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Regents deciding between 2 finalists for UH president

By Nanea Kalani

LAST UPDATED: 02:59 p.m. HST, May 01, 2014

The University of Hawaii is deciding between two men to be the next president of the 10-campus system: UH's longtime information technology executive, who has been serving as interim president since last fall, and the retired commanding general of the U.S. Army Pacific.

The Board of Regents' presidential selection committee, which first began meeting in June, recommended the finalists -- David Lassner and retired Lt. Gen. Francis Wiercinski -- to the full board at a special meeting Thursday morning.

Neither of the candidates attended the meeting on the UH-Manoa campus. The special meeting was called ahead of the regents' May 15 monthly meeting, where a hiring decision was expected.

Several students and a new regent who has yet to join the board urged the board Thursday to hold off on hiring a new president until after the semester to give student and faculty groups more time to research the finalists and engage in meaningful dialogue.

"The board must never allow the faculty and students to be disenfranchised in providing input in any critical UH decision," said Stanford Yuen, who will start an appointed term on the Board of Regents in July and said he was testifying as an individual.

Yuen, an engineering consultant and former special assistant to the Navy, said the two-week window between Thursday's announcement of the candidates and the regents' May 15 meeting is too short, especially with campuses busy with finals.

"With the acting president in place, there is really no reason for the board to rush to make a decision by May 15," he said, adding that the process shouldn't be cut short due to self-imposed deadline. 

Yuen noted that the search committee didn't fulfill its original plan to provide a shortlist of five or six candidates.

The search group had said it would provide a shortlist of five to six candidates to the board, but UH said some candidates chose to withdraw from the process because finalists would be made public and invited to make campus visits.

Four university students also asked the board to delay a hiring.

"Right now I don't think a lot of the student body ... are aware of what's upcoming from the Board of Regents," said UH-Manoa senior Claire Yakabe. "Their focus right now is on finals."

But Maenette Ah Nee-Benham, dean of the Hawaiinuiakea School of Hawaiian Knowledge at Manoa and a non-voting member of the presidential selection committee, urged the regents to move forward.

"I have to honor the comments made by the students and by soon-to-be-regent Yuen, about time, but I would also like to urge you to move forward because we are in deep need of having leadership to help us take us into this 21st century and meet this transformational opportunity that we have right now," she said.

Lassner, who since 2007 has served as UH's vice president for information technology and chief information officer, is considered a strong candidate within the university community because of his seniority and ability to get along with others.

He has worked at UH since 1977 in various technical and management roles that culminated with his creating and leading the university's first system-wide IT support organization.

He was tapped to serve as interim president last summer and assumed the post in September, after former President M.R.C. Greenwood announced she was retiring to spend more time with family and deal with health problems, leaving nearly two years left on her contract.

Greenwood's departure came about a year after UH became embroiled in the so-called "Wonder blunder," a botched Stevie Wonder concert that tarnished public confidence in the university.

Lassner is credited with helping smooth over relations with lawmakers, who took UH to task over the concert fiasco.

For example, 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.

A native of Connecticut, Lassner received his doctorate in communication and information sciences from UH-Manoa. He holds a bachelor's degree in economics and a master's degree in computer science from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

With the interim appointment, Lassner received about a 30 percent salary boost to $325,008 a year -- less than the $475,000 salary Greenwood was paid at her hiring in 2009.

Wiercinski is seen as an unconventional candidate, given his purely military background. 

But some regents during the search process expressed a desire to consider candidates outside academia, including business and military executives. The search group also sought a leader with close ties to Hawaii.

Wiercinski retired in June following 34 years of service in the Army, including eight years of commanding in the Pacific. A native of Pennsylvania, Wiercinski graduated from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.

The regents' presidential selection committee voted in late January to conduct the search itself, without the help of an outside consultant or executive search firm. UH the following month began advertising for the position in local and national publications.

