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Hawaii’s World

By A.A. Smyser

Tuesday, September 26, 2000

UH powers at stake
on Nov. 7 ballot

HAWAII'S ballot question No. 1 for Nov. 7 is whether to grant the University of Hawaii more control over its internal affairs.

No great university anywhere can be run like a state bureaucracy, says UH President Kenneth Mortimer, adding, "We want to take some risks and bureaucracies everywhere are averse to taking risks."

UH also wants to move faster than it can when it takes several weeks to clear a matter through other state departments.

Question No. 1 will read: Shall the University of Hawaii have the authority and power of self-governance in matters involving only the internal structure, management and operation of the university?

Governor Cayetano approves. The Legislature voted unanimously to put the question on the ballot.

Its success would seem assured except for the big fact that blank ballots count as no votes. Mortimer fears many people may vote for president and other favorite candidates but neglect to vote on question one, University of Hawaii Self-Governance. If the question doesn't get a yes on over 50 percent of all votes cast, it loses.

The UH faculty union has come out against the amendment, but Mortimer and the university chief counsel, Walter Kirimitsu, a former state appeals court judge, say this position is based on a misperception concerned with preventing access to the courts on "matters of statewide concern."

The Legislature and the governor will still have this intervention power, Mortimer points out. He and Kirimitsu view that as sufficient protection for the public interest and as a way of expediting UH decision-making.

Mortimer has resigned as of next July 1 but is putting his all into leaving his successor the potential to move UH toward true greatness, something he says UH can't achieve if it's too hog-tied.

Mortimer feels he has laid a strong foundation for the future by putting nationally recognized deans and leaders in charge of the fields that also will stimulate Hawaii's economy: astronomy, biomedical research, ocean and earth sciences, some aspects of tropical agriculture, business administration and engineering.

He would like to add a top-rated college of information technology. He sees also a need to continue and bolster the university's strong programs in Asia-Pacific languages and culture but does not view them as an economic engine in the way the others are.

The Legislature already has delegated to UH many of the powers that question No. 1 would assure via the Constitution, but UH leaders sees a need to ensure protection in this way.

STILL in the province of the Legislature and governor will be (1) the Legislature's budget, (2) the governor's ability to restrict funds, (3) the Legislature's power to fund new initiatives concerning the university, (4) the state civil service and collective bargaining laws and (5) laws related to Hawaiian ceded land rights.

Under Mortimer UH has increased enrollment in its programs to 70,000 students ages 16 to over 90 and has 8,000 faculty and staff on 10 campuses. It brought in a record $178 million in research support last year, over $100 million from private sources. Its operating budget is at $800 million with only $270 million of this appropriated by the Legislature. To do still better, Mortimer says, "We have have the independence and authority to navigate to the future as we see fit."

A.A. Smyser is the contributing editor
and former editor of the the Star-Bulletin
His column runs Tuesday and Thursday.

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