, and in three years it will receive a special visit and a time will be set for the next full review. Wolff said if the situation became significantly worse, WASC could consider some kind of sanction.

Wolff said more than one-third of the 146 institutions under WASC receive special visits following comprehensive reviews. Those visits could come as soon as one year depending on the seriousness of problems.

Accreditation can be extended up to 10 years, but universities must have a visit or report within five years. UH-Manoa's last full accreditation review was in 1990 and a midterm report was submitted in 1995.

Wolff said any criticism in the report is not directed toward a single person or entity and that finger-pointing should be avoided.

"There has been a set of circumstances over a period of years that in hindsight everyone wishes was different. The time for denial of the economic situation is over. The university cannot anymore be all things to all people. Choices must be made. It's appropriate for the university faculty and staff to work together."

Chatt Wright, president of Hawaii Pacific University, agreed that UH-Manoa is not in threat of losing regional accreditation. "This is an action to help the university improve itself. It's a normal thing. Given the budgetary climate, it's understandable."

Mary Tiles, chairwoman of the UH-Manoa faculty senate executive committee, said the senate recognizes the university is not on the verge of losing accreditation, but she believes the administration has not acknowledged the seriousness or urgency of problems recognized in the report. "There's a lot of mistrust. There has to be gestures on all sides to try to reconstruct relationships as well as the university."

The bottom line

The University of Hawaii at Manoa maintains all the characteristics of a Research I university. It has, though, recently suffered equally from both the budget cuts and the delay in responding to those cuts. Recovery is not impossible, especially considering the admirable dedication to the well-being of the campus by virtually all of its employees. Research productivity, enhanced by external grant support, remains strong. There also is a potential resource in the comparatively generous 11-to-1 student-faculty ratio.

However, while recovery is not impossible, it urgently requires hard decisions in the short term that will require quick reallocation, improved mechanisms and processes for campus communication for the long term, and special attention to real and perceived problems in governance and administration. If these several actions do not occur accreditation will soon be endangered.

-- Closing comments from the WASC accreditation visit, University of Hawaii at Manoa, March 15-19, 1999


A closer look at
report’s findings

The entire report and supporting documents are viewable at:

Excerpts from Western Association of Schools & Colleges accreditation visit, University of Hawaii at Manoa, March 15-19, 1999:

Executive summary and Introduction

The University of Hawaii at Manoa (UHM) has been beset by budgetary difficulty for five years now. ... With inflationary losses added in, the trauma to the campus has been significant.

Most notably, hard decisions on differential budget cuts and reallocations are overdue. The deep cuts in maintenance are, by now, likely to cost much more in the long run than they are saving; the extensive library cuts are especially damaging now that staff are unavailable to teach students the tools to research an issue; uneven effects of hiring freezes and retirements, absent remedial action thus far, have left some units inordinately damaged.

Planning for the near term and long term, needed to guide actions in a UHM recovery plan, has occurred, but without broadly based engagement and therefore without broadly based buy-in.

... Future actions, conceivably including program disestablishment ... must incorporate a more broadly based planning process. The success of that process will require communication mechanisms that currently do not exist. Many among the students and employees of UHM sometimes rightfully perceive major problems in UHM governance and administration. ... Maintaining the quality of this broadly based campus as it existed in 1994 on its smaller budget is not possible. Yet four years after the first absolute budget decrease, no reconfiguration is in evidence. ... The campus remains, as a result, in urgent need of a well-conceived strategic plan for reconfiguration. Such a plan exists, the UHM strategic plan, but it was composed absent an open-air process that would have allowed widespread involvement and comment. Time saved by allowing only minimum input during the development of the plan may be lost during acrimonious implementation.

"4+4+4" is the "acronym" for a reallocation plan. It means that each year for the next three years the general fund portion of most campus budgets will be cut by 4 percent. The money will then be distributed according to the tenets of the strategic plan. ... The stated intentions are to begin the rebuilding process in the three areas hit hardest by the budget cuts thus far. Two of the areas are the library and plant maintenance; no one disputes the need in these areas. The third area (redistributing academic resources, including faculty positions, to "fix" the randomness of the earlier hiring freezes and incentivized retirements) is more controversial. The deans and ORU directors feel that having to make these cuts on top of the budget trauma of the past four years will be overwhelming. Asked about alternatives, they urge vertical cuts. Which method is used, 4+4+4, or vertical cuts, is a matter for campus decision. Likely both will be necessary.

