The University of Hawaii presidency was a box Kenneth Mortimer could never climb out of, characterized by downsizing, a lack of vision and inactivity, Alexander Malahoff says.
UNIVERSITY OF HAWAII /He presided over
KENNETH MORTIMER'S LEGACY
a difficult time
Many say the trials he enduredTimeline
would have confounded anyone
Reception for newcomer
By Treena Shapiro
"The presidency was not a particularly brilliant one as far as presidencies go," said Malahoff, president of the University of Hawaii Professional Assembly.
When Mortimer leaves Bachman Hall on June 29, his presidency is not likely to go down in history as the most stellar. But it will be remembered as plagued by big budget cuts, a demoralized faculty and a small but vocal segment of students turning to activism.
Part of the problem was that Mortimer could not sustain faculty morale, perhaps because of his private, introverted personality, Malahoff said.
But as friends and critics alike have observed, Malahoff added, "I think Ken is a very good, a wonderful private person, and on a person-to-person basis I enjoyed meeting with him socially and discussing things, and I just wish him all the best."
Speaking candidly at a vacationing vice president's desk while his office undergoes renovations for incoming President Evan Dobelle, Mortimer looks back over the past eight years with only one regret.
Surprisingly, it has to do with football. Mortimer said the one thing he would have handled differently is the firing of UH football coach Bob Wagner in 1995, a move criticized as too public, too premature and too expensive, as Wagner's contract had just been extended for two years and had to be bought out.
Although Mortimer said he handled Fred vonAppen's dismissal differently a few years later, the financially strapped athletic department paid roughly $350,000 to the two fired coaches.
But the dismissals cleared the path for what some consider Mortimer's greatest achievement as UH president: the hiring of UH football coach June Jones.
Mortimer said he played only a small role in Jones' selection and did not even meet Jones until after he accepted the job.
The feathers in his cap have nothing to do with UH athletics: winning constitutional autonomy for the university, investing in the programs where UH performs exceptionally well, and diversifying the university's sources of revenue.
His greatest pride is that "we attempted to position the university to be able to improve its quality while continuing to provide access," he said.
But along the way he had to make tough decisions.
The most difficult time during his presidency came in 1995 with a series of major budget cuts, one after another.
The budget crisis forced Mortimer to assess which programs should be invested in and which should be scaled back. By deciding to concentrate on areas where the university could excel -- astronomy, biotechnology and ocean sciences -- other areas, such as the College of Arts and Humanities, had their budgets cut in proportion to declining enrollments.
The decisions led to some big wins: investing $300,000 in the bid that recently won the Maui Supercomputing Center contract will bring $1.6 million a year to the university. But there were losses as well, such as not spending an estimated $750,000 to save the School of Public Health, which led to its slow demise.
Mortimer also realized when still president-elect that the university would have to beef up its private grant program, and the UH Foundation recently announced that it had just completed a record-setting $116 million four-year campaign.
Barry Baker, who just completed his term as chairman of the UH-Manoa Faculty Senate, said Mortimer's job as president and Manoa chancellor was probably the hardest in the state.
Perhaps another president could have managed the faculty differently, but Baker attributes the sagging morale more to the budget crisis than Mortimer's leadership. "I think morale would have suffered whoever had been in that position."
Although when he took over the presidency in 1993, he did not want a separate Manoa chancellor, on leaving it Mortimer recommended to the UH Board of Regents that the two positions be split. Both Mortimer and his predecessor, Albert Simone, had held the dual position.
"The faculty desperately want a chancellor now. That was my principal ingredient in my recommendation to the Board (of Regents)," Mortimer said.
Others credit Mortimer with being the right leader at a difficult time. Lily Yao, chairwoman of the UH Board of Regents, has said: "The eight years of Ken Mortimer's presidency have been a historic time for the university. The most significant accomplishments -- constitutional autonomy, record levels of both private support and grant money coming to the faculty, strategic planning and more carefully focusing the institution -- all that happened because of his energy and leadership. He has been the right president for these times."
One of Mortimer's proudest victories is changing the relationship between the university and the state government by winning autonomy in the 2000 election. It allowed the university to hire its own legal staff and argue against the governor's order to put faculty on unauthorized leave during the faculty strike, as well as giving the faculty advance paychecks for the three workdays before the strike began April 5.
