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Feb. 2004, Vol. 29 No. 1
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Changes Bring Progress

students in computer lab

Students in one of UH Manoa’s high-tech computer labs.

Changes are clearly visible in the third year since Evan Dobelle became president of the UH System

In Kaka'ako, the first building of a new home for the John A. Burns School of Medicine’s teaching and research center is scheduled to open in fall 2004. Long delayed renovations and capital improvements totaling $59 million in fiscal 2004 continue on UH campuses at Hilo, Maui and Windward O'ahu. Historic Hawa'i Hall has been reconstructed at Manoa, and planning has begun for renovation of Frear Hall.

For the first time in the university’s history, UH campuses are organized to function as a cohesive whole, sharing enrollment and financial aid systems and collaborating on strategic planning. As a result, UH received the first ever accreditation review of a university system by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges and positive campus reviews.

UH enrollment rose in fall 2001 for the first time since the mid-1990s and has steadily increased to more than 50,000 credit and 29,000 non-credit students. The university received $324 million in contracts and grants during fiscal year 2003, a 53% increase over fiscal 2001. A restructuring of UH Foundation and Alumni Relations offices also are producing strong results.

Malamalama discussed these developments with President Dobelle.

How did the process for change begin?

Year one was about reinvigorating the environment throughout the system and getting a team in place. The UH community wanted and needed a strategic plan that spoke to its core values and potential. Reorganization of the system was critical to encourage new solutions to long standing issues; it reflected goals the university community specified through the strategic planning process.

We simply followed through on the highest priorities enunciated by the front line—faculty and students.

What is different in the reorganization?

Most importantly, students are better served. That is key. In addition, communication and coordination across the system is enhanced. Each community college is an independent campus, led by a chancellor who reports directly to the president. The Council of Chancellors—the leaders of Manoa, Hilo, West O‘ahu and the seven two-year colleges—meets monthly to coordinate the resources of the entire system. There are also regular meetings with the faculty and student leadership of all 10 campuses.

UH students studing an active volvano

UH students study an active volcano on the Big Island of Hawaiʻi.

I’m a great believer in accountability, and the reorganization has created clear lines of responsibility. The vice president for academic affairs oversees all issues concerning instruction, with a senior colleague responsible for all non-academic areas. Other senior system individuals are accountable in the critical areas of research and international education. Manoa now has its own chancellor to focus on specific campus issues as well as work closely with the other chancellors to ensure the best educational opportunities for all our students. Long term budget planning now stems from agreed-upon priorities.

For change to take hold, it must reflect the needs of a community and come from that community. I’m so proud of the many students and faculty members who participated in the process of change.

Which accomplishments make you the most proud?

I’m gratified when I hear from students, faculty, legislators and taxpayers that they see changes that help advance their goals. It’s a thrill to read e-mails in which a student or faculty member describes how a specific action we have taken has had a positive impact in their life.

I firmly believe there is a growing sense that even more things are possible when people realize it’s not all talk. You’ve heard the expression, "You can’t solve a problem using the same thinking that created it." People began to think that because there was no money, there was no possibility for change, no options, no hope. It’s a leader’s job to remind people that the ideas come first, then money will follow.

Public-private partnerships are critical to maximize resources and provide significant opportunities to enhance the university and the community at large. Often these take several years to produce results, but great progress is apparent in specific programs. I am especially pleased with the Biomedical Complex at Kaka‘ako, the West Hawa'i project in Kona and the potential at West O'ahu.

Consider: The medical school isn’t just about training doctors; it’s also about medical research that diversifies the economy and improves the lives of Hawa'i’s citizens. Researchers at the Cancer Research Center bring in $10 in outside grants for every $1 of state funding they receive.

The Kaka'ako center is also about making education and technology the driving force behind community revitalization. Presented with a plan for Kaka'ako, former Gov. Ben Cayetano and the Legislature funded construction of the medical center. It took real courage after 9/11 to not take a defeatist attitude. Eleven months later, we had the foundation for a facility that I hope will someday house Hawa'i’s first Nobel Prize winner.

Is it hard to predict which initiatives will get a lot of play in the media?

Some of the most monumental changes seem the least interesting to the media. Many are viewed as inside baseball and having no impact upon the community at large. I don’t think it is widely understood how reorganization has improved our ability to address long-standing issues that have frustrated the university community.

small class at the UH Manoa Center for Hawaiian Studies

Students at the UH Manoa Center for Hawaiian Studies.

It will be easier to advance new programs, provide useful budget information, solve articulation issues and more fully support faculty efforts to secure grants. The reorganization and strategic plans generated very positive visits from our accrediting agencies last year and have enabled us to initiate long term budget planning based on our stated priorities.

Also this past year, we undertook the largest ($26 million!) software project in our history, creating a system-wide student information system. Students can now register for classes at multiple campuses via the Web. They receive a single bill for tuition and fees from all campuses and have financial aid calculated based on their complete enrollment picture.

It’s not as exciting as bringing Olympic gold medalist Herman Frazier on as Manoa’s athletic director or securing constitutional scholar Avi Soifer as our law school dean, but for the student day-to-day, it is incredibly important.

What’s been the hardest part of the job?

Not being able to provide all the resources to accomplish all that is needed.

I truly hope that the state’s economic situation will improve to the point that we can deliver a new contract to our faculty and pay them what they deserve. In our last round of negotiations with the faculty union, we came to agreement in 21 of the 22 outstanding issues. Many had been unresolved for a decade. Salary was the 22nd issue.

As of January 2004, we are in discussions with Gov. Lingle’s chief negotiator and optimistic that we can come to an agreement that appropriately recognizes the value of our faculty. Of all the goals set for this institution, this is the most important one--absolutely number one in my mind.

What are your hopes for UH in the coming years?

Many people are involved in efforts to further initiatives to provide the best possible resources for our citizens. With everyone’s efforts, progress will continue on programs that had been talked about for years, such as building the biomedical complex and forming an Academy of Creative Media (Asia-Pacific film school).

It is a particular pleasure to work closely with educational and community leaders on the vital issue of coordinating public education from preschool through graduate education. With so many people of talent and goodwill coming together, we will see a real difference in public education at all levels.

Soon a community colleges baccalaureate degree will help neighbor islands meet their own needs, such as "home growing" public school teachers. Enormous progress has been made to support our Native Hawaiian programs, but much more needs to be done. Continued efforts are needed to seek support for more educational resources for the students of West O'ahu; a college town environment in Mo'ili'ili; more dormitories at Hilo, Maui, Manoa and Kaua'i and finalization of plans for the Cancer Research Center site.

Whenever I travel, I devote significant time to telling alumni about the strength this university has in its students, faculty, researchers and programs. Now an integral part of the reinvigorated UH Foundation, Alumni Relations has made communication with alumni a priority, and the alumni have responded with record giving rates—a nearly 23% increase this past year alone!

There are, of course, many needs on every campus, but I am encouraged to see the efforts of so many people working cooperatively to make significant change.