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Regents face tough choice over future of UH leader

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  • Jamm Aquino /
    UH President M.R.C. Greenwood spoke to Board of Regents chairman Eric Martinson during a break in state Senate hearings last week regarding the Stevie Wonder concert fiasco.
    On May 17, University of Hawaii President M.R.C. Greenwood urged the UH Board of Regents to approve her recommendation of Tom Apple as the next chancellor of the Manoa campus.

A decision about embattled University of Hawaii President M.R.C. Greenwood’s future could go either way because there is not a consensus on the Board of Regents about whether she should stay or go, sources say.

Greenwood has been called to task for her handling of the fallout from the phony Stevie Wonder concert.

People on the board and who have spoken to regents say Greenwood has the staunch backing of at least four regents, including Chairman Eric Martinson and vice chairmen Carl Carlson Jr. and James Lee, while another faction has soured on Greenwood, and most members are either undeclared or undecided.

Board members generally referred questions to Martinson, who has not returned calls. Lee would not comment.

But Carlson said, "I’m a very strong supporter of President Greenwood."

Asked if he believes she should continue as president, Carlson told the Star-Advertiser, "Of course!" He declined further comment.

Martinson called for a special meeting of the 15-member board on Friday to discuss Greenwood’s job in advance of the regularly scheduled Oct. 18 session. The discussion is the only item on the agenda and will be held in a closed-door executive session because it involves a personnel and a legal matter, which requires consultation with attorneys.


The University of Hawaii Board of Regents will meet at 2 p.m. Friday at the John A. Burns School of Medicine, 651 Ilalo St., Room 314, in Kakaako. There will be a public comment period before the regents enter a closed-door executive session. Oral testimony is limited to three minutes.

The agenda was posted on the regents’ website to comply with the state Sunshine Law, which requires advance notice of a board meeting.

The discussion comes after two full days of contentious hearings over the past two weeks at the state Capitol, where a Senate Special Committee on Accountability grilled Greenwood and Martinson about the loss of $200,000 of athletic department funds in a failed attempt to put on a Stevie Wonder concert. Also at issue is Greenwood’s and the board’s handling of the aftermath of the apparent scam.

A regent who did not want to be identified said it did not appear that a separation agreement is in the works.

"At this point I don’t get the sense that that is exactly what we’re talking about on Friday," the regent said. "But that could change."

Friday’s meeting is ostensibly to air views and discuss options, some UH figures suggest.

Greenwood oversees the 10-campus UH system, its approximately 60,000 students and its $1.5 billion budget.

Greenwood’s initial three-year contract, which began in August 2009, was extended last year and runs through 2015. She currently receives an annual salary of $427,512, plus a $5,000-a-month housing allowance and a $150,000 per year expense account provided by the UH Foundation.

Under terms of her contract, Greenwood can be bought out without cause for one year’s salary. Firing her for cause would still likely lead to a costly legal battle and settlement.

Regents are faced with the dilemma of growing public disenchantment with leadership at UH in the 21⁄2 months since the Stevie Wonder concert debacle began to unfold. Senators and the public have also criticized the regents for the number of pricey buyouts given to administrators and coaches in recent years while tuition continues to rise and some departments face budget cuts.

The regents must decide if they have confidence in Greenwood’s ability to lead the university system or if they are willing to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars, possibly more than $1 million, to buy out her contract and find a new leader.

The Senate committee investigating the university estimates UH is already spending more than $1.3 million to hire lawyers, conduct investigations and fund a new three-year contract for former athletic director Jim Donovan.

Greenwood’s resignation or firing would add even more to the cost. Besides her $427,512 salary, Greenwood could also ask for a 10-month paid sabbatical, something that was granted to UH chancellors who left the university and former UH President David McClain. She may also ask to be kept on the university payroll long enough to qualify for state retirement and pension benefits, something that has also been granted to departing top executives.

The search for a new president would cost even more money.

"It is not unusual for searches for presidents or system heads at large universities to cost several hundred thousand dollars," said Michael McLendon, a professor of higher education policy and leadership at Southern Methodist University, near Dallas.

