Letter to UH ohana and friends

August 28, 2013  |   |  Comments
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Dear UH ʻohana and friends:

Please allow me to share some final thoughts with you as I leave the leadership of the University of Hawaiʻi.

I want to first thank the Board of Regents for the privilege of serving as the president of this great university.

I also want to thank the faculty and staff for the extraordinary job they have done to move us through the worst recession in modern history, serving even more students and not sacrificing instructional days. We also maintained an excellent research and scholarly effort while simultaneously suffering deep budget cuts in our state funds.

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During this period we have also completed major projects such as the UH Cancer Center and the excellent and much needed Windward CC Library. We built and opened the state of the art West Oʻahu campus, finished the Hawaiian language and program building at Hilo, broke ground on the important Pālamanui campus construction to serve West Hawaiʻi, and completed many more projects that we did well, on time, and without lapsing significant funds.

I have met so many outstanding students and can state that we are in good hands with these young people and their future contributions.

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In the most important part of our mission—serving our students—we’ve been nationally recognized for the success of the Hawaiʻi Graduation Initiative, and we’ve made great strides in serving underserved populations through the Achieve the Dream program and our own drive to become the model indigenous serving university. We continue to spread the UH name and brand throughout the world with our Asia Pacific Disaster Risk Reduction and Resilience partnerships, our increased focus on serving international students, and our educational partnership with the Polynesian Voyaging Society as Hokuleʻa begins its 5-year journey around the world.

During this challenging time, through the stewardship of Dr. Jim Gaines and many talented faculty, we redoubled our efforts to attract research dollars, hitting a high of nearly $500 million in extramural funding. We held an international symposium on Building Hawaiʻi’s Innovation Economy in partnership with the National Academy of Sciences’ Board on Science, Technology, and Economic Policy, and successfully launched the University of Hawaiʻi Innovation Initiative (HI²). Most importantly, we have engaged the business and larger workforce community as evidenced recently by the superb editorial from Hawaiʻi Business Roundtable Chair Allen Uyeda.

I cannot begin to thank Jim, Gary Kai of the Hawaiʻi Business Roundtable, Jim Tollefson of the Chamber of Commerce, the late Duane Roth from San Diego Connect, Executive Director of HI² Peter Quigley, and so many others who helped launch this very important effort to help our economy grow and provide good jobs for future Hawaiʻi generations.

I also want to thank the team I have worked with for these four years. They are excellent and devoted public servants—more than they will ever be recognized for—and they care deeply about the future. They put in many, many unheralded hours. Mahalo nui loa!

I have worked with over 100 regents, one U.S. president, numerous congressional and state legislators, a large number of agency heads and program officers, countless professional colleagues, many of whom are lifelong friends, and some of the finest undergraduate and graduate and professional students in the world.

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This happened for one reason and one reason only. Through the kindness of strangers a frightened young woman with a child to support got a quality education. Without that help I would have faced very limited options. And so, I know first hand why higher education matters and how it transforms lives. It is why I have devoted my early career to research and teaching and my later career to helping higher education organizations. In my opinion there is no enterprise in the world more important to our future as a nation.

This is my lifelong passion and for the successes I have had as your leader, I want to make it clear that this is a team sport and many others deserve credit. For the weaknesses I have, I only ask that you put them into context—I did my best and I did not compromise my values or the values of the institution. If in the opinion of some I have made mistakes, they were mine and mine alone and should not be held against the enterprise or any other individuals.

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Fine universities are resilient institutions. This is sometimes confused with being stodgy or old fashioned. But those who do not understand resilience do not recognize that we do change, we do evolve and that we endure. We create the ideas of the future long before society realizes this. And we change the world along with us. In fact, universities are frequently the font of societal change. If you doubt that, look at the roots of equal protection for women and minorities or the fruits of scientific discovery which have eliminated diseases, changed the way we communicate, accessed the universe, helped us understand climate change, and made worldwide connection possible.

We are still the only nation in the world where anyone who is willing to persevere can get an education and the only nation that gives its citizens multiple opportunities through community colleges to start or reboot. I am gratified that as India has begun to explore a community college system, they have looked to the University of Hawaiʻi as a model and recently sent a delegation to visit and study UH.

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It is now widely recognized that higher education is critical to the success of nations, regions and states and critical to their economic stability. We may be the only national institution that takes the truly long-term view. This, in my opinion, is a double-edged sword. On the one hand we are part of the national efforts to keep the educational capital and the economy growing. But the more successful we appear to be, the more likely what we do will become too important to leave to universities. This is already happening as we see increased political interest in what we do, how we do it and for whom at what cost. There is no question that we have to accelerate the rate at which we improve our business operations, continually worry about access and that we must adopt new metrics for educational success and performance but, in my opinion, we must be VERY careful not to injure or discard our seed corn.

The preservation of this national treasure is left to the Board of Regents, yes, but we are all the guardians of the most valuable asset for the future of the state. As an ancient Greek kupuna encourages—first seek to understand it, next to guide it, and finally above all strengthen it. I know you are up to the challenge and I will think only positive thoughts and leave this office with aloha. Help the public understand the realities, not the rumors or myths.

Paraphrasing what Katherine Hepburn said in a wonderful interview, I have no regrets for the life my education allowed me to lead or for the destiny that brought me to this ʻohana. There may be things I would not do again, but I have learned much here and I will always love this place, its people and its rainbows.

Imua and Aloha,

M.R.C. Greenwood

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