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UH regents seek to cut costs as revenue lags

The University of Hawaii’s Board of Regents passed a resolution 9-2 Thursday urging the administration to make plans to cut costs needed to address revenue loss stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic, ranging from slashing faculty positions to shutting down campuses and departments.

After the meeting, BOR Chairman Benjamin Kudo said the board has not discussed what cuts to recommend across the 10-campus system.

Rather, the resolution was meant “to move the administration along” to come up with plans both in the short and long term due to the deficits, which he foresees will “last at least four years or longer.”

The board describes the situation as a state of emergency and supported the idea with UH projections of a $91.7 million drop in revenue in fiscal year 2021, with an estimated $65.9 million decline in general revenue funds and $25.9 million fall in tuition and fees.

However, the precise reduction in state funding remains unknown.

The board received about 170 written submissions of testimony.

Paul McKimmy, Manoa Faculty Senate Executive Committee chairman, in his testimony on behalf of that body, expressed support of revisions to the resolution.

Those revisions included a moratorium on hiring, discretionary pay increases, out-of-state travel, major equipment purchases and new contracts.

The resolution also advised the administration to consult with the faculty on an immediate short-term plan for fiscal year 2021 and on a long-term plan, which will incorporate a future vision of what the university must do to help the state recover and serve Hawaii. It will contain priorities of the university, and a public outreach plan to obtain input from the broader community and stakeholders.

In July, 800 faculty members, students and staff signed a letter opposing the resolution, which objected to the administration cutting programs and departments and reorganization of units, while leaving the faculty out of the decision-making process. It recommended nonpersonnel cost-saving measures rather than layoffs and furloughs.

Kudo characterized faculty objections as based on two major concerns. One was that it was “somehow granting superpowers or special powers to the administration that they did not have during the COVID situation.”

The other was that it was “a power grab of some sort by the administration to grant them special powers.”

He said the measure was “totally initiated by the board” and “not in response to the administration to have this considered by the board.”

McKimmey said the decision was not unexpected given the “clear financial crisis” the university faces.

“It’s going to be a difficult year as President Lassner described,” he said.

Kudo said, “The major purpose behind the resolution was really to be transparent about the potential measures and hard decisions we will be making in the next few months.

“We wanted to make sure the public as well as the university community was made aware of the gravity of the impact of the pandemic crisis upon the university and the operations of its |fiscal needs.”

Regent Michelle Tagorda and Student Regent Kelli Akupan voted against the resolution because of concerns “the language was divisive to the university community,” although they agreed with its intent, Kudo said.

It is unclear how or at what point the board and administration will actually work with the faculty in the plans.

Kudo said the board and Lassner will be in direct communications with the faculty and its union as far as management measures and what will be done in the next few months.

Various members of the university community and stakeholders will be notified by the board and collaborate with them, he said.

The board has organized a five-member task group that will work with the administration to come up with the plans.

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