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inverse wrote:
What should be done is have both candidates publicly speak in an open forum and each is given up to 30 minutes on what their vision is for UH and how it should be run. Then each candidate will be open for questions from anyone in the audience and NO pre-screened questions. As long the question are directed to them and NOT self-serving questions to give the questioner an audience. If the question is not reasonable, their mic will be cut off. If either candidate cannot handle such an interview process then they do not deserve to be President of UH and get some ridiculously high salary. Not knowing either one of those two, for one of the candidates to be accepted and grad from West Point, serve in the US military and then rise up to be a General in the US Military, I kind of already have an inkling who would be a better LEADER to head UH.
on May 1,2014 | 12:06PM
inverse wrote:
Whats missing in leadership at UH are traits like honor, integrity and not being afraid of making decisions that best for the University if even some others will not agree with the decision. One knock on Lassiter is he could have defined himself when he was interim President and took a stand, at least one way or another against the Carbone flack. Lassiter could have backed Apple and given the mountain of evidence to remove Carbone, instead choose to bury his head in the sand and deflect the question when he was asked what should be done except to keep him in power and hire more adminstrators, including Hinshaw to add another layer of useless bureaucracy. Pretty clear what kind of UH pres Lassiter will be. Same old, same old does not work, just look at what is happening with UH athletics and the failure to get REAL leaders in the AD including coaches. This season UH football has not seen its worse days yet and the basketball team is now in some other controversy with an assistant coach. Add UH is now on a short list of colleges being investigated for Title IX, handling of sexual harassment or whatever. We need a LEADER and just by going with resumes and past/current decisions in leadership, pretty clear who should be the next President of UH.
on May 1,2014 | 12:16PM
1local wrote:
who in their right mind would want to be the leader of such a union controlled overpaid out of control taxpayer money hole.
on May 1,2014 | 01:21PM
what wrote:
Some people consider it a challenge to right a sinking ship. Not Lassner.
on May 1,2014 | 01:51PM
2disgusted2 wrote:
on May 1,2014 | 08:07PM
csdhawaii wrote:
One has to wonder how much credit can be given to your comments, given that you're giving supposed insight to President LASSNER when you can't even get his name right.
on May 1,2014 | 02:55PM
Nevadan wrote:
Well put, inverse. (1) Each candidate should provide their vision in an open forum and given the opportunity to answer questions. (2) When Lassiter was first appointed interim, he sprouted motherhood statements and zero vision. (3) On the Carbone issue, it was his job to do something. He said exactly nothing. This is the guy for the next UH president? Given the mentality of the BOR, Lassiter will get the job. UH students will pay.
on May 1,2014 | 01:13PM
boshio wrote:
The incoming president should also be approved by the state senate.
on May 1,2014 | 01:54PM
localguy wrote:
Really? Our clueless bureaucrats can't even do our budget on time, to standard every year. This decision is so far above their pay grade it isn't even funny. Let them play with their coloring books and crayons, about all they can handle.
on May 1,2014 | 05:59PM
inverse wrote:
You are probably right, like the last mayoral election or even the last UH presidential search, the fix is in and they want a clone of the former UH pres., MRC, just not the drama of demanding an extra $5K month so that the MRC's handicapped "life partner" did not have to live at the UH Presidents residence in Manoa. The former general is just window dressing and cover to say UH regents did a "thorough" search. The general can be proactive and ask for a media time from the local stations to allow him to be interviewed and put himself out there for the public to get to know him. That would make it much harder and more obvious of the fix for UH to just choose the other guy over the general.
on May 1,2014 | 02:20PM
Nevadan wrote:
The general will do a better job. Lassiter is a neuter gender.
on May 1,2014 | 02:49PM
Nevadan wrote:
Lassner, not Lassiter. My apologies.
on May 1,2014 | 04:04PM
Pocho wrote:
Why choose a military man over a person who comes within the system. It's CRAZY it's come down to these 2 though
on May 1,2014 | 04:49PM
admiral wrote:
