Tom Apple will soon be leaving his position as University of Hawaii at Manoa chancellor after just over two years on the job, according to sources familiar with the situation.
Apple’s impending departure has been the subject of much speculation and rumor recently but the UH administration refused to comment last week other than to say that Apple is still the chancellor.
However, several sources have told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser that Apple’s ouster as chancellor is imminent.
“Tom Apple is the chancellor of UH Manoa and President (David) Lassner continues to work with him to address the challenges facing UH Manoa,” said a UH statement issued this morning after Hawaii News Now reported that the UH’s new president and Apple were working out details of the chancellor’s ouster.
The statement said Lassner has held “confidential performance discussions with all individuals who report to him . . . The university does not disclose the details of those conversations. The Board of Regents has been briefed.”
Some state legislators said they didn’t know Apple was leaving and said they didn’t have complaints about him.
“It’s kind of a little bit of a surprise,” said Sen. Brian Taniguchi (D, Makiki-Tantalus-Manoa), the chairman of the Senate Higher Education committee. He said Apple has about three years left on his agreement with the university. “I know that there’s been some turmoil with his announcement about across-the-board cuts. There was a lot of angst about that.”
He said he didn’t know why Apple was leaving, but expects the university will have to decide how to find a new chancellor, such as whether to do a national search and who will do the search.
“It’s going to keep a lot of things up in the air,” he said.
Taniguchi also had questions about the impact on the university.
“They’re going through some budget struggles right now,” he said. “Without that kind of leadership, I’m not sure how they’re going to deal with those kinds of issues.”
Apple began his tenure in June 2012, under UH President M.R.C. Greenwood. He came to the UH from the University of Delaware, where he was provost and was hired at a salary of $439,000 a year for five years to replace UH-Manoa Chancellor Virginia Hinshaw.
Apple, like other university administrators, did not receive a contract upon hire, meaning there is no need to buy him out of a contract.
Less then two months into his tenure, the UH administration was immersed in the “Wonder blunder” scandal in which the school was scammed out of $200,000 by bogus promoters promising to deliver Stevie Wonder to perform a concert in Hawaii as a fundraiser for the struggling athletics department.
The UH administration’s muddled response to the scam led to high-profile state Senate public hearings that raised questions and concerns over the UH system’s governance. In October 2012, while those hearings were ongoing, Hawaii attorney Bert T. Kobayashi Jr., a longtime supporter of the UH athletics department, resigned from the ‘Ahahui Koa Anuenue booster club, citing a lack of respect for Apple.
Greenwood retired last September, nearly two years before the end of her contract, citing personal reasons unrelated to the “Wonder blunder” aftermath.
UH’s longtime information technology chief, David Lassner, was named interim president soon after. The Board of Regents selected Lassner in June for the permanent position, starting July 1.
Apple has been grappling with budget constraints and a still-struggling athletics department.
He joined UH after careers at research-intensive universities — before his time at the University of Delaware, he was a professor at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in New York — where faculty are expected to fund their own projects and programs.
His efforts to try to implement a similar strategy at UH have rankled some deans and faculty.
In a July 15 memo announcing budget restrictions, he told UH deans and directors of his plan for a two-year hiring freeze in hopes of saving $10 million. He said the plan was prompted by overspending at UH-Manoa, even after the Legislature cut funding up to 30 percent in 2009.
Apple added that programs and departments that ended the fiscal year in the red will have their negative balances applied against their budgets for next year.
He also came under fire for two failed attempts late last year to fire Cancer Center Director Michele Carbone, who has clashed with a group of former and current faculty.
Lassner, serving as interim president at the time, announced earlier this year a revamped leadership team for the Cancer Center that allowed Carbone to keep his job. The move included new reporting lines, where Carbone now reports to Brian Taylor, Manoa’s interim vice chancellor for research, instead of Apple.
Rep. Isaac Choy (D, Manoa), the chairman of the House Higher Education committee, described Apple as a “mover and a shaker.”
“Everybody knows I like Tom Apple and it would be a loss for him to leave,” Choy said. “In two years, I think he’s changed the thinking of the university.”
He said Apple’s compensation plan to have researchers include their salaries in their grants would have put UH more in line with a traditional research university.
“Tom Apple wants to make Hawaii a great research university,” he said. “He had the credentials and background to get that accomplished.”
He said Apple instilled a new attitude among the school’s directors and also made inroads in repair and maintenance at the campus.
“If you actually walk the university, it kind of looks nicer,” he said.
Choy said he’s been hearing rumors about Apple’s departure for about two weeks.
He didn’t know why Apple was departing, but said he supports UH President David Lassner’s decision and expects to find out the reasons why later.
“He’s the new president,” Choy said. “If this is the call he has to make, for whatever reason, I have to support that decision.”
But in the meantime, he was concerned about the loss of a permanent chancellor at UH-Manoa.
“Not to have a chancellor of our research university would be a huge mistake,” he said. “We have to manage half a billion dollars of extramural funds. We’ve got 20,000 students. It’s our flagship university.
“You cannot have that ship running around without a captain,” he added.