Sunday, November 18, 2001

Report reveals warts,
beauty spots at UH

The issue: A consultant's
evaluation of the university system
marks the good and the bad.

A consultant's report that clearly identifies the strengths and weaknesses of the University of Hawaii is a good first step toward moving the 10-campus system from mediocrity to excellence. The objective now should be to sweep away what's broken, shore up what works and embrace a new order. These tasks will be challenged predictably by scarce funds -- and perhaps more by disposition.

If the assessment by Linda Campanella, a former administrator at Trinity College, is on target, a large part of the university's difficulties are rooted in bad attitudes. Campanella points to a system weighed by an "inferiority complex," top-down management, a fear of making mistakes and low morale.

Many of the fixes she suggests -- repairing buildings, increasing pay and creating new positions, public relations and marketing campaigns to increase enrollment and linking computer systems for data and accounting -- will cost money. Finding more funds will be difficult in the state's current fiscal situation. Changing attitudes, however, can be done without dollars.

The report's overriding message is that the inclination of faculty and administrators -- broken by distant decision-making, turf wars, jealousies and financial disparity -- is to keep their heads down. President Evan Dobelle, who appears to have the skills to persuade and inspire, must use them deftly to persuade the university community that doing business as usual is unacceptable. By most accounts, he has already encouraged many faculty members and students to move ahead with him.

It would not be surprising if some at the university dismiss Campanella's report as a view of an outsider who owes her allegiance to Dobelle, with whom she worked at Trinity. They do so at their own risk. Dobelle has made it clear that overcoming mediocrity will not be costly except to those who resist, saying he will put people on notice that he will be looking over their shoulders.

Campanella found bright spots on the university's campuses. She praised its astronomy, biomedical research, marine science and foreign language programs. These the university should build on and bring attention to, not only to attract grants and increase enrollment, but to improve the university's image, making it into something of which all Hawaii could be proud.

It is essential that faculty, managers and students adopt a new outlook if the university is to emerge from years of second-rate status. As Campanella said, "It's been a culture of 'no,' and that has to change."

Open court records
in oil pricing case

The issue: Federal Judge Samuel
King has ordered documents in the
state's antitrust case against oil
companies to be opened.

MANY reasons can be proffered for protecting the court system from outside influence, but rarely should they warrant denial of public access to records or the proceedings themselves. A judge needs occasionally to remind lawyers that the courts belong to the public. Senior U.S. District Judge Samuel King sent such a reminder in breaking the seal on documents in the state's 1998 price-fixing lawsuit against major oil companies, a case of considerable public importance.

Judges ordinarily agree to seal documents that contain information supporting legal motions in civil cases that, for proprietary or other reasons, is considered too sensitive to be made public. However, the documents that the oil companies wanted sealed in King's court were the motions themselves. Chevron Corp., Shell Oil Co., Texaco Inc., Union Oil Co. and Unocal Corp. asked in one of the sealed motions that the trial be moved away from Hawaii.

Such change-of-venue motions generally are based on the contention that news coverage of the case has tainted the jury pool -- the general public -- and made it impossible for one side to receive a fair trial. The oil companies took a slightly different tack, maintaining that a sizable court victory by the state could result in a windfall for jurors -- more than $1,000 per juror if the state were to win its base claim of $1.35 billion.

Keeping that motion secret was pointless. If the oil companies are right, Hawaii jurors eventually would learn of the potential windfall regardless of the sealing of documents during the pre-trial stage of the case. However, no payments to consumers resulted from the state's $15 million receipt from two oil companies that settled out of court.

Other motions that the oil companies wish to remain secret are those asking for the judge's conclusory rulings on various aspects of the case or of the entire case. Hearings on such motions obviously would need to be secret to protect the secrecy of the motions themselves, an Alice in Wonderland scenario.

Judge King said he was "very nervous" about keeping such documents hidden -- as well he should have been. The public has every right to know how oil companies have been setting gasoline prices in Hawaii, and that pricing system is at the heart of the case. "The whole thing should be unsealed," King said during a hearing last week. We heartily agree.

Published by Oahu Publications Inc., a subsidiary of Black Press.

Don Kendall, Publisher

Frank Bridgewater, managing editor 529-4791;
Michael Rovner,
assistant managing editor 529-4768;
Lucy Young-Oda, assistant managing editor 529-4762;

Richard Halloran, editorial page director, 529-4790;
John Flanagan, contributing editor 294-3533;

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