You're right, Inverse, the fix is in. But it's Wiercinski, not Lassner, who is the anointed one. Like Lassner or not, he has decades of top level experience in university administration; he has no taint of involvement with previous UH fiascos; he has shown that he can work well with the legislature; and he has quietly built confidence among UH students, faculty, and administrators. In contrast, Wiercinski has no experience--zero--at university administration. And if he's so successful in his post-military career in business, why is he applying for this job in the first place? The fix is in because Neil Abercrombie (who quietly nominated him), Irene Inouye (who doesn't live here, but seems to want a hand in everything political that happens in Hawaii), and JN Musto (who is quitting as head of the faculty union), along with a collection of local business people, have told the Board of Regents that he is their choice. The Regents have made a mess of Presidential selections for more than thirty years, costing UH dearly in terms of reputation and cash...for those buyouts when failures like Dobelle and Greenwood crashed and burned. With a record like that, it's predictable what they will do now. More of the same. And a few years from now (at most) we all will be sitting here again wondering what's wrong with UH. How could they have appointed a retired General, who knew nothing about university administration and who drove morale at UH and the university's reputation even further into the ground, making it a laughing stock among universities everywhere. What's wrong is a Board of Regents that can't stop dancing to the tune of local politicians and businesspeople who know nothing about universities, but who like the idea of putting their friends into all the right places.
on May 1,2014 | 04:55PM
localguy wrote:
Lassner is no different than Dobelle, Greenwood, other past UH loser presidents. Living the sheltered life of academia, they have never had to make the hard decisions. Basically company people who have no real leadership experience, do not even know what leadership is. In comparison, Wiercinski has lived to military leadership standards since he joined the Air Force. Why would he want this job? Unlike civilian bureaucrats who run from challenges, military leaders run to the challenge. Wiercinski can do the job, no sweat. Problem is all the union workers at UH who are not used to working to standard. Expect them to whine to their union, "They are making me work. Help me mommee. Make the bad man go away.
on May 1,2014 | 05:08PM
Nevadan wrote:
You are spreading lies. What is this about "built confidence among UH students, faculty, and administrators"? This guy did nothing. On the Carbone issue, he couldn't even decide what is going on. He is Mr. Neuter Gender.
on May 1,2014 | 05:09PM
2disgusted2 wrote:
Good job Lori! Spoken like a true minion of UH admin!
on May 1,2014 | 08:11PM
Cleodog wrote:
If they want to clean house--hire the general! Heads will role!! He is fresh blood and owes no one anything. He's the man.
on May 1,2014 | 04:52PM
2disgusted2 wrote:
Or the poor guy will be court marshalled! Leave it to the women in Hawaii Hall and Bachman Hall! They'll be in his pants momentarily w cell phone recorders and send the stuff on to his wife, if not the media!
on May 1,2014 | 08:14PM
BTO wrote:
Over 100 years of UH's existence and producing of leaders ..not one alumni considered for the head position. Is this still the plantation??
on May 1,2014 | 05:15PM
2disgusted2 wrote:
Lassner is an alumni. He even got an outstanding alumni award!
on May 1,2014 | 08:15PM
2disgusted2 wrote:
Nyah! I know other mainland universities that have had military folk and they just haven't fit in with the faculty, the students or the legislators. They are nit very goid at taking orders! Faculty and students have a mind of their own!
on May 1,2014 | 08:06PM
rytsuru wrote:
The choices are both problematic...why would the other candidates step out for fear of being taken on a "campus tour"? If these candidates do not want their intentions broadcast to their present employers, why would WE want them to administer our university? And it is OUR university no matter what anyone thinks or says. The idea of a public forum to answer questions from ANY candidate is a great idea!
on May 1,2014 | 12:50PM
Cleodog wrote:
Frankly, as Groucho said, "I wouldn't join a club that would want me." Can't understand why anyone would want to join that organization. Unless they want to see Stevie Wonder's next concert.
on May 1,2014 | 05:57PM
localguy wrote:
Unlike civilian bureaucrats, the military leader is just that, a leader. From day one they have been in charge of people, missions, budgets, made the life and death decision no pure civilian bureaucrat can fathom. I truly believe Francis Wiercinski has the necessary leadership qualities, experience, abilities to be UH President. Only problem I see is all the other UH upper level bureaucrats are not going to like actually having to do real work, being held accountable for their failures, having to really earn their paycheck.
on May 1,2014 | 01:14PM
what wrote:
Yes, "being held accountable" is this thing most lacking at UH, which is why a military leader is needed here.

