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UH presidential finalists try to sway regents in public interviews

By Nanea Kalani

LAST UPDATED: 2:55 p.m. HST, May 27, 2014

The two finalists vying to be the next University of Hawaii president tried to distinguish themselves as the best candidate for the job Tuesday in separate public interviews before the Board of Regents.

Frank Wiercinski, considered the nontraditional candidate given his exclusively military background, told the board his being a newcomer to the university should be seen as an advantage.

"I come with fresh eyes. I don't come with a legacy of past decisions. I come with no bias," said Wiercinski, who retired last year at the rank of lieutenant general after 34 years of service in the Army.

Wiercinski, who's been criticized by some for not having an advanced degree or past experience in higher education, said that mindset would be useful when making challenging decisions such as reducing costs.

Meanwhile, interim UH President David Lassner, the UH system's longtime information technology executive who has been with the university for 37 years, assured the board that he wouldn't back down from change.

Some of Lassner's critics speculate he would maintain the status quo if named president.

"I'm not someone who has ever been comfortable with the status quo," Lassner said. "It would be a mistake for anyone, and particularly people inside the university, to think that if they pick Lassner, 'Phew, things are going to be the same,' because that's not what they're going to get."

The candidates appeared before the full board for the first time Tuesday and took questions that ranged from how to increase UH's revenue streams and research activities to how to better serve Native Hawaiians and support athletics.

The regents have scheduled a June 2 meeting to vote on their final pick.

Following a nearly yearlong search, a regents presidential selection committee earlier this month named Lassner and Wiercinski its top picks.

But the regents have come under fire from student and faculty groups and the state Senate president who have complained that the search was flawed and needs to be redone.

Some object to Wiercinski's military background, calling him unqualified to lead an institution of higher learning. Others found it troubling that the search committee named Lassner a finalist when it initially said any interim president would not be eligible for the permanent job.

Other critics said the search committee failed to meet its goal of producing "no less than five and no more than six" top candidates.

The board has repeatedly defended its search process -- handled internally without the help of an outside executive search firm -- and there was no discussion Tuesday of reopening the search.

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