A Look Back At UH Presidents

Laurence Snyder was run out of the UH president's office because he wanted to cut football | UH Presidents Collection photo

Laurence Snyder was run out of the UH president’s office because he wanted to cut football | UH Presidents Collection photo

There are books on Algebra The Easy Way and Grammar The Easy Way, and the expression, “Take the easy way out.”

But there’s no easy way to do much of anything in our University of Hawaii system. No “easy way out,” either.

I think back to UH presidents of my time here. Laurence Snyder (1958-63) was almost physically thrown out of his office for trying to kill the school’s football program. Tom Hamilton (1963-68) quit over an anti-Vietnam War professor’s tenure.

Since Fujio Matsuda (1974-84), we haven’t had another president who could last 10 years, as he did.

This year we were supposed to have six nominees for president. We have only two. The others who were approached said no thanks. Are you surprised?

We’ve ended up with just David Lassner (interim president), who was only UH information technology chief and who had said he absolutely didn’t want the permanent post, and retired Army Lt. Gen. Frank Wiercinski, no university administration experience, excellent leadership experience but by giving orders to others. Universities don’t run that way.

UH students showed they’re still stuck mentally in the ’60s by protesting him as “militarizing” the school. That’s patently ridiculous.

Nothing goes the easy way at UH. The Cancer Center infighting, faculty housing problems, a federal investigation into sex-assault incidents, an NCAA investigation of the basketball team. Not even the sand bought for the sand volleyball courts was easy. They’re spending $250,000 to buy new, better sand.

The UH Athletics Department spends almost $5 million a year for travel, hotels, meals and subsidies for opponents teams and is running $2 million in the red, and the state might have to step in to ameliorate that if private donors can’t be found.

But standing above every other annoyance is that problem of picking a president who’s not only got the academic chops and background for the job, but also fits in gracefully with our community and legislative culture.

Arthur Dean had 13 good years (1914-27), but he only oversaw 847 students and had a compliant faculty. Al Simone (1984-92) wanted independence from the Legislature and got an earful from senators. Why we picked Ken Mortimer (1993-2001)

I’ll never divine. Evan Dobelle (2001-04) and M.R.C. Greenwood (2009-13) were disasters.

The guy I rate best-of-recent-crop was David McClain (2004-09), but he grew weary of the job and returned to teaching.

I think we let the optimum candidate slip away – ex-UH academic chancellor Neal Smatresk, who went on to become president of UNLV and then of the University of North Texas-Denton.

He might have run the UH system the easy way.

Now we have only the two candidates – neither with ball-of-fire backgrounds for 12-campus academic leadership. But apparently the regents will pick one of them – maybe with a flip of a coin?

That, at least, would be the easy way.