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Saturday, May 6, 2000

Mortimer’s decision
to resign from UH

Bullet The issue: Kenneth Mortimer announced he will resign as president of the University of Hawaii effective July 2001.
Bullet Our view: Mortimer proved himself capable of making tough decisions, a valuable trait in the years of steep cuts in the university budget.

KENNETH Mortimer will have served as president of the University of Hawaii for eight years by the time he intends to step down in July 2001, a little more than a year from now, as he announced yesterday.

That is longer than many university presidents last. Considering the difficulties he encountered, Mortimer has survived a long time. But it may be time for a change.

Throughout his tenure, Mortimer has had to deal with annual steep reductions in the university budget, resulting from the state's fiscal problems -- until this year, when the Legislature appropriated $8 million more.

Although the budget cuts were beyond his control, he made a convenient scapegoat for faculty and student discontent with the resulting spending cuts.

Despite the budget problems, the university achieved international recognition when UH scientists cloned three generations of mice and helped discover that neutrinos have mass, which has far-reaching implications for astronomy. UH scientists increased funding of research projects through grants from the federal government and private foundations, which somewhat offset the reductions in state appropriations.

A huge controversy developed over Mortimer's decision to close the School of Public Health and fold some of its programs into the School of Medicine, on the ground that it was too expensive to maintain.

The Board of Regents supported that decision, but recently rejected his recommendation to increase tuition. That rebuff, coupled with criticism of the administration decision to call on sheriff's deputies to stand by as a precautionary measure during a student protest demonstration against the tuition boost, may have contributed to his decision to leave.

Mortimer said he has achieved many of his goals as university president, including developing a strategic plan for all campuses, pushing the university toward autonomy and increasing its endowment. These are real achievements.

Perhaps most important, he succeeded in persuading the Legislature to give the university more freedom in running its affairs. This was probably essential to the university's pursuit of excellence and its benefits will be felt for years to come.

Mortimer is not a person to shrink from making unpopular decisions -- closing the School of Public Health, for example -- which may have made him an ideal person to lead the university through difficult times. But there are only so many tough decisions that a university president can make before he wears out his welcome.

As he observed, the period of budget cuts for the university seems to have ended, which should make his departure easier.

Mortimer was no novice at university administration when he took over at UH, having served as president of Western Washington University and vice president of Penn State. He evidently sensed that his opportunity for effective leadership was waning and it was time to go.

Japanese diplomat
honored at museum

Bullet The issue: Chiune Sugihara, a Japanese diplomat, saved thousands of Jews from the Holocaust by issuing transit visas that enabled them to pass through Japan.
Bullet Our view: Sugihara richly deserved being honored at the U.S. Holocaust Museum.

AMID the horror of the Holocaust, when many Europeans turned their backs as the Nazis rounded up and executed their Jewish neighbors, a few people mustered the courage to try to save lives.

Perhaps the most famous was Raoul Wallenberg, a Swedish businessman and diplomat, who issued passports to about 20,000 Hungarian Jews, allowing them to claim the protection of the neutral Swedish government.

Wallenberg, a Lutheran, sheltered Jews in Budapest in houses he bought or rented, with his own money or funds provided by supporting organizations. In the last days before the liberation of the city by Soviet forces, Wallenberg is said to have persuaded the Nazis to cancel a plan to kill 70,000 Jews.

Wallenberg was arrested by the Soviets after they captured Budapest. They apparently believed he was an American spy. His fate is unknown, although Moscow said he died in prison in 1947.

There was a Japanese counterpart of Wallenberg, a diplomat named Chiune Sugihara. A special exhibition was opened in his honor this week at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C.

Sugihara was a vice consul at the Japanese mission in Kovno, Lithuania. Ignoring orders from Tokyo, he issued thousands of transit visas that enabled Jews who had fled to Lithuania from Poland to pass through Japan.

In July and August 1940, Sugihara issued 10,000 transit visas. Of these, about 5,000 were used by Jews who passed through Japan on their way to asylum in third countries.

Among items displayed in the exhibit at the museum are transit visas, passports used by the Jews and telegrams sent by Sugihara to Foreign Minister Yosuke Matsuoka.

An opening ceremony for the exhibition was held at the residence of Japanese Ambassador Shunji Yanai.

The ambassador said, "When Japanese today look back on those days of deep regret and hardship, there is one life in particular that breaks through for us and that is the life of Chiune Sugihara."

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