Saturday, July 17, 1999

University of Hawaii

Public Health School
task force is helpful

Bullet The issue: The proposal to close the University of Hawaii School of Public Health has provoked strong opposition.

Bullet Our view: President Mortimer's decision to form a task force to study the issue is welcome.

The report of an accreditation team from the Western Association of Schools and Colleges criticizing the University of Hawaii-Manoa's leadership and internal communications seems to have affected President Kenneth Mortimer in at least one respect.

Info Box Mortimer, who had proposed eliminating the School of Public Health and transferring its programs to the John A. Burns School of Medicine, has decided to convene a task force to consider alternatives to closing the school. The options are to be presented to the Board of Regents this fall.

The president announced that step during a meeting of the regents committee on budget and long-range planning, explaining that it stemmed from meetings with faculty, students and members of the community.

Alumni of the School of Public Health in many parts of the United States and foreign countries have bombarded the university and the news media with appeals for its retention despite the university's budgetary problems.

Mortimer assured those attending the regents meeting in a packed conference room that he didn't want the board to make a hasty and irreversible decision without the facts. "We may disagree about the alternatives but we will know the facts," he said.

There is a remote chance that the school's accreditation maybe restored. The president of the Council on Education for Public Health, the accrediting agency, has said the council might be persuaded to reconsider if the university can show by Sept. 15 that it has the resources and commitment to keep the school open. But that is a long shot.

The president's announcement is welcome. Many on the Manoa campus have complained of being excluded from decision-making on this and other issues. Even if the task force exercise results in no change in the decision to close the school it may reduce the tension on campus.

It is no fun trying to administer a university that has seen its budget cut year after year. No one should underestimate the problems facing the UH president. He has compounded his problems by appearing aloof and unresponsive.

But the inevitable discontent that these cuts foster can be alleviated if people feel they are part of the process. The School of Public Health task force should help.

Ruling party defeated
in Indonesian election

Bullet The issue: Indonesia's first free elections in decades have resulted in the defeat of the ruling Golkar Party.

Bullet Our view: The elections were a first step toward restoring Indonesia's stability and prosperity.

It took more than a month, but officials have finally announced results of Indonesia's first free parliamentary elections in 44 years. The count from the June 7 balloting was delayed by wrangling within the election commission and complex electoral procedures. The final tally won't be available until next week, but the broad results are now known.

The most important fact is the defeat of the Golkar Party, which had ruled Southeast Asia's largest country through the decades of authoritarian government. The collapse of the economy in 1997 and the rioting that resulted in the resignation of former President Suharto last year were responsible for Golkar's losses. Still, the party's candidates received 22 percent of the vote, ranking second.

Topping the list was the Democratic Party for Struggle (PDI), led by Megawati Sukarnoputri, daughter of former President Sukarno, with nearly 34 percent. If the party's coalition with other smaller parties holds, it could constitute a majority in the new parliament. But the picture is still hazy.

In addition, Megawati has emerged as a leading candidate for president. That election, scheduled for November, will involve an electoral college consisting of deputies in the 500-member parliament and 200 regional representatives elected by provincial assemblies.

However, there are doubts about Megawati's ability to lead the country that could hamper her candidacy. She has no administrative and scant political experience. She became a symbol of the opposition to Suharto's repressive policies -- although her father's policies were also repressive -- which led to her party's victory. But little is known about what sort of programs she would pursue in office.

There is still a chance that B.J. Habibie, who succeeded Suharto last year, could retain the presidency through negotiations with the legislators and regional representatives. Other leaders may also have a chance if the reaction to Megawati is negative.

The completion of the election count, although long delayed, is an important step in restoring stability to Indonesia, but much more remains to be done. A referendum on independence is scheduled for next month in strife-torn East Timor. Ethnic violence persists in several areas of the archipelago. The collapse of the economy reduced millions to poverty.

The establishment of an effective ruling coalition in parliament and the selection of the new president could be critical to Indonesia's recovery. But the first step -- a free election, with an apparently honest count -- has been taken.

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