Lassner = same old same old, Wiercinski = accountability
on May 1,2014 | 01:29PM
saywhatyouthink wrote:
military management style might be exactly what the incompetent people running UH need right now. They are out of control!
on May 1,2014 | 02:43PM
2disgusted2 wrote:
Try to get the students to come to class on time or to attend regularly! They're not going to like being sent to KP
on May 1,2014 | 08:18PM
localguy wrote:
Students who fail to arrive on time for class or miss classes are only hurting themselves as they are paying to attend. This could be why some UH graduates can't get the good jobs, shallow degree due to missing too many classes. And if they can't come to class on time chances are they will do the same on the job. Some students fail to understand personal responsibility.
on May 1,2014 | 08:43PM
csdhawaii wrote:
I get where you're coming from, and I agree to some extent; but expecting someone, even a proven leader, to run a large public University when they have no experience in academia whatsoever - that would be problematic in ways probably too large and numerous to overcome.
on May 1,2014 | 02:58PM
localguy wrote:
A LT General, 0-9 on an 01-10 scale has commanded organizations far larger than UH at around 16,000 students and staff. Commanding a military base then being the commander in charge of multiple bases is a far greater responsibility then tiny UH. My concern is government union workers are committed to the military mission, many are former / retired military. UH union workers have a different commitment, not to UH Manoa but to the union. If they are actually made to do their job to standard expect them to whine to the union and the union to respond with baseless grievances. Unions will whine their union contract trumps the president trying to make them improve their work, be held accountable. I expect some improvements to be made, but unions will always do what unions do, take care of union business first, then union members, then if there is time, look at what the employer needs. Just another day in the backwards, union controlled, clueless Nei.
on May 1,2014 | 04:32PM
wiliki wrote:
If Lassiter is the best that they can come up with, then they haven't searched very hard in the UH system. Yuen is right... they need to keep looking.
on May 1,2014 | 04:36PM
wiliki wrote:
The UH is NOT the Army. Wiercinski will make a terrible UH President. What will he do the first time a tenured professor calls him an i d i o t?
on May 1,2014 | 04:29PM
localguy wrote:
wiliki - Clearly you have no idea how the military works. Never met the high standards it requires to join and stay in. Wiercinski would do what he did in the military, work to show this backwards, tenured professor he is not working as a team member, needs to join the team. Actually it is the tenured professors who are the dysfunctional people at UH. Not working a full shift, doing little work to collect a big pay check. Get rid of tenure, get rid of all this deadwood and watch how fast UH improves.
on May 1,2014 | 05:13PM
Nevadan wrote:
A well-deserved kick in the groin, as any sensible person would do.
on May 1,2014 | 05:26PM
localguy wrote:
Patton would have pulled out his pistol and shot the fool. Cleaning up the gene pool. hehehe
on May 1,2014 | 06:00PM
2disgusted2 wrote:
How do we know?
on May 1,2014 | 08:16PM
psimmons wrote:
Please. No retired military candidate. People who work their entire lives in the military system do not fit into a civilian work environment. Military only know how to spend, spend, and then spend, they treat public monies as if it's water you can turn on from a faucet. Plus they are yes men. Please, say no to General Wiercinski.
on May 1,2014 | 01:16PM
Anonymous wrote:
Agreed. Military = biggest wasteful spender out there, especially a guy from the ruling 1980s/1990s era. Very little accountability goes on in the military. One gets paid for simply showing up for the job. Also, a leader of an institution without a doctoral degree would be seen as a joke by other institutions. Plenty of military members earn very high degrees, even enlisted members, why not this guy if he wants to be taken seriously in a collegiate atmosphere?
on May 1,2014 | 01:37PM
what wrote:
A military commander is acutely accountable for the money and assets that are given to him under his command. What you guys are talking about is the lack of accountability of the money before it gets to him, which is different.
on May 1,2014 | 01:46PM
localguy wrote:
Exactly. The money our elected bureaucrats raid from other funds, give to their family members, nepotism, you name it. Look how much mini me wants to waste on student iPads. The man is a loose cannon with our money.
on May 1,2014 | 05:18PM
inverse wrote:
