David Lassner was selected Monday to lead the University of Hawaii system as its 15th president.
In an 11-2 vote with two abstentions, the Board of Regents chose Lassner, the university’s longtime information technology executive and its current interim president, over retired Army Lt. Gen. Frank Wiercinski.
Regents Tom Shigemoto and Coralie Chun Matayoshi voted for Wiercinski, while Jeffrey Portnoy and Benjamin Kudo abstained. Portnoy said before the vote that he could not vote for either candidate because they did not have a record of running a public university.
In a UH-issued statement, Lassner complimented Wiercinski “for participating in this open process and for his willingness to serve.”
“I am humbled and honored by the trust being placed in me by the Board of Regents,” Lassner said. “I pledge to listen, learn and collaborate to achieve excellence at UH as we execute on our shared vision to serve all the people of Hawaii in a manner that exemplifies superb stewardship of public resources.”
Wiercinski issued a statement congratulating Lassner and thanking the regents and UH community for their consideration. “I would like to particularly thank those who nominated me for this position, asked me to serve, and further acknowledge their support and confidence in my leadership abilities,” he wrote. He wished Lassner and the UH “great success and aloha.”
Lassner’s appointment is effective July 1.
After Monday’s vote, the regents went into executive session behind closed doors to discuss his salary. About an hour later they emerged and announced that Lassner would get a $375,000 annual salary.
The regents will extend an at-will contract to Lassner, and board chairman John Holzman said his “continuous” appointment will come with annual evaluations with objectives set by the board.
Lassner started his career at UH in 1977, serving in various technical and management roles that culminated with his creating and leading the university’s first systemwide IT support organization.
He had been vice president for information technology and chief information officer since 2007 before being tapped last summer to serve as interim president after M.R.C. Greenwood announced she was stepping down with two years still left on her contract.
Following a nearly yearlong search, Lassner, 59, and Wiercinski, 57, emerged last month as the most qualified candidates by a regents presidential selection committee. But the regents quickly came under fire for the choices and the search process, which was handled internally without the help of an outside search firm.
Some objected to Wiercinski’s decades-long military career; others found it troubling that Lassner was named a finalist when initially the board said any interim president would not be eligible for the permanent job. Other critics have pointed out the committee failed to meet its goal of producing “no less than five and no more than six” top candidates.
In recent weeks, state Senate President Donna Mercado Kim, a vocal opponent of the search process, started an online petition imploring the board to reopen the search, and a group of UH-Manoa faculty and graduate students launched another petition asking the board to reject Wiercinski’s nomination.
But the board wasn’t swayed. Chairman Holzman has repeatedly defended the search process and cautioned that a delay in hiring a permanent president would harm the university.
He continued that defense at Monday’s meeting and the board voted 12-3 not to re-open the selection process before selecting Lassner.
Lassner was seen by some faculty as the preferred choice because of his familiarity and longevity with the UH system. At the same time, critics have speculated he’ll maintain the status quo at a time when UH needs to re-establish public trust and accountability.
In a public interview last week with the regents, Lassner assured the board that he wouldn’t back down from change. He shared goals of serving more students, diversifying UH’s revenue streams and improving aging facilities.
In the nine months he served as interim, Lassner is credited with helping smooth over relations with lawmakers, who took UH to task over the so-called Wonder Blunder fiasco in which the university was bilked out of $200,000 by promoters of a bogus Stevie Wonder concert.
He helped UH secure big-ticket items in its budget request at the Legislature this year, including controversial construction projects and more than $30 million for faculty pay increases and salary restorations.