POSTED: 1:30 a.m. HST, May 8, 2014
LAST UPDATED: 8:24 p.m. HST, May 8, 2014
David Lassner says that while he's never aspired to be president of the University of Hawaii in his nearly 40-year career at the university, he thinks UH has the potential to be the leading public higher education system in the nation and welcomes the opportunity to try to make that happen.
"I've actually never uttered those words," he said Wednesday when asked why he wants to be president at a forum marking his first public event since being named one of two finalists for the job.
"If selected, I would pledge to work as hard and as smart as I can in collaboration with all of you and our other stakeholders and everyone else who shares the dream and the aspiration of making us the best public higher education system in the country in service to the people of Hawaii and the world," he said. "There really is a lot to be done, but I really believe we can do it, so let's get on with it."
Lassner, who has been UH's system vice president for information technology and chief information officer since 2007, 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 stepping down to spend more time with family and deal with health problems, leaving with nearly two years still on her contract.
He said at the time he wasn't interested in the permanent job, but he was nominated for the position via a letter signed by 13 deans and directors of schools and institutes at UH-Manoa.
Following a yearlong national search, a Board of Regents search committee last week announced Lassner, 59, and retired Army Lt. Gen. Frank Wiercinski, 57, as its top picks.
Lassner on Wednesday touched on a variety of topics at Leeward Community College, where mostly faculty and administrators were in attendance at the midday event.
He talked about the need for UH to remove barriers to higher education and help more people become so-called lifelong learners.
He said UH can to do more to meet its mission of being a model indigenous-serving university by educating more Native Hawaiian students, increasing Native Hawaiian leadership at UH and taking seriously its responsibility to promote, preserve and advance Native Hawaiian culture.
He also talked about the need for expanding UH research into a major economic engine for the state.
"The University of Hawaii is the single most important intellectual resource in this state and this is research that advances human understanding around the real challenges that we face," he said.
Lassner described himself as a product of public schools, having attended seven schools in three states before going off to college at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where he earned a bachelor's degree in economics and a master's in computer science. He came to Hawaii in 1977 for a one-year computer pilot project at UH and never left.
He later earned a doctorate from Manoa in communication and information sciences.
University of Hawaii-West Oahu students Travis Holmes and Alexander Bautista drove into Pearl City from Kapolei to hear Lassner speak.
"I didn't really know who he was," said Holmes, a marketing major in his junior year. "It's good to know who the president might be and how the university works."
"I want to hear both of their takes so we can at least be a little more informed," added Bautista, who is studying business management. "Coming to these as a student doesn't really affect us, but at the same time, it's always helpful just to be knowledgeable."
The students said they're planning to return to LCC Friday evening, when Wiercinski is scheduled to speak.
J.N. Musto, executive director of the University of Hawaii Professional Assembly, said the candidates "are two very different people." He said Lassner would be a "stabilizing force" for UH, while he described Wiercinski as "high-risk, high-reward — potentially."