You want to do comparisons? The former general got accepted and graduated from West Point Academy, which only has a 9% acceptance rate, and rose up to become general in the US military. Lassner got his PhD from UH. Who has the the more prestigious and impressive credentials?
on May 1,2014 | 02:10PM
localguy wrote:
You are so right. Lassner's background isn't even close to the Generals, living in the sheltered world of academia.
on May 1,2014 | 06:02PM
localguy wrote:
Anonymous - Actually you are really talking about our dysfunctional elected bureaucrats, not Wiercinski. What is it our bureaucrats do with our tax money? Waste it like it would never end. Bureaucrats are the yes people, kow towing to their union bosses, special interest groups, anyone who gives them $1. Wiercinski has made decisions you could never fathom, to include missions where Airmen may not return. No bureaucrat comes close, all whiners.
on May 1,2014 | 05:17PM
2disgusted2 wrote:
Military generals drink, smoke, cuss, womanize. Can you imagine what UH's Geisha girls and dancing ladies will do to him? Plus he'll turn UH into some 1950s hula nightclub for the boys! Have you seen what goes on at the officers' clubs at Hickam? We need somebody neuter gender and not oversexed. Don't think any Chinese women will be getting into Lassner's pants!
on May 1,2014 | 08:26PM
localguy wrote:
2disgusted2 - Clearly you are a product of the Nei's failing educational system. Haven't got a clue what goes on in the world. Sad.
on May 1,2014 | 08:46PM
2disgusted2 wrote:
Just research the mainland universities that have tried military guys and see what happened to them!
on May 1,2014 | 08:21PM
inverse wrote:
I can think of Eisenhower, John F Kennedy, Inouye, Shinseki, etc.; even Tulsi Gabbard is considered ex-military, most of those fought in battle and their failures are NOT protected by union and either they lead / performed well under the most adverse of conditions or they would have been demoted/ dishonorably discharged or end up dead.
on May 1,2014 | 02:05PM
sparkyzane wrote:
Likening spending money as water the General would fit right in and Generals are generally not yes men. The problem I see is like a business person becoming a politician. Everyone think it's a great idea until they are forced to confront entrenched bureaucrats. Up in Manoa there are a lot and they have perfected the art of it.
on May 1,2014 | 04:25PM
1local wrote:
who in their right mind would want to be the leader of such a union controlled overpaid out of control taxpayer money hole.
on May 1,2014 | 01:20PM
fairgame947 wrote:
Lassner must be a qualified candidate or he wouldn't have been interim Pres. HOWEVER, he is from within a system that seems, on a regular basis, to have issue after issue after issue. Don't know either candidate, but obviously the Gen. has made decision in the heat of problems and sounds to me like he should be our MAN!
on May 1,2014 | 01:50PM
honoluludave wrote:
It seems the Board of Regents are rushing down a path, a rush to judgement in deciding who should be selected as the next UH President - with only two!! candidates to choose from. Once again lack of leadership rises to the top. Maybe if they would actually extend the search for "qualified" professional candidates, the short list could be, at least, five to seven individuals. (Who even knows what type of search criteria was used?) Was there an open process in putting out an RFQ for the position? So many questions, so few answers. It is good that questions of being asked of the Board of Regents and of following procedures? What if ........ ?
on May 1,2014 | 01:55PM
wiliki wrote:
There should be 5 candidates even if a few have to be interviewed in secret. The choice should be unanimous if possible. There shouldn't be any unanswered questions or concerns.
on May 1,2014 | 04:42PM
localguy wrote:
uhhhh, these are the final two candidates, whittled down from much larger numbers. 5 candidates? Already reduced to two.
on May 1,2014 | 05:20PM
konag43 wrote:
we don't want our hawaii schools run in a military style. just because you are an ex general does not mean you will be a good school administrator.
on May 1,2014 | 01:58PM
saywhatyouthink wrote:
These UH people are out of control, a military management style might be exactly what is needed. Weed out the incompetents by holding them accountable, it'll probably be a completely foreign concept to most of the "union" folks at UH.
on May 1,2014 | 02:50PM
2disgusted2 wrote:
Have you been in the military?
on May 1,2014 | 08:28PM
localguy wrote:
2disgusted2 - Have you? Could you meet the standards required to join, become a leader?
on May 1,2014 | 08:47PM
Nevadan wrote:
