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Wednesday, March 8, 2000

Hawaii State Seal

UH president Mortimer
gives autonomy bill
high marks

By Susan Kreifels


The state Senate has passed a bill that would let voters decide if the University of Hawaii Board of Regents should have constitutional authority over all decisions within the UH system.

The bill now goes to the House, and if passed there, onto thLegislature 2000e ballot as a constitutional amendment.

UH President Kenneth Mortimer is confident voters would approve the amendment. He is committed to raising funds for a campaign to educate the public on the issue.

"It's a chance to depoliticize one of the most precious institutions in the state," he said yesterday during a meeting with Star-Bulletin editors. "This does not mean the university will build a moat around itself and be an independent, nonanswerable institution."

The university says the amendment would not affect the legislative budget process, the governor's ability to restrict funds, or Hawaiian ceded land rights; would not prevent the Legislature from funding new initiatives; nor would it supersede laws of statewide concern or civil service and collective bargaining. It also does not exempt UH from state ethics codes.

UH also says the best universities are those that have the most flexibility over their internal management.

By Kathryn Bender, Star-Bulletin
UH President Kenneth Mortimer talks
to Star-Bulletin editors yesterday.

The amendment is a logical progression of the increased autonomy the Legislature has granted it since 1986, according to UH, and clarifies that the autonomy is constitutional. That autonomy has included keeping tuition revenues, more procurement flexibility, and hiring its own counsel general.

The flexibility allows UH to start breaking the bureaucratic gridlock and anti-risk environment that educators and the business community say have held back economic development in the state.

"UH is uniquely positioned to break the bureaucratic mold," Mortimer said.

One innovation was allowing deans their own credit cards to purchase up to $25,000 in equipment and supplies, saving UH time and money. Mortimer said 32 of 35 financial officers at UH-Manoa opposed getting rid of bid lists.

"That is high risk for us but it frees up our people. We don't have to stand in line for six months. We'll look after the fact."

Mortimer is also excited about Gov. Ben Cayetano's proposal to fund a $95 million backlog in UH repair and maintenance. Mortimer said UH hasn't received such money from the Legislature for a decade. Cayetano wants to issue a $60 million bond that would be spread over three years.

Mortimer said UH must still work with the Legislature to find ways around current state codes that prevent UH researchers from profiting from their discoveries.

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