... The cuts that will result from the 4+4+4 process are likely to be mini-vertical cuts since even 4 percent, given the personnel-heavy budget circumstance in all units, will force units to put programs and positions on the block.

Planning, governance and resources

Findings: The administrators, faculty, staff and students with whom we talked are committed, often passionately, to 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.

... There is a genuine need now for leadership. The administration and faculty in many UHM programs are discouraged just as much about inconsistent process and communication as they are about funding. ... This lack of communication engenders the belief on the part of some that the central administration will act without consultation on vertical cuts.

... It is not clear that appropriate mechanisms are being employed to allow faculty representatives, through faculty senate, an appropriate advisory role in shared governance. This seems especially apparent in the development of strategies for further budget reductions.

This said, the faculty has maintained much of its commitment and interest in the education of the students, as well as in the maintenance of scholarship and rigor in their respective fields of expertise.

... There seem to be no major campus space needs. There are, however, major concerns about the long-term consequences of decreased maintenance of the entire plant.

Bullet Recommendations: Hard budget decisions have to be made now. The urgency of the times precludes redoing the UHM strategic plan and 4+4+4. Neither is unreasonable, and action is long overdue. It is expected, however, that successful implementation has been compromised by poor methods of plan development and communication with campus constituencies.

Bullet All future budget and planning strategies, i.e., decisions that propose major new campus directions, should be developed through processes that require and promote broad campus involvement.

Bullet Final authorities of the faculty should be clarified. In its simplest form, "shared governance" means that the administration has authority over, and responsibility for, the wise husbanding of resources, and the faculty has final authority over, and responsibility for, student admissions requirements, courses and curricula, and all requirements for graduation.

Undergraduate education

Findings: By usual measures, undergraduate education is done well at UHM. It is quite clear, however, that the budget cuts have threatened the quality of this primary responsibility of the university.

Bullet There have been advising staff reductions, and the student-to-adviser ratio in Arts and Sciences has increased from 720 to 1 to 840 to 1. Proposed improvements to undergraduate education, even with flat future enrollments, would seem to entail additional advising.

Bullet It is not at all clear that a campus plan to attract more state residents would produce much if any new revenue. ... A more financially promising tact might be to enroll more nonresidents, who pay a much higher tuition and ensure campus dorms are used to capacity.

This, though, will require a more sophisticated enrollment management strategy and a variety of financial aid funds, including merit aid funds, which the university does not appear to have at the present time.

Recommendations: ... The review committee recommends that the administration carefully review the advisability of having the student-athlete tutors under the direct supervision of the athletic department.

Graduate education and research

Findings: Some measures of program quality, such as the National Research Council rankings, support the finding of uneven quality of the graduate programs at Manoa. ... These data indicate that just seven programs are ranked in the top 50, with two in the top 12: linguistics, anthropology, astrophysics/astronomy (No. 11), geography, geosciences, oceanography (No. 7) and political science.

Bullet Graduate assistantships and tuition waivers have been declining since fall of 1994. Many students receive little or no support.

Bullet Graduate programs appear to be spread too broadly, which means some do not have the needed depth.

Bullet Research and scholarship represent an area of considerable success and pride at the University of Hawaii. In spite of the negative economic situation, very real progress has been made in the last five years, and it is clear that the university has a productive faculty.

Recommendations/Comments: Tough decisions on which graduate and professional degree programs are and are not going to be maintained at UHM are crucial to improvement. ... No single group feels they have sufficient understanding of decisions or proposed decisions. In some groups, including faculty leaders, the misinformation was remarkable.

Bullet The situation with the School of Medicine is difficult. Biomedical research provides incredible opportunities for the university and the people of Hawaii.

The current funding opportunities for biomedical research provide a means to substantially increase research revenues and file associated indirect cost resources, the development of new treatments and technologies that could benefit Hawaiian society, and the possibility of significant contributions to the state's economic development. Given the political pressures, and thereby the likely survival of this unit, the appointment of a permanent dean seems essential.

Bullet The School of Public Health ... is slowly fading away. Is this intended? Hopefully, hard decisions on vertical cuts will clarify the situation.

Bullet The operations-heavy library budget has been ravaged. Through "4+4+4" and/or any other means that can be employed, funds must be allocated and reallocated to the library for materials, personnel and operations.

Bullet PDF: Accreditation Report
Bullet PDF: UH Response

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