A proposed constitutional amendment touted as giving the University of Hawaii more power over its own affairs actually invests total authority in the Legislature on one issue, according to faculty leaders opposing the measure.
UH faculty members
By Christine Donnelly
"We are not pleased at all to be in this position (of opposition) but we think it would be irresponsible to support something that is fundamentally flawed. They're calling something autonomy which ... ultimately gives more authority to the Legislature than they even had before," said J.N. Musto, executive director of the University of Hawaii Professional Assembly, which represents 3,000 members in the statewide system.
He said the union's 24-member board of directors on Saturday unanimously voted to oppose the proposal.
The university's top administrators disagree with the union leadership's interpretation, and are urging voters to approve the measure, which will be on the Nov. 7 general election ballot.
According to a summary prepared by the state Office of Elections and Legislative Reference Bureau, if approved, the proposed constitutional amendment on "UH Self-Governance," would allow the Board of Regents to set policy freely and flexibly as the need arises, rather than having to wait for the Legislature to be in session and give permission.
It would also, for the first time, give the Legislature "exclusive jurisdiction" to decide when a university issue is of such "statewide concern" that it can override the Board of Regents. The Board of Regents would no longer be able to go to court to challenge the Legislature, the summary said.
But Eugene Imai, UH senior vice president for administration, disagreed that the amendment would give the Legislature excessive power.
"Quite the opposite. We believe the Legislature is giving the university more authority to act on matters of internal management and operations. This is an opportunity that won't come around again for a long time," said Imai, urging voters to approve it.
He said passage was critical to provide the Board of Regents a stable backdrop against which to develop long-range plans and economic revitalization.
Imai said the summary cited by UHPA was a draft version that overstated the proposal's implications. He said university officials would meet with officials from the Office of Elections and the Legislative Reference Bureau today to request changes.
"We were quite concerned too that the document was not correct," he said.
But Musto, who noted that the summary sent to UHPA's board was not marked as a draft, said the bill itself, as well as the legislative committee report explaining it, were "unmistakably clear" about the Legislature's intent to gain sole authority in deciding when a university issue was of statewide concern.
"This isn't about the fact sheet or the summary, this is about the proposed amendment," he said.
Elections chief Dwayne Yoshina did not return repeated phone calls seeking comment yesterday.
Imai said the controversy may have a silver lining by bringing attention to an issue "that's not very exciting to the average voter ... Voter apathy is our biggest concern because a blank vote counts as a 'no' vote."
To pass, the measure must be approved on a majority of all ballots cast.
Ka Leo O Hawaii
University of Hawaii