2004 Teaching, Research and Service Awards Convocation
Remarks by Acting President David McClain
Watch the ceremony
2004 Convocation of the University of Hawaii System
The program includes presentation of the University’s teaching, research and service awards.
Watch the ceremony
Tuesday, September 14, 2004
September 14, 2004, Kennedy Theatre, UH Manoa
The eminent 17th century Japanese poet Matsuo Basho wrote, "The months and days are the travelers of eternity. The years that come and go also are voyagers." We embark today on the 97th such voyage of the University of Hawaii. In that first voyage, begun in September 1908 in the former William Maertens’ home on Young Street with newly appointed President John Gilmore, five students came together to pursue a college education. I know we say that the University of Hawaii was founded in 1907, and that is true. But our first classes weren’t held until early 1908, and our first full academic year didn’t begin until the following fall. Here’s the story.
On March 27, 1907, the territorial Legislature approved Act 24, which was signed into law by Gov. George Carter, creating the University of Hawaii. Our first classes were held in February 1908. We rushed to hold these classes because there was a federal grant of $30,000 to help start the university, for which we were trying to qualify. (Seeking federal funds—seems like nothing has changed in nearly a hundred years.)
Our first students more formally began pursuing their college education with the launch of our first fall academic year in the fall of 2008. Four of them graduated June 3, 1912—Leslie Clark, Louise Gulick, William Hartung and Yook Fook Tong. As they graduated, they could see Hawaii Hall rising in the background behind them, although then it was called Main Hall. In 1912, there were 128 students and 23 faculty members.
Where will we be in fall 2008? Where will the next few years’ voyages of discovery take us? In truth, we don’t just have one voyage at the university, we have about 80,000 voyages going on at any one time. That’s because we serve 50,000 students taking courses for credit in our 10-campus system and another 30,000 students taking non-credit courses. In the flotilla of the State of Hawaii’s industries, we are a fairly big ship. We are 3% of the gross state product. And as those 80,000 individuals pursue their own voyages of discovery, the University of Hawaii transforms them, gives them the skills for success, and in the process transforms Hawaii’s society.
One Students Voyage
I’d like to share with you my experience in understanding one student’s voyage. Her name is Amber Carlson; she’s a student at Kapiolani Community College. She comes from the continent, and is a Native American. She recently had the experience of working with the Palolo community, thanks to the hard work of Neghin Modavi, associate professor of social sciences at Kapiolani, and Bob Franco, professor of social sciences, who started the service learning initiative there.
Amber reflected on this experience in a video prepared by Neghin that I had the privilege to see earlier this fall. I don’t recall her exact comment word for word, but this is a paraphrase: "As a Native American, I didn’t really understand what Native Hawaiians were so concerned about. I mean, after all, sure, the white men took our lands. It was a terrible thing, but my family got over it, my father went out and got a job and we moved on. And then I went to work in Palolo, and I met with members of the Native Hawaiian community. I met their children, I worked with them, I helped them, and they helped me. I came to understand how so much of Hawaiian culture has been lost in the last two centuries with western contact with the Native Hawaiians. Now that I understand how much has been lost in Native Hawaiian culture, I understand better, although not completely, how much has been lost in my own culture."
Thanks to Kapiolani Community College, thanks to Neghin Modavi, thanks to Bob Franco, we’ve changed the way that Amber Carlson knows her own self, her own culture, and her own life. We’ve given her the ingredients for success and a way that she can contribute to Hawaii’s society or wherever she chooses to settle.
As we transform our students and Hawaii’s society, we’re guided by our strategic plan, firmly grounded in Native Hawaiian values, including the notion of ahupuaa—from the mountains to the sea, sharing our finite resources for the benefit of all.
