The University of Hawaii continues to pay $5,000 a month so its president can rent a Waikiki-area condo while the Manoa mansion that served as home for her predecessors remains unoccupied and has been sparingly used since renovations were completed several months ago.
Even though no one lives at the 4,500-square-foot house, known as College Hill, the university spends about $115,000 annually to maintain the 2.7-acre property, mostly on labor and utilities. It is being used for university-related events.
Although nearly $440,000 in renovations were completed in October, the Board of Regents agreed last month to continue the housing allowance for President M.R.C. Greenwood as part of a three-year extension of her contract.
The allowance, which totals $60,000 annually, originally was intended to be temporary. When Greenwood was hired in summer 2009, renovations were under way, prompting the president to find alternate quarters.
But even after the project was completed last year, Greenwood did not move in and is using the residence for events that support UH’s mission, similar to how the state uses Washington Place, the former official home of the governor.
Greenwood’s monthly housing allowance is on top of her $475,000 annual salary, minus the 10 percent pay cut that she voluntarily took as the university grapples with a severe financial crunch.
To help cope with the fiscal crisis, UH has slashed its budget, dramatically raised tuition, increased fees, reduced class offerings and taken other money-saving steps that have raised the ire of students.
Yet none of the regents raised any objection to continuing the housing allowance when they agreed at their January meeting to renew Greenwood’s contract through July 2015, lauding her leadership.
"A provision for housing is commonplace in employment contracts for university presidents," the board said in a statement to the Star-Advertiser that was approved by Chairman Howard Karr. "As the university is presently expanding the use of College Hill to focus on events, meetings and other functions that will help advance the university’s mission and strategic goals, the board determined that it will continue to provide the housing allowance for President Greenwood, subject to periodic evaluation of the current use of the facilities."
Asked to identify other universities that provide housing allowances for presidents who don’t live in homes designated for their use, UH said it was not privy to such information.
Greenwood, breaking from a UH tradition dating to President Thomas Hamilton in 1964, said in a written statement that she did not want to limit use of what she called "the university’s house," which was built in 1902 and donated to UH in 1963.
"Building partnerships and engaging our constituencies are important to our mission, and College Hill is a great venue for meetings, events and other functions that will help us do that," Greenwood said.
The university said discussions for finding a suitable venue for fundraising, community awareness and entertaining predated Greenwood’s hiring, and the recent renovation provided a good opportunity to explore whether to discontinue using College Hill as the president’s residence.
Greenwood said she is using the entire $5,000 allowance to rent a secured condo in the Waikiki area. She and the regents would not provide additional details about her housing despite the use of public funds. The university said it does not provide home address information or other details about where employees, including the president, live.
Under previous administrations, College Hill was used to host functions even while serving as the president’s official residence.
Former President Al Simone, who ran the university from 1984 to 1992, estimated that he and his wife, Carolie, used the home at least four days a week and often six days to host breakfast, lunch or dinner functions and receptions. He said he enjoyed living at College Hill despite the loss of privacy.
"My wife and I worked for the university 24 hours a day," Simone said in a phone interview from New York, where he now lives. "That was not our house. We lived there so we could host people."
Greenwood said College Hill also will serve as the university’s coordination center for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation meetings in November. Greenwood is a member of the host committee, and the university is overseeing the volunteer effort during Leaders Week for APEC.
Although the university began using College Hill to host functions before the renovations were completed, an events list shows sparing use thus far, mostly for business meetings or to host groups, such as scholars, politicians or visiting dignitaries, at lunch or dinner.
Five events were held in each of the months of September, October and November, and 10 were held in December, according to UH. Nine were held in January; six have been held or are scheduled for this month; and nine are on tap for March.
The university said it expects to host 85 to 90 events this academic year at College Hill, significantly expanding use, including opening it to UH staff, faculty, student and alumni groups, and community organizations.
By contrast, David McClain, the last president to live at College Hill, hosted an average of two to three events there per month during his tenure, UH said.
While Greenwood’s $60,000 annual housing allowance is but a tiny fraction — 0.00004 percent — of UH’s $1.4 billion annual operating budget, some faculty and students have criticized the perk as unnecessary, especially given UH’s severe financial straits. If Greenwood doesn’t want to live at College Hill, they added, she should foot the bill herself.
One student said tuition bills should include a line reminding students how much they are, in effect, contributing to Greenwood’s housing.
"It’s a slap in the face," said Geoffrey Torres, 26, a UH-Manoa engineering undergraduate.
Added Vehia Goo, 21, an elementary education major, "Unless it absolutely can’t be avoided, I think we’re paying too much for her to be here."
Faculty were equally critical of the allowance and what they said it represents. "I think this whole thing is outrageous," said ethnic studies professor Noel Kent. "Basically, (UH) autonomy has been used as a tool to enrich people at the top."
Susan Hippensteele, chairwoman of the Manoa Faculty Senate, said the $5,000 monthly allowance likely is more than what most faculty earn in take-home pay each month. "It sort of smacks of the inequity that this campus has struggled with for a very long time," Hippensteele said.
Because of the slowdown in the construction industry, the university was able to do the College Hill project for substantially less than the $693,000 original estimate. The final price was $439,343.
The work primarily was related to health and safety issues and included reinforcing a front portion of the home’s foundation, repairing the porte-cochere and replacing sections of the first-level wood flooring.
At one point the university considered bringing the entire 109-year-old, two-story residence into compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act. Currently, only the first floor complies. But the cost, estimated at more than $1 million, and the 36 months needed to do the work prompted UH to defer that project, the university said. The three bedrooms are on the second floor.
The ADA work would have to be done to make the residence suitable for Greenwood and her family — a factor in the re-purposing of College Hill, the university said. Greenwood’s partner is "a senior disabled person with attendant special needs," a UH spokeswoman said.
Former President Evan Dobelle, who ran UH from 2001 to 2004, said he loved living at College Hill, describing the evenings spent on the lanai while hosting events as a "magical experience." He recalled the warm breezes, the fragrance of nearby trees and flowers, and the lights of Waikiki flickering in the distance.
"The most important thing, however, is the use for the greater benefit of all the stakeholders of the university, which may or may not include a president having to be in residence," Dobelle wrote in an e-mail to the Star-Advertiser.
Simone said when he left Hawaii in 1992 to become president of Rochester Institute of Technology in New York, he had the choice of living on a 23-acre farm owned by the university or getting a housing allowance so he could live elsewhere. He chose the farm. But there was a trade-off. "You lose all your privacy," said Simone, who retired in 2007.
Greenwood is no stranger to housing controversy.
A 2005 San Francisco Chronicle article noted that she received a $125,000 cash payment from the University of California the previous year to move roughly 70 miles from Santa Cruz to Oakland when she was promoted to provost of the UC system. Before that, she was chancellor at UC-Santa Cruz, where she lived rent-free in housing provided by the school, the article said.