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Wednesday, November 8, 2000

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Legislators pledge
no interference
in UH affairs

Critics say the approved amendment
giving autonomy to UH actually gives
the Legislature greater power


By Suzanne Tswei

To those who still worry that the new constitutional amendment giving autonomy to the University of Hawaii will not prevent the state Legislature from meddling in the university's internal affairs, here is the final word from leading lawmakers: Don't worry. Period.

"The Legislature will not get involved in the (internal) business of the university," said House Speaker Calvin Say, who counts himself as a longtime supporter of autonomy for the 10-campus university system.

"If the (university) president wants to transfer money from one program to another, why should I have any say in it? It's not the Legislature's business," Say said.

Sen. David Ige, chairman of the Senate Education and Technology Committee, agreed. The Legislature will be involved in the university's funding, but the Board of Regents will have "exclusive authority over the management and responsibility" for the university, he said.

"I'd say this amendment makes it impossible for the Legislature to interfere," Ige said.

University President Kenneth Mortimer called the passage of the amendment "a victory for the university." He said the amendment frees the university from legislative controls and cumbersome state bureaucracy. "This is now the law of the land, and we are looking at a new day for the university."

Mortimer said he will meet with administrators, faculty and others at the university to identify changes that may now be possible, such as changing the required 10 meetings per year for the Board of Regents.

House Democratic leader Ed Case said the amendment "sets it in stone" that the Legislature wants the university to take sole charge of its own affairs.

Critics said the amendment gives the Legislature final say over all university matters by declaring an issue a "statewide concern." The amendment could do more harm than good, and it will not allow for the courts to be the final arbitrator when disagreement arises, they said.

"We had hoped that the Legislature's jurisdiction language would be removed," said Alex Malahoff, university faculty union president. "But since the amendment is going through, we are just going to keep watch and hope there is aloha at the Legislature."

J.N. Musto, faculty union executive director, said the amendment gives the university "no more autonomy" than before, and "the goodwill of the Legislature" will determine the success of the amendment.

Voters gave overwhelming support to the amendment question asking, "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?"

Supporters had worried that voter apathy would lead to blank votes, which would count as no votes. But the number of blank votes was insignificant in the end.

The university launched a $150,000 public- education campaign with television advertisements. A private group also raised money for a separate campaign to urge voters to say yes to the amendment.

Two other constitutional amendments also were decided last night.

Voters gave overwhelming support to staggered Senate terms for both incumbents and newcomers in the 2002 election.

The current law would have given incumbents four-year terms and winning challengers two-year terms.

Voters also turned down an amendment proposal to change the appointment of the Tax Review Commission to every 10 years instead of the current five years.

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