When I first came to the university nearly 15 years ago, we were very much an Asia-Pacific university, emphasizing our role as a bridge between East and West. That bridge is still important, but it is less unique than it was two or three decades ago as the West has connected in Asia via many routes. In our most recent strategic plan, therefore, we’ve changed to be more of a Pacific-Asian university, one that is firmly based in Polynesian culture and values and, in particular, Native Hawaiian culture and values. With this grounding, we emphasize what’s unique about Hawaii as a Polynesian island society and articulate the values of sharing and respect that island societies have to offer an increasingly interdependent world.
Our Strategic Plan
Our strategic plan calls for us to be student-centered and to be committed to access. Over the last four years, we’re number two in the nation in increasing access to higher education, thanks to the efforts of the chancellors at our seven community colleges. We also aim to excel in basic and applied research with partnerships to support workforce development and lifelong learning in our community. As we seek to excel in basic and applied research and to create and sustain these partnerships, we rely on our comprehensive universities—the University of Hawaii at Hilo and the University of Hawaii at West Oahu—and, of course, our research campus, the University of Hawaii at Manoa.
We do all of this in a way that seeks to create and support a positive, healthful, resource-efficient and sustainable environment. I’m honored that Mayor Harris could join us today because I think no one in our community has done more to emphasize the importance of the environment than Jeremy Harris. Mayor Harris is a 1972 graduate of the University of Hawaii.
Finally, and again most importantly, we seek to preserve and perpetuate the Hawaiian culture, language and values.
Our task now, a terrific strategic plan in place with clearly articulated goals, is to execute the plan. We must turn rhetoric into reality. The strategic plan raised hope, but what we must do now is to finance hope. We have the leaders, represented by our regents, our chancellors and our team at the UH System office. We have the talent in our faculty and staff, two score of whom we honor today. We just need a few more resources. Being a child of the 1960s, I’m reminded of that lyric by the Beatles, "We get by with a little help from our friends."
And so it is that I’m very grateful today for the presence of Senate President Bunda, Senator Sakamoto, Senator Taniguchi, Senator Chun-Oakland, Senator Hanabusa, Representative Mindo and Representative Takumi, and I’m very thankful for the support that we’ve received at the university from Gov. Lingle and Lt. Gov. Aiona and their administration.
The Need for Significant Support
We’ve just sent our biennium budget on its way; our regents reviewed it last Thursday and Friday. The biennium budget is really the wind in our sails, because we depend on general funds proportionately more than most public universities do, and we’ll continue to need significant support from our state Legislature.
As you probably have read, we have four priorities in our biennium budget—supporting the Native Hawaiian community; improving our infrastructure and focusing on critical but under-funded areas, such as Title IX considerations; responding to the enrollment surges of the last three years that have placed significant demands on our facilities and our limited human resources; and focusing on workforce development and transforming the state’s economy. As we discussed this budget informally with the executive branch and the Legislature, they’ve been very supportive. I want this audience to know that this state has a history of being remarkably supportive of higher education. If you go back to 1989 and you look at the typical state and their support for higher education, Hawaii was 50% above average in 1989. That’s right; we were 50% above average. So past Legislatures and past administrations have stepped up for higher education.
Since 1989 states everywhere have felt the expenditure pressures of K-12 education, the pressures of an aging population and the health concerns that brings, and the pressures of the concerns over public safety. As a result, all states have reduced their support for public higher education, measured as a fraction of state budgets. Our state has also reduced its support, in fact at a more rapid rate. Still it’s important to understand that our state remains slightly above average in its support for higher education even today.
A Budget that Addresses State Needs
We know the executive branch and the Legislature have many competing priorities, but our biennium budget addresses many of them. In the K-12 area, we target more resources for teacher education. To address the health needs of our state, we request more funds for nursing education and of course, major support for our medical school. In all our priority areas, the funds requested transform and strengthen Hawaii’s economy; a strong economy with jobs for all who seek them is one of the best antidotes to public safety concerns.
When we ask our legislators to support our biennium budget, it’s only fair that we give them an integrated financial plan. We can’t just say, "Give us some general funds." We have to tell our legislators what we’re going to do with all the sources of funds we’re getting over the next five or six years. For example, we’ll tell them what our plans are for tuition and what our plans are for more efficient use of financial aid.
