UH An Insult To Open Government

The next time someone within the University of Hawaii power structure takes responsibility for their actions, it will be the first.

The debacle that was the Stevie Wonder concert, and the even more outrageous investigation into the activities surrounding the failed fundraising effort, provides further evidence that John Dalberg-Acton was correct in his admonishment of the absolute corrupting influences of power.

According to the investigators’ report, the law firm was instructed by vice chairman of the Board of Regents James Lee and UH president M.R.C. Greenwood to investigate “the possible inappropriate management, planning, organization and administration of the (Stevie Wonder) benefit concert … and/or violations of (university) polices and procedures or other related violations which may have involved James Donovan III … and Richard Sheriff … and/or other individuals.”

Had the aim been an actual open and thorough investigation, the instructions would not have singled out any individuals, but would have given investigators open access to everyone. As it was, 16 people were interviewed for the investigation — none of whom was Greenwood or UH chancellor Tom Apple.

That is unconscionable. Everyone’s reputation and capabilities were opened to review except the two people who are overall responsible for the proper running of the university. Former chancellor Virginia Hinshaw, who is in the midst of a $287,000 sabbatical and who asked on two occasions to have Donovan’s contract extended, was interviewed, but her name is redacted throughout the report.

Evidently, that’s what passes for transparency at UH these days.

Thomas Jefferson, who knew a thing or two about creating an effective management organization, said democracy depends on an informed and educated citizenry. UH appears to believe that such access needs to be reserved for only a select few. Why should Greenwood and Apple feel the necessity for any adherence to some outdated Jeffersonian approach to politics when their bosses haven’t fared much better?

According to Hawaii News Now, the Board of Regents dressed down Apple and Greenwood for their handling of the affair, including Apple’s disastrous Aug. 13 press conference. Yet, even after Greenwood reportedly offered to reverse any decision the board felt necessary — to which a regent reportedly replied, “We do not want to micro-manage the university. If we do not have confidence in the way things are being done, then we have to replace the president.” — en mass the body of political insiders selected to run the public university announced their complete support of duo.

The entire episode makes you wonder about Greenwood’s and Apple’s qualifications for the job. Heck, they couldn’t even properly finger someone with the blame. Facing more than $200 million in maintenance backlogs, a $11 million athletic department deficit, higher tuition rates and class availability being cut, the pair seemingly felt it was better to pay Donovan more than $630,000 instead of the approximately $120,000 it would have cost the university for him to serve out the remaining six months of his contract.

To put it another way, the wasted funds are enough to pay the entire four-year in-state tuition of 14.4 students, or a single year of education for 57.7. In a state overpopulated with multiple-job-holding parents and a young generation hoping not to be priced out of the American Dream, it is appalling.

After the seven-and-a-half hour secret meeting, Greenwood told reporters there was much discussion at the meeting about, “How do we make it right?” before admitting, “We made a mistake. Our employees made mistakes. We want to go forward and do the right thing.”

Telling us how much the investigation costs would be a start.

Since a mass resignation is not likely to happen, the immediate answer is simple:

Quit lying to the public. As those footing the bill for the university’s operating expenses and the administrators’ salaries, taxpayers deserve the right to know how money is being spent and how decisions are made.

Secrecy is the tool of oppression, not the protector of public policy makers.

Just as students did some 40 years ago, it’s time to take over the University of Hawaii. Not by force or occupation, but with involvement and political pressure. State Sen. Donna Mercado Kim has said she is considering investigative hearings. Rep. K. Mark Takai also has expressed his dissatisfaction.

The Regents Candidate Advisory Council of the University of Hawaii is collecting nominations for three Board of Regents posts, Hawaii County, Maui County and At-Large. Let your anger be known. Apathy only makes evil stronger.