Now is the time for Hawaii to invest in higher ed


POSTED: Sunday, December 21, 2008

Everyone in these islands is touched by the University of Hawaii system in some way. The question for all of us is, can we afford to neglect higher education at a time like this? More importantly, how much higher education is the state willing and able to afford in order to sustain sound programs and high-caliber faculty?

We realize the downturn in the economy has caused all of us to re-evaluate our assumptions. The UH faculty has long supported Gov. Linda Lingle's vision of creating a knowledge-based economy. And now is not the time to give up on that vision, even in response to an economy in recession.

After seven months of negotiations, there seems to be a fundamental disagreement about whether the parties, which include the governor and UH President David McClain, plus members of the Board of Regents and the faculty union -the University of Hawaii Professional Assembly - should attempt to fashion a new contract that would take effect on July 1, 2009, or simply put the bargaining on hold for a year and begin again in 2010.

  UHPA believes that we shouldn't wait to see if the economy improves, even if that seems like an easy road to follow. Instead of shying away from higher education, this is precisely the time to be investing in higher education. The UH system's 3,900 professors, instructors, researchers, physicians, counselors and librarians are part of a unique global labor pool. As an institution, we must compete nationally and internationally for quality instructors and researchers who might be easily lured away by offers from other institutions that will continue to invest in higher education during this economic downturn.

As McClain has stated, the university is the engine that drives $2 billion through our state economy. UH faculty members will generate this year, through research grants and external funding, $450 million in revenues at a total cost of $280 million in faculty salaries.

However, the “;value equation”; doesn't stop there. Most importantly, it is the educational endeavors that are at the heart of the university and faculty work. The real value is found in the teaching, discovery and learning that builds a new community through our students and graduates.

By any measure, we should be proud of the work of the members of the faculty that ultimately benefits the people of Hawaii.

  Our goal is to resolve a contract that will both retain our faculty and encourage new faculty to become part of our university. The state, the Board of Regents and the UH administration demonstrate that commitment through the collective bargaining agreement. Any delays in achieving this goal beyond the contract expiration date creates the risk of faculty fleeing for better opportunities and others choosing not to come because of the employment uncertainty.


J. N. Musto is the executive director and chief negotiator of the University of Hawaii Professional Assembly.