Speaking of financial aid, listen to this statistic: the "sticker price" of our tuition is about $125 million, but we actually collect only $90 million. The difference is the $35 million in tuition waivers we grant to students. These waivers play a key role in helping people have access to higher education, but there is federal money waiting out there to which those students can have access. Thus we’re going to try to convert some, but not all, of the waivers into scholarships and, as we do so, make the federal dollars the first dollar in support of student access.
We’re also talking about making state dollars the next dollars in, and I’m pleased to report that the Lingle administration has said that the governor will support an injection of $20 million into a state scholarship fund going forward in the biennium budget. Thus we’ve made this a part of our biennium proposal.
As we go to our legislature with our request for general funds, with our plans on tuition, with what we’re doing on financial aid, with our hopes for more research funding, with what we’re expecting from gifts to the University of Hawai’i Foundation and with what we’re doing on auxiliary services, we’ll give them a picture of what we think we need over the next five or six years. That will allow our legislators and the Lingle administration to make an informed choice among all the competing priorities that they have to deal with.
In addition, we’re slimming down our own administration a bit. When I ran for the position of vice president for academic affairs about 15 months ago, I remarked that very few systems had more than three or four vice presidents but this system had six plus a chief of staff. Such an elaborate system would have made sense if the legislature had funded our $100 million operating fund request in the last biennium. At the time, I characterized this elaborate system as a big suit of clothes into which we could grow by 2010 and 2015 if we got the requested funds into the system.
Unfortunately, we didn’t have any luck in the last biennium with that $100 million request; other state priorities were more pressing. Now we’re going to downsize our administrative system to match the financial resources we have at hand. We’re going to tailor our big suit of clothes down to a more appropriate size. So we will consolidate some positions, eliminate some positions and focus on better financial management of our limited resources—a great example of the ahupuaa concept, sharing our limited resources for the benefit of all.
A few years ago James Collins wrote a very influential book called Good to Great. He examined 11 high performing corporations, defined as those that had been good’, for 15 years tracking the Standard and Poor’s 500 average, and then suddenly, like a jump into hyperspace, becoming great, outperforming the S&P 500 by a factor of three for a period of 15 years.
Collins tried to understand what makes these companies go, what makes them different from other firms. All have great people, and they have a sharp focus to their activities. They have a balance of entrepreneurship and discipline.
Entrepreneurship and Discipline
How does UH measure up to Collins’ metrics? The University of Hawaii has superb faculty and staff. We’re bringing more focus to our activities via the stocktaking process, which we’ve done over the last eight months. Leading up to the biennium budget, our stock-taking process started with requests of more than $100 million, and we pared them down to a biennium budget request of a little more than $30 million in the first year and $35 more in the second year.
We do need to have a better balance of entrepreneurship and discipline. Parts of our system are not entrepreneurial enough, and parts of our system are clearly too undisciplined. I think we can make progress if we realize that the key thing we need to do is to start and sustain good management throughout the system—Collins’ flywheel concept. When one gets a flywheel moving, it sustains its own momentum as it rotates faster and faster.
Simply put, if we get into a practice of managing our limited resources well, we can sustain the progress that we have made, and we can actually finance the hopes that are in our strategic plan.
Another key characteristic of leading firms is something that I’ve really taken to heart. It’s something that Jim Collins calls "level five" leadership. Without going through each of the four levels, let me just say that level five leaders, the leaders of the 11 companies that have been so great after being so good for many years, are characterized by relentless ambition. But this ambition is not for themselves; rather, this ambition is for the institutions they lead.
Level five leadership is the kind of leadership we have in our chancellors, that’s the kind of leadership we have in our system team and our Board of Regents. We are, today, a very good university, and we aspire, following Jim Collins’ precepts, to be a great university.
With a little help from our friends, we’ll get there.