University of Hawaii President M.R.C. Greenwood defended herself before the UH Manoa Faculty Senate yesterday after a professor criticized her for taking a $60,000 annual housing allowance while College Hill, the recently renovated traditional residence of UH presidents, sits unoccupied.
"Sixty -thousand dollars happens to be more than the average Hawaii household income," ethnic studies professor Noel Kent said at the group’s regularly scheduled meeting. "It undermines your credibility and undermines the credibility of our whole institution," said Kent, who stood holding a copy of yesterday’s Star-Advertiser article detailing Greenwood’s housing allowance.
Kent demanded that Greenwood forgo the allowance she receives to live at a Waikiki-area condo and that she reimburse UH for the College Hill renovations.
Greenwood, who had just finished discussing the budget crisis and possible cuts by the Legislature, responded by saying that "many people in the audience think I make too much." Her annual salary is $475,000, minus a 10 percent cut she took voluntarily.
Greenwood then explained that her partner’s severe disability renders her unable to climb the stairs and live in the two-story house. UH officials told the Star-Advertiser earlier this week that it would cost an estimated $1 million to bring the second floor of the Manoa mansion into compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
But she said that was just part of the reason the decision was made to use College Hill for UH functions rather than her residence.
Greenwood said that before her arrival there were discussions that when the president was living at College Hill, it was used only a few times a month for UH functions. She said they made the business decision to use the house for 100 fundraising events a year, with the goal of raising a half-billion dollars.
Greenwood said the Star-Advertiser "chose to interpret it as a sparse number of events" held there, "but we didn’t get the house back until November" after renovations were completed. As reported yesterday, UH officials said five events were held each in September, October and November; 10 in December; nine in January; six have been held or are scheduled for this month; and nine for March. The article also quoted former UH President Al Simone, who said he used the home up to six days a week to host breakfast, lunch or dinner functions and receptions, when he lived there from 1984 to 1992.
Greenwood also said the recent renovations, which cost nearly $440,000, were to repair the termite-damaged house, and not to accommodate her family.
David Duffy, vice chairman of the Manoa Faculty Senate, said a $60,000 housing allowance may sound like a lot, but it is in line for a university president.
However, he questioned whether keeping College Hill as a site for fundraisers and other UH functions is worth the $115,000 a year for maintenance. "It’s a beautiful Victorian fixer-upper that you’d be insane to buy. The question is, do we keep the Victorian?"