Latest UH News Sounds Suspicious

Former AD Jim Donovan and president M.R.C. Greenwood at the August press conference. AP photo

It never ends.

The University of Hawaii’s latest attempt to erase accountability in the hiring process of its next athletic director took another dishonest step when it announced football coach Norm Chow, Wahine volleyball coach Dave Shoji and Wahine basketball coach Laura Beeman asked for, and were granted, a release from their full duties as selection committee members.

The trio will serve an “of counsel” role, in which they will advise the remaining 12 committee members on questions involving operations of the athletic department, whatever that means. According to the release, the three coaches asked for the change in status because committee meeting times conflicted with their primary duties as coaches of their respective programs.

I don’t buy it.

The university is asking us to believe that three respected and successful coaches with a combined 94 years of experience on 11 campuses just now realized September is a busy month for them, and that the selection of an athletic director is a time-consuming process.

Nope, not convinced. What seems more likely is that media pressure, public outcry, the ill-advised coaches’ petition to name Rockne Freitas the new AD, and the upcoming state Senate inquiry have sent university leadership scattering to cover their collective backsides in yet another weak attempt at leadership and openness with the public.

UH says the coaches won’t vote on the choice for AD, but all this means is that their influence is now further hidden from public scrutiny.

The change does nothing to convince an already skeptical public, tired of business as usual, that the university is just plodding along until the storm passes. Judging from past history, it may be a sound strategy. It’s not ethical, but those are theoretical discussions better left to academic types.

A few weeks ago I had a conversation with a friend who, when talk shifted to the Stevie Wonder debacle and all that is related to it, said, “What do you expect? It’s UH.”

Whether such statements about the general mishandling of the university are based on truth or just uninformed opinion doesn’t matter. The fact is, so much confidence in UH has been lost that regardless of any advancement in funding, research or athletics, the university, to many, was, is and always will be home to backroom deals, self-interest and economic irresponsibility. No state with interests so tied to a single academic institution should tolerate such a history of failed leadership and openness.

The Senate’s inquiry into the concert and other UH issues, officially known as the briefing to address oversight, accountability and transparency at the UH system, is Sept. 24 at 1 p.m. in State Capitol Room 211. According to a Sept. 6 release, Eric Martinson, chairman of the University of Hawaii Board of Regents; UH president M.R.C. Greenwood; former AD Jim Donovan; and representatives from Cades Schutte law firm, which investigated the failed concert, are expected to go before the committee. The main parties, both from UH and the Legislature, will be there. The real question is whether the Committee on Accountability holds the attendees to task, or whether the proceedings will be yet another show trial to pacify voters in an election year. We sat through just such an event in 2007, when the elected body called upon Herman Frazier to explain the lack of shower soap and other concerns. Frazier paraded out a group of employees to testify to the great job he had done, while committee members struggled to stay awake during at an event they didn’t want to be at and barely took part in.

Perhaps we can hope for more this time.