Gov. Ben Cayetano cited converting UH autonomy from general law to a constitutional provision as one of Mortimer's main accomplishments, as well as raising private fund raising to a new level. "He had a very difficult job in having the dual role of chancellor and president. Under the tight fiscal conditions, I thought he did a good job."
Mortimer and his wife will be moving to Bellingham, Wash., and Mortimer will spend some time in Boulder, Colo., as a senior scholar at the National Center for Higher Education Management Systems, where he has been chairman of the board for 15 years.
He will be going to New York next month to talk to foundations about some projects he would like to work on. During a year's sabbatical, he will also decide whether to take advantage of his tenured faculty position at UH to teach.
His fishing buddy Jim Romig, chairman of Hilo Hattie, hopes Mortimer will save some time for fishing trips.
While Romig worked with Mortimer while he was on the UH Foundation board a few years ago, he remembers Mortimer differently than most people attached to the university: "Fun to be with, pretty good fisherman, easy keeper -- doesn't drink too much, doesn't eat too much, doesn't complain about his accommodations."
He also did not complain about problems at the university, Romig said. "He accepted the cards he was dealt, and he devoted his energies to making the most of what he had to work with."
Major events at the University of Hawaii during Kenneth Mortimer's presidency:
A presidential time line
>> November 1992: UH Board of Regents appoints Mortimer as the UH system's 11th president and UH chancellor.
>> March 1993: Mortimer begins his presidency.
>> October 1993: Mortimer nominates Hugh Yoshida as athletic director to succeed the late Stan Sheriff.
>> June 1994: The regents approve plan to build UH-West Oahu campus above Kapolei. Construction of the campus is scheduled to begin in 2007.
>> 1995: UH budget cut by $28 million.
>> November 1995: UH football coach Bob Wagner is fired.
>> 1996: UH budget cut by $10 million.
>> February 1996: UH regents approved a two-year, 72 percent tuition hike for Manoa undergraduates from $767 to $1,416 per semester by 1997.
>> May 1996: Mortimer was instrumental in persuading the Legislature to grant UH more fiscal autonomy, such as keeping money raised from tuition and allowing the school to decide who gets tuition waivers.
>> 1996: The Western Athletic Conference expands to 16 teams. Mortimer voted in favor of expansion two years earlier.
>> May 1998: Eight schools leave the WAC to form their own conference.
>> December 1998: Gov. Ben Cayetano and Mortimer welcome new football coach June Jones.
>> September 1999: The regents approve an administration plan to close the School of Public Health and move it into the medical school.
>> March 2000: Mortimer criticized for bringing in sheriff's deputies to a student sleep-in protesting tuition increases and other issues. He said he had nothing to do with the decision and advocated "free exchange of ideas." The regents reject the tuition increase.
>> May 2000: The Legislature passes a bill for a constitutional amendment that would give the university more autonomy.
>> November 2000: UH wins autonomy during the 2000 election, with 78 percent support from voters.
>> January 2001: Mortimer testifies before the Legislature in support of pay raises for faculty members who have been working without a contract.
>> March 2001: The Board of Regents announces that Evan Dobelle will be the next university president. Dobelle's $442,000 salary more than doubles Mortimer's $168,000.
>> March 2001: The UH Board of Regents votes to increase tuition by about $500 over the next five years at the Manoa, West Oahu and Hilo campuses. At the community colleges, tuition will rise to $49 from $4 per credit over five years, and the 12-credit tuition cap will be lifted.
>> April 2001: After two years without a contract, the UH Professional Assembly begins a 13-day strike over faculty pay raises, community college workload and lecturer fees, crippling the university system.
>> May 2001: The UH Foundation announces that a four-year fund-raising campaign brought in a record-setting $116 million.
>> May 2001: UH lands a $181 million contract to operate and manage the Air Force Research Laboratory's Maui Supercomputing Center.
Incoming University of Hawaii President Evan Dobelle will address the Chamber of Commerce of Hawaii at its annual membership luncheon July 18.
Reception set for
newcomer Evan Dobelle
Attendees will be able to meet Dobelle during the opening reception, which will be followed by Dobelle's keynote address. Dobelle becomes UH president on July 2.
First Hawaiian Bank Vice Chairwoman Lily Yao, outgoing chairwoman of the UH Board of Regents, will be installed as chairwoman of the chamber at the luncheon.
The event begins at 11 a.m. in the Hilton Hawaiian Village Coral Ballroom. Tickets are $40 per person, $400 for reserved tables of 10.
For information and reservations, call Brenda Souza at 545-4329.
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