Let regents choose their successors


POSTED: Sunday, December 07, 2008

Haven't we had enough political meddling in University of Hawaii affairs? The recent Hawaii state Supreme Court decision allowing the Legislature's regent selection council to pick the next UH regents condemned university governance into the unholy abyss of downtown politics. Under the guise of promoting university autonomy, the Legislature created a “;selection council”; to strip the governor of her ability to select UH regents.

If we are so concerned about university autonomy and keeping politics out of UH governance, I call upon the Legislature to introduce a constitutional amendment that allows the sitting regents to select the new regents.

Let the regents, as a group, decide and select their own replacements like other top-notch universities, nonprofit organizations and corporations across the country. We let the regents keep the university's mission first. The governor and Legislature still control the larger part of the university's purse strings so they can still hold the regents and university accountable for their decisions and actions.

As a graduate, former student union vice president and UH regent, what I've seen while at the university is a system that has to waste its resources on kow-towing to politicians instead of putting students, faculty and facilities first.

  Let me point out two examples. First, in discussing former UH President Evan Dobelle's performance at UH, several regents appointed by the former governor quietly admitted that they were instructed to hire Dobelle by downtown politicians, including then-Gov. Ben Cayetano. The decision to hire and fire the university president belonged solely to the regents.

Second, last year, during Kitty Lagareta's confirmation hearing as UH regent, Sen. Norman Sakamoto declared in public that the regents overlooked a better qualified candidate for the position of UH-Manoa athletic director instead of the person who was hired. Keep in mind that Sakamoto did not see the resumes of the other qualified candidates, did not participate in the interviews or review the interview evaluations, but instead played the tired downtown game of trying to help out a political friend despite the law.

  While serving as a UH regent and member of Gov. Linda Lingle's cabinet, I can state (even under oath), that the governor made it a point not to make any suggestions or express her opinion about UH governance issues. She even reminded me and others not to talk about UH governance issues while she was present because that was for the regents, as a group, to decide. No other governor or legislator, in my experience, has had a similar respect for the autonomy of the university.

So instead of playing political gotcha on something as important as UH governance, I challenge the Democrats to support complete autonomy in regards to the UH regent selection process. Through autonomy, our university can finally be allowed to fulfill its potential. Isn't it about time we had a university that can focus its resources on its own success instead of the success of politicians? UH autonomy, what a concept!


Ted Hong is a Hilo attorney and former chief labor negotiator in Gov. Linda Lingle's administration.