Obviously you prefer someone who hears no evil, and sees no evil. That is what Lassiter is - a neuter gender.
on May 1,2014 | 03:06PM
saywhatyouthink wrote:
By choosing a retired general as a finalist, the selection committee is sending a strong message that they think serious change is needed at UH.
on May 1,2014 | 02:54PM
false wrote:
Some countries ridicule military occupants as "tax robbers", meaning they've been taking their taxpayer's money.
on May 1,2014 | 03:26PM
bigislandkurt wrote:
A military commander as a finalist? Wow. Accountability? Probably. But more like a potential disaster written all over it.
on May 1,2014 | 04:28PM
localguy wrote:
How little you know about military command experience. Suffice it to say you need to do your due diligence before making a post. As is it looks like you attended the Nei's failing educational system.
on May 1,2014 | 05:22PM
bobjones wrote:
This story just stuns me! I'm an old friend of David Lassner, and at a gathering at his house I directly asked him: "If the regents wanted you for permanent president, would you accept it." David replied: "Absolutely not. I made it very clear to them when I accepted the interim job that under no circumstances would I consider the permanent job as president." And you can quote me (and him) on that. It's a precise quote!
on May 1,2014 | 04:42PM
Nevadan wrote:
He lied?
on May 1,2014 | 06:18PM
2disgusted2 wrote:
That's not what he said on TV. He said he would be honored to serve.
on May 1,2014 | 08:31PM
Eagle156 wrote:
Don Horner is sulking. He is not on the list. Thank Goodness for that
on May 1,2014 | 05:29PM
localguy wrote:
You can check out LT General Wiercinski's military command experience at the following link. Clear to see no UH preside had ever made as tough decisions he had to make under combat conditions. Bureaucrats like Lassner live in the sheltered world of academia, no clue how the real world works. http://www.usarpac.army.mil/pdfs/LTG%20Wiercinski%20Biography.pdf
on May 1,2014 | 05:36PM
localguy wrote:
You can check out LT General Wiercinski's military command experience at the following link. Clear to see no UH president have ever made as tough decisions as he had to make under combat conditions. Bureaucrats like Lassner live in the sheltered world of a c a d e m i a, no clue how the real world works. http://www.usarpac.army.mil/pdfs/LTG%20Wiercinski%20Biography.pdf
on May 1,2014 | 05:39PM
Iuki wrote:
How many times do a board of regents select a mainland person with no ties to U.H. as president before someone realizes how mistaken that is?
on May 1,2014 | 05:40PM
localguy wrote:
LT General Wiercinski served as the Deputy Commanding General (Support), 25th Infantry Division (2005-2006); and as the Deputy Commanding General, U.S. Army Pacific (2007-2008), Fort Shafter, Hawaii. So he does have some experience in the Nei.
on May 1,2014 | 06:05PM
Locokane wrote:
The final two are not the best choices for leading the university. However, given that the two are the finalist, I would choose Lassner since he is most familiar with how the university operates. While Lt. Gen. Francis Wiercinski has leadership skill, the university is far less structured like the military and more diverse in how it is funded. General Shinseki knew how to run the military, but is done very poorly in running the VA which is not structured like the military.
on May 1,2014 | 06:20PM
localguy wrote:
Can you back up all your claims? No reference to support how you came to your conclusions. Just guessing?
on May 1,2014 | 07:27PM
2disgusted2 wrote:
I seriously doubt that UH faculty can march to a different drummer, or March at all! Leave the military guy out, unless you want another fiasco. But really no one needs to listen to Maenette ! She is a bit of a loose cannon. Maybe that's what we need! A military guy and a loose cannon! Let's see how far that cannon ball can fly!
on May 1,2014 | 08:02PM
localguy wrote:
Who put sour milk on your cornflakes this morning?
on May 1,2014 | 08:48PM
Canefire wrote:
General! General! Genral! (imagine scene from 300 play out in Bachman Hall) Give da General a try!
on May 1,2014 | 10:40PM
Behnerbarb wrote:
It was a sound idea to select an interim who had pledged not to be a candidate. When the regents diverge from this principle and fail to use a neutral search firm for vetting purposes, then naturally other candidates drop out as they won't want to continue through a process that will increasingly appear to them as a shibai. Had the original process been adhered to, there should have been more choice for the UH community, and if none of the applicants were judged to measure up to expectations, then that is the time "to persuade" the interim to stay on.
on May 2,2014 | 12:40AM
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