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Monday, October 30, 2000

Campaign 2000

UH autonomy measure
up to voters, but apathy
may mean blank ballots

No one is disputing that the idea is good: The University of Hawaii should be able to take sole charge of its own affairs.

But not everyone at the university is supporting a proposed constitutional amendment aiming to give the 10-campus university system control over management of its internal business.

University of Hawaii

Supporters say the amendment would help the university become a world-class institution. It would relieve it of cumbersome bureaucracy and legislative control, they say. It would give officials greater flexibility in reacting to a changing world economy and making decisions quickly.

Opponents say the amendment actually would give the Legislature final say over university matters, eroding the independence the university has gained over the years. Furthermore, the Constitution already provides for autonomy for the university, thus the amendment is unnecessary.

"Potentially the university could be worse off than it is now if the amendment is added to the Constitution," said Jon Van Dyke, UH law professor and constitutional law expert.

The state Constitution already contains language giving the university autonomy, Van Dyke said, and the amendment would not give the university any more autonomy. Instead, the amendment would allow the Legislature unlimited control over university internal matters, he said.

"It delegates exclusive power over the university to the Legislature," leaving no recourse through the courts, Van Dyke said. For example, if the Legislature wanted to move the College of Tropical of Agriculture to Hilo, lawmakers could declare the issue a "statewide concern" and dictate the move to university officials.

But Walter Kirimitsu, the university's chief counsel and a former appeals court judge, said opponents' interpretation of the amendment is wrong.

Although it would give the Legislature jurisdiction over university matters, he said, nothing would prevent challenges through the court system, should disagreements arise.

Dan Boylan, a history professor at the West Oahu campus, said the benefits of the amendment outweigh the potential problem it poses. "Of course, it's not perfect. It's not going to give the university absolute autonomy," but Legislative involvement would benefit the smaller campuses in the end, he said.

Despite what people associated with the university say, the decision belongs to the voters. And that's precisely what worries supporters of the amendment.

"Constitutional autonomy is one of the most important measures in the history of the university," said Eugene Imai, university senior vice president for administration. "But it's not the kind of topic that generates a lot of excitement for most voters."

As a result, voters may not understand or care about the amendment. They may ignore it and leave the ballots blank, which would count as "no" votes.

To combat voter apathy, university officials and community leaders launched a campaign nearly two months ago to educate the public about the amendment.

But during the same time, faculty and students organizations have spoken publicly against the amendment.

Suzanne Tswei, Star-Bulletin\

On the ballot

This is the proposed state constitutional amendment, as it will appear on the Nov. 7 ballot:

1) 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?

(Voters will answer the question by marking either "yes" or "no." No mark will be counted as a "no" vote.)

University of Hawaii

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