University of Hawaii


Rift jeopardized

The report criticizes
micromanagement from the regents
and Dobelle's lack of involvement

Kim dismisses politics in firing


Wednesday, June 23, 2004

The Western Association of Schools and Colleges is a regional group, not a national group as incorrectly reported in a Page A1 headline in yesterday's morning edition.

The Honolulu Star-Bulletin strives to make its news report fair and accurate. If you have a question or comment about news coverage, call Editor Frank Bridgewater at 529-4791 or email him at

The dysfunctional relationship between University of Hawaii President Evan Dobelle and the Board of Regents threatened the accreditation of three UH campuses, according to a strongly worded report that appears to have been a factor in Dobelle's firing.

A team from the Western Association of Schools and Colleges -- the accrediting body for UH-Manoa, UH-Hilo and UH-West Oahu -- told the university last month that the "severe difficulties" between the regents and the president do not meet standards of accreditation for leadership of a university.

The report, which was to be released today, said both the regents and the president indicated to the WASC team that they cannot find appropriate ways to work together and expressed concerns about each other's trust, confidence and integrity.

"By whatever means, the BOR and the president must devise a direct, regular and positive working relationship," WASC wrote in its recommendation. "This is urgently needed."

The regents fired Dobelle "for cause" last week but did not provide details about their reasons, citing potential legal challenges.

The WASC report is critical of the regents for micromanaging and of Dobelle for not working with the board and for a lack of involvement in university issues.

Dobelle was told that it is his "proactive duty" to work with the board.

"A president cannot carry out his agendas without board involvement and support and must actively foster this engagement," WASC wrote.

It noted that on issues where Dobelle should be making recommendations to the board, the regents instead had to unilaterally step in or deal with the issue "despite the president."

WASC recommended that Dobelle should engage the regents and "provide renewed leadership and personal direction."

The report also criticized the regents for "involvement in too many issues, which would normally be the responsibilities of the administration."

In regard to the evaluation of Dobelle, the regents were told "the lack of ability to put closure on the presidential evaluation frustrates one of the key functions of a governing board and needs to be resolved."

Rather than concentrating on a policy-making and oversight, "it appears the BOR is now involved in detailed management of organization, personnel/compensation and other matters," the report said.

The fundamental cause of the problem, WASC wrote, "appears to be that both the board and the president lack trust and confidence in each other and are not working together."

Board Vice Chairwoman Kitty Lagareta said that the board agreed with the WASC report and recommendations.

"We fully understood it was our responsibility to resolve the issues," she said.

Lagareta said the report was a factor in her decision to end Dobelle's contract, but it is not necessarily an indication of why he was fired "for cause."

Dobelle, who was traveling on the mainland, could not be reached for comment.

Acting UH President David McClain met with the WASC board last week, but would only say that he and WASC "had a constructive meeting."

McClain deferred questions on WASC's reaction to Dobelle's firing to WASC executive director Ralph Wolff, who could not be reached last night for comment.

The WASC report did cite progress on budgeting, personnel and other issues.

In a written statement, McClain said, "I endorse the team's recommendations and I have given WASC my personal commitment that the UH system office will move aggressively to address them."

Diagnosing a deficient UH relationship

The report from the Western Association of Schools and Colleges pointed to four "critical problems" at the University of Hawaii:

>> A "nonproductive relationship" between the regents and Evan Dobelle "colors all major issues" and "jeopardizes the functioning" of the UH system.

>> Dobelle "appears stymied and distant," and is "not now working in a direct, regular, and positive relationship" with the regents. He has "minimal direct involvement at this time with the campus chancellors."

>> Rather than focusing on oversight, the regents are "primarily focused on its problems with the president."

>> The problems between the board and the president "hamstrings UH Manoa's ability to manage its affairs."


Kim dismisses politics
in Dobelle firing

A key state leader says University of Hawaii President Evan Dobelle was fired because of performance, not local politics.

Donna Mercado Kim, state Senate vice president, a longtime critic of Dobelle, said she doubts that Dobelle was fired because of his political support for Gov. Linda Lingle's opponent, former Lt. Gov. Mazie Hirono.

"As a Democrat, I'd like nothing better than to point the finger to Lingle and say it was all politics and that she orchestrated it," Kim (D, Kalihi Valley-Halawa) said in an interview. "I know she is denying her involvement and I tend to believe it. I was talking to one of the regents. They said they wouldn't fire him unless the evidence was clear."

Dobelle, the 58-year-old former Trinity University president, was fired by UH regents last week. Regents said it was done "for cause," but have not been specific.

Democratic legislators have leveled numerous criticisms at Dobelle, who was hired by a board appointed by Gov. Ben Cayetano, also a Democrat, including that: Dobelle failed to work cooperatively with regents, failed to follow through on commitments and didn't properly oversee university finances.

Kim repeated her concerns that Dobelle had failed to make good on promises to raise $150 million for the UH medical school and repay $1 million for renovations to the president's home, College Hill.

Lingle said last week the firing surprised her and she had not been told in advance that the regents were planning to dismiss Dobelle.

Kim said: "I spoke to regents who left the board prematurely, and they said they did so because of Evan Dobelle and (they) were ones appointed by Cayetano.

"They said they couldn't stomach it any longer, so it was only a matter of time."

Kim recalled that she was impressed with Dobelle when he came to Hawaii in 2001, but after failing to get him to explain what he would do if he were unable to raise the $150 million for the medical school, she became frustrated.

"Time went by and he was making these promises, but he didn't have anything to show for it," Kim said.

Former UH President Fujio Matsuda said he tried to separate politics from his office.

"I had a very strong view that while the university is involved in the political process, meaning appearing before the Legislature to get necessary funding, we would not play politics," said Matsuda, who was UH president from 1974-1983.

He recalls being sent tickets for various legislators' fund-raisers and returning them, saying he could not get involved in an individual's campaign.

But Matsuda said he doubted that Dobelle's firing was the result of Lingle trying to get back at Dobelle for endorsing Hirono in a television commercial during the 2002 governor's race.

"If it were partisan politics, then why were some of the most vocal critics of Evan Democratic legislators?" Matsuda said.


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