—Editor’s Notebook by Kevin Bumgarner published in the January 18, 2012 issue of Pacific Business News
Without a doubt, few of us wanted to see 2012 come to an end more quickly than did M.R.C. Greenwood.
And the frustrating thing for the University of Hawaiʻi’s president, as she explained while sitting with members of the Pacific Business News editorial board earlier this week, was that the year started with so much promise.
She had wanted to talk about the UH Cancer Center, a new IT technology building and the West Oahu campus. She would have loved to tell how much money is secured each year by UH researchers. And, she stood ready to gloat about the 10,000-student increase seen across the UH system since 2005.
But all of those potential momentum-building headlines became collateral damage from the fallout of one failed athletics department fundraiser, a nonevent that dominated headlines throughout the fall semester.
While insisting on putting that negative chapter behind her, Greenwood didn’t hesitate when asked why the university didn’t do a better job of helping local media, lawmakers and other interested parties put the now infamous Wonder Blunder into what she thinks would have been a more appropriate perspective.
“We lost control of the media message, which led to [Senate] hearings that went off-point,” Greenwood lamented. “We just had to weather it, which we did.”
As Greenwood and UH eagerly refocus for 2013, she acknowledges that it will be a while before she is able to assess the extent of the potential damage with corporate leaders, many of whom UH is still trying to develop deeper ties with.
“The business community’s support has been solid — behind-the-scenes solid,” Greenwood said of what she’s seen during the past six months. “Publicly, people are not always willing to be counted. And I certainly understand why.”
She said she won’t have “an honest or full answer” about the extent of any fallout within the business community for another six to eight months.
And that makes the timing of the concert fiasco, in which UH was scammed out of $200,000 by dishonest promoters, all the more painful for Greenwood.
This huge distraction came just as Greenwood was trying to build momentum for the fledgling Hawaiʻi Innovation Initiative, or HI2, that she says will help turn the university’s research capabilities into a strong third leg for Hawaiʻi’s economy.
And she knows she needs the support of Hawaiʻi’s business leaders to make it happen.
Greenwood said she’s been talking to those in positions of power about things they could do to help, things such as making Hawaiʻi’s housing more affordable by creating new mortgage products for researchers who would need to relocate, and finding ways to ensure that the transplants’ kids could get a first-rate K-12 education.
She’s also trying to start a dialogue that helps generate more-sustained funding support, an effort where business leaders would be more vocal in telling lawmakers about the importance of the economic impact of the state’s public university system.
Right now, Greenwood says most of the business community has nothing better than a superficial understanding of UH, which makes last fall’s wasted energy on the fundraising disaster all the more frustrating.
At the same time, she’s careful how she’s shaping her message.
“[Business leaders] need to reach these conclusions on their own,” Greenwood said, in reference to ways they could better support the university’s research initiative. “They don’t need Marcy telling them what to think.”
—Reprinted with permission from Pacific Business News