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2006 Teaching, Research and Service Awards Convocation
Remarks by President David McClain

September 19, 2006, Orvis Auditorium, UH Manoa

Congratulations to the honorees for providing a superlative education for our students, for your pathbreaking, knowledge-frontier-expanding, mind-extending (some might say mind-blowing) scholarship and for your outstanding service to our university and our community!

On Sunday I was on Kaua‘i at a remarkable event—the 100th birthday of Anna Scott Penhallow Bishop Sloggett. Anna Sloggett was a teacher, a contemporary of the late Gladys Kamakakuokalani Brandt, our former regent for whom the UH Manoa Center for Hawaiian Studies is named. For nearly four decades, Anna taught third grade at public and private schools on Maui, O‘ahu and Kaua‘i.

On the occasion of Anna Sloggett’s 100th birthday, the Kaua‘i community raised more than $100,000 for elementary and early childhood education scholarships to be administered by the University of Hawai‘i Foundation. Some of these funds came from a golf which Anna Sloggett played, as she does twice a week! And Anna concluded her birthday party by dancing a hula.

UH, of course, is just a few months away from beginning the celebration of our own 100th birthday, and I would argue that we’re almost as vigorous and as spry as Anna. And just as Anna Sloggett meant so much to the thousands of students she taught, so UH has meant everything to the million or so students who have studied on one of our 10 campuses during the last century.

Indeed, in the last 100 years, no other institution has meant more to the state of Hawai‘i than UH—transforming students’ lives, and providing our state with an educated citizenry and a well trained workforce, contributing to the diversification of our economy and, most importantly, being a driving force for social justice, both for those who have immigrated to these shores and for the descendants of the first people of these islands, Native Hawaiians.

Today we serve 80,000 students, some 50,000 pursuing credit work and another 30,000 involved in noncredit instruction; all told, one in every dozen adults in this state are on one of our 10 campuses every week.

I’ll venture that no other public university has as large an impact on its home state.

This is not to say that our university has achieved all this from a position of perfection. Like any institution—or any person for that matter, even Anna Sloggett—we are an imperfect creation. In order to continue to do our work on behalf of our students over the decades, we’ve had to steadily improve, and more than once to reinvent and transform ourselves.

Certainly today a number of external forces want us to improve the quality of our educational efforts, as well as our efficiency.

The Legislature continues to show a keen interest in many aspects of our operations, not unreasonable given the more-than-$500 million of taxpayer funds invested every year in UH.

At the national level, Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings will next Tuesday unveil the report of a commission calling for a number of reforms in the way universities do their business, with a goal of increasing our national competitiveness. The report addresses issues of access, affordability, quality and accountability and calls for universities to become more transparent, more efficient, more technologically akamai and more focused on student learning and to couple efforts in providing access to higher education with more vigorous attention to ensuring the success of those we admit.

In short, to use the Japanese word, there is a growing amount of gaiatsu (outside pressure), demanding that we once again improve, reinvent and transform ourselves.

Your university is more than up to the task.

We have in the past two years had some success in acquiring the resources necessary for improvement and for financing the hopes that the people of Hawai‘i have placed in us.

With these additional resources in hand, in the face of this gaiatsu for improvement, only one thing remains for us to be successful in responding to the challenge for improving our quality and our efficiency. Simply put, we must do more to internalize the desire to improve and to be excellent. We must develop "inside pressure" for improvement, in Japanese, naiatsu.

In this regard, those we honor today play a key role, for as we celebrate your achievements, we’re celebrating your commitments to improvement and to excellence, in teaching, research and service. You are examples to our entire university community of what the DNA of improvement and excellence looks like and acts like.

No doubt each and every one of you in this audience can recall a time, perhaps even more than one time, when you’ve identified a situation in which our university could have functioned more effectively, when someone on our faculty or staff could have demonstrated a more vigorous commitment to improvement and to excellence instead of "just saying ‘no.’" A time when, as the old Pogo cartoon put it, "I’ve seen the enemy, and the enemy is us."

Ultimately, achieving our potential in this regard is a matter of leadership within our university. And leadership is my kuleana—my responsibility.

Accordingly, now that I am your "permanent" president, I pledge to redouble my efforts, working with our chancellors, with our faculty and staff, with our students and with our regents to develop and internalize a sense of responsibility, an entrepreneurial mindset, a commitment to excellence among all our administration, faculty, staff and students.

This commitment is already reflected in the content of, and the inclusive and thorough stocktaking process by which we arrived at, our biennium budget request. In particular, that request includes a number of initiatives that address the need for your university to provide "access with success." Some of these initiatives involve continuing to reach out and partner with K–12 and early childhood education providers; the result will be better prepared students matriculating to our campuses.

This commitment is already reflected in our forthcoming legislation request, including our desire to be able to initiate and bring to market on our own debt obligations of the university, permitting us to respond more quickly to opportunities in the marketplace. We also are requesting the restoration of our original status, after the constitutional amendment on autonomy was passed, of operating independently of the state government procurement procedures.

And this commitment is reflected in our internal management decisions as well, including the ongoing discussion about the appropriate devolution of resources and responsibilities to our campuses, as we endeavor to strike the right balance between system and campus roles.

To obtain a broader perspective on this issue, in the past several months I’ve visited and studied nearly a dozen university systems on the mainland. And I’ve kept this issue front of mind in my meetings with our chancellors and vice presidents, as they can attest.

We’re all interested in coming to some closure on devolution, but we want to get it right. As that old song sung by the Supremes went,

You can’t hurry love, no, you just have to wait.
Love don’t come easy, it’s a game of give and take.

Before too many more weeks pass, you should be seeing some of the fruits of these conversations.

The invitation to Anna Sloggett’s 100th birthday party contained this quote from the historian, journalist and novelist Henry Adams, written, appropriately, in 1907:

"A teacher affects eternity; she can never tell where her influence stops."

I think that’s true for all of us at this university, faculty and staff alike.

My congratulations and sincere appreciation to those we recognize today. Your examples are the best hope, the naiatsu, for this large multicampus university system as we create the DNA, the mindset for yet another transformation of ourselves, even as we continue to transform the lives of those we serve.

Mahalo nui loa!