State Sen. Donna Mercado Kim has reversed her decision to eliminate 121 faculty positions at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, which had sparked an uproar at the university and beyond.
And although budget worksheets have not been released, so details are lacking, most of the other UH cuts proposed by the Senate were restored at Friday’s conference committee, according to House Finance Committee Chairwoman Sylvia Luke.
The Senate version of the biennial budget had called for $30 million in cuts to the UH system over two years, including the 121 positions at Manoa and 100 vacancies throughout the 10-campus system.
It also aimed to slice administrative support services by 20 percent, including accounting, payroll, facilities maintenance, legal services, research compliance and human resources.
“The university is gratified that the devastating Senate budget proposal to cut 121 faculty positions and associated $13 million was not adopted in the conference budget approved this morning,” UH said in a statement Friday.
It noted, however, that details were not yet available on the status of other proposed cuts as well as the fate of the Board of Regents’ requests for new support.
“In the future, we hope the university will be provided the opportunity to clarify any mistaken assumptions and address misperceptions before drastic proposals are made public and passed by a legislative chamber,” the statement said. “The approach used caused significant harm to the individuals potentially affected and the institution, which is highly regrettable.”
Faculty had inundated Kim, who chairs the Higher Education Committee, and other legislators with hundreds of calls and emails, objecting both to the cuts and how they were made.
“We had an incredible outpouring of support from the faculty,” said Kristeen Hanselman, executive director of the University of Hawaii Professional Assembly, the faculty union. “It is very clear that this battle is not over.”
Kim said she switched course based on new information provided by the university about the 121 positions, including the fact that nearly half were federally funded or funded by grants.
“Our initial review focused on positions that had neither teaching responsibilities nor grant support,” Kim said. “Given that the university’s own policy states that instruction is the university’s highest priority, that was a natural place to start.”
She later learned that the positions included active researchers as well as retirements, terminations, leaves without pay and sabbaticals.
“It goes without saying that we would have preferred if the university had provided this critical information at the outset,” she said. “But in the end, this has been a very productive exercise.”
The university had complied with numerous requests for data from Kim’s office this year, including tabulating data manually to provide it in the formats requested, turning over 2,200 pages of documents, according to Kalbert Young, chief financial officer.
But university administrators were not asked about the details of the positions and learned about the wholesale cuts only after they were made, he said. Since then they have spent hours with Kim going over each individual position to discuss its status, current grants, and research and academic load, Young said.
While the Legislature holds the purse strings, the state Constitution gives the Board of Regents “exclusive jurisdiction over the internal structure, management and operation of the university.”
The faculty union vowed to keep up the fight to ensure that autonomy is respected.
“We have been very clear in our position that individual faculty being scrutinized by a legislator … is really threatening the ability of the University of Hawaii to manage its operation and its personnel,” Hanselman said. “We are prepared to take the action that is necessary to protect the rights of faculty.”