Besides the cost associated with firing and hiring new leaders, boards also have to look at the impact firing a leader will have on the reputation of a university, McLendon said in an emailed response to questions from the Star-Advertiser.

"Without question, it is harder to recruit top candidates to lead a system or a campus, when there has been a pattern of instability in leadership, particularly if the pattern involves one of poor relations between institutional leaders and their boards," he said. "This doesn’t mean that boards shouldn’t dismiss leaders who are performing poorly; the failure to act would be a far worse disservice to the public."


Here are key events in the term of University of Hawaii President M.R.C. Greenwood.

>> June 10, 2009 — UH announces the selection of Greenwood, a nutritionist at the University of California at Davis and former senior vice president of the 10-campus UC system, as its first female president at an annual salary of $475,008.
>> Sept. 30, 2009 — In a letter to UH faculty and staff, Greenwood says state budget cuts and rising enrollment will mean “difficult decisions” will have to be made to get the university through lean times.
>> August 2009 — Greenwood begins her term and takes a 10 percent cut in salary along with other top executives because of the UH budget difficulties.
>> Dec. 28, 2009 — Greenwood and the Board of Regents announce they are imposing a new contract on faculty that calls for a temporary 5 percent salary reduction in the first two years. >> Jan. 26, 2010 — The University of Hawaii Professional Assembly approves a new six-year contract that reduces salaries by 6.7 percent for 18 months, then restores the pay cut and provides 3 percent pay raises in the final two years. The contract also provides lump-sum payments to faculty to recoup the money lost in the pay cut.
>> Feb. 3, 2010 — Greenwood addresses a joint session of the Hawaii Legislature and announces initiatives to increase the number of college graduates by 25 percent by 2015, develop a research industry in Hawaii and rebuild the infrastructure on all campuses.
>> April 9, 2010 — Greenwood is named one of the members of the 2011 Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit host committee.
>> June 28, 2010 — The Board of Regents approves the Thirty Meter Telescope project on Mauna Kea.
>> Dec. 20, 2010 — Greenwood announces that UH will join the Mountain West Conference in football and the Big West Conference in other sports and leave the Western Athletic Conference.
>> Jan. 20, 2011 — The Board of Regents extends Greenwood’s contract for three years until July 31, 2015. Greenwood’s pay remains the same as when she was hired. But the regents also voted to extend her $5,000 monthly housing allowance.
>> Aug. 24, 2011 — UH-Manoa Chancellor Virginia Hinshaw announces she will step down at the end of her five-year contract. The move comes after Greenwood and the Board of Regents decide not to extend her contract. Greenwood announces that a search will begin for a new chancellor.
>> Oct. 26, 2011 — The Board of Regents approves a plan by Greenwood and the UH administration to raise tuition at all campuses over five years. Resident undergraduate tuition at UH-Manoa tuition will rise 35 percent to $11,376 a year in 2016.
>> May 17 — The Board of Regents approves Greenwood’s recommendation to hire Tom Apple as the new UH-Manoa chancellor at an annual salary of $439,008.
>> July 11 — Greenwood and Apple place Athletic Director Jim Donovan and Stan Sheriff Center manager Rich Sheriff on paid leave while an investigation is conducted into a bogus Stevie Wonder concert and the loss of a $200,000 deposit from athletic department funds.
>> Aug. 12 — UH announces that an internal investigation shows no wrongdoing by Donovan. But Donovan will not return as athletic director; instead, he will take a new job in marketing in the UH-Manoa chancellor’s office.
>> Aug. 22 — The Board of Regents meets in a closed-door executive session to discuss the Stevie Wonder concert and approve Donovan’s reassignment to a newly created position in the chancellor’s office.
>> Sept. 24 — Senators on a Special Committee for Accountability question Greenwood for two hours about the failed concert and its aftermath.
>> Oct. 5 — The Board of Regents posts an agenda for a special meeting to discuss Greenwood’s employment contract.

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