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Regents name chancellor despite pleas for Apple

By Nanea Kalani

LAST UPDATED: 3:51 p.m. HST, Aug 21, 2014

Despite calls from University of Hawaii at Manoa students and faculty for the Board of Regents to reinstate fired Manoa Chancellor Tom Apple, the board unanimously voted Thursday to approve an interim replacement.

Robert Bley-Vroman, dean of Manoa's College of Languages, Linguistics and Literature, has been appointed to a one-year term, effective Sept. 1, at a $275,016 salary.

The regents discussed the appointment in a closed executive session that lasted three hours. Following the vote, regents Chairman Randy Moore reiterated the board's support of UH President David Lassner's July 30 decision to terminate Apple.

Some regents said after the vote that while they voted in favor of the appointment, they would like the university to revisit whether the Manoa campus requires a permanent chancellor position.

Twenty people signed up to testify, and the majority said they have lost trust in UH President David Lassner and the board for the way Apple's firing was handled -- without input from students or faculty.

Lassner terminated Apple, following what he said was an unsatisfactory performance review. He was two years into a five-year contract.

Apple has said he was effectively pushed out under the guise of financial problems facing the flagship Manoa campus. He said he believes his failed attempts to remove the UH Cancer Center director and pushback from the medical school dean for budget cuts contributed to his termination.

"The Board of Regents and President Lassner greatly appreciate the deep concerns and ideas shared by students and faculty in face-to-face meetings as well as by written and oral testimony over these past weeks," the board said in a statement after the meeting. "The fact that there are different perspectives on personnel matters and how they are handled does not mean that the concerns are not being heard."

The statement said UH intends to honor its settlement agreement with Apple, adding that "Dr. Bley-Vroman brings to the role decades of experience at UH Manoa through which he has gained a deep understanding of the campus as a faculty member, faculty leader and dean."

Earlier at Thursday's meeting, some called for Lassner to resign, others want an investigation of the firing, and others warned that the regents are losing credibility for not reversing the decision.

"You've got a whole bunch of people here asking you to do something. I hope you hear us," said university astronomer Jeff Kuhn. "We the faculty have lost confidence and are embarrassed by the administration's actions. ... Many of us reached a tipping point with the Apple affair."

Lilikala Kameeleihiwa, senior professor at Manoa's Center for Hawaiian Studies, said Apple's termination has made UH the laughing stock among research universities across the country. 

"How can we get another chancellor when we haven't even let this one be here for two years? When he's fired under such a cloud, how can we do that?" Kameeleihiwa testified. "You've heard from the students, you've heard from the faculty, you're hearing from Hawaiians -- we want this man back. If you don't reinstate him, people are going to start calling for all your resignations," she said, drawing loud applause and cheers from the crowd.

Manoa student groups -- the Associated Students of the University of Hawaii and the Manoa Graduate Student Organization -- and the Manoa Faculty Senate and Manoa Faculty Congress, one longtime Manoa professor said, have been protesting Apple's firing for the last three weeks, both in private and in public.

"I've listened to President Lassner's argument as to why he had to fire Chancellor Apple. I believe he believes in this rationale, however I find it unpersuasive," said graduate student Nicholas Chagnon, a member of the Graduate Student Organization's executive council. "I don't think Chancellor Apple should be held solely responsible for the budget problems at Manoa. Furthermore, I don't believe for one minute that the chancellor was the major party responsible for the divisiveness hindering the administration of this university."

GSO President Michelle Tigchelaar questioned why students were shut out of the decision.

"You as the (Board of Regents) carry the responsibility to ensure that the president makes the right decisions. You tell us that you love to hear from students, yet you ignored our request to put the firing of Chancellor Apple on your agenda," she said.

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