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2008 Convocation Remarks by David McClain

Sept. 9, 2008, Kennedy Theatre, UH Manoa


Today we are on the threshold of our second century, beginning the 101st academic year of the University of Hawai‘i. UH was chartered in March 1907, but our first full semester began on Sept. 14, 1908, with a faculty of 13 welcoming 41 students…not a bad faculty-student ratio.

Today, our fall enrollment across the 10 campuses of the university system is more than a thousand times greater than a century ago and, in fact, is at an all-time high; 53,515 students have signed up for classes, up 5 percent from last year’s levels, and up more than 20 percent from the 44,479 total in the fall of 2000. Clearly, our price-performance ratio remains one of the most attractive in the nation.

In last year’s convocation remarks, I noted that we won our first football game, played in 1909 against McKinley High School. Athletics continues to be an important avenue by which we connect to the communities we serve. From that humble beginning 99 years ago, our athletics programs have become remarkably competitive.

In the recently completed Beijing Olympics, the University of Hawai‘i at Manoa helped produce 10 medal-winning Olympians representing the United States, Australia and the Netherlands. The total of 10 medals won was more than 64 countries earned and would have placed UH in a tie for 21st in the medal count, with Poland, Hungary and Norway.

Reflections on the Cleveland Era

We enter our second century without the wise counsel of Harlan Cleveland, Rhodes Scholar and NATO ambassador, who served as UH’s eighth president from 1969 to 1974, and who passed away a few months ago. During his tenure he created the office of the UH Manoa Chancellor, established the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo as an independent campus, brought the medical school from two to four years, and started the law school.

The enrollment growth figures I cited during the current decade are impressive, but listen to the Cleveland era experience: attendance at UH rose from 23,000 in 1968, the year before Cleveland became president, to more than 40,000 in 1973–74. The number of degrees conferred nearly doubled, from about 3,500 to over 6,000. Many of the university’s buildings that we use today were created in Dr. Cleveland’s time or in the decades before or after. A number of the faculty and staff with us today joined the university during the same period.

I thought of Harlan Cleveland and the growth he oversaw as our community recently celebrated the achievements of a younger group of remarkable athletes—the Waipi‘o Little League World Series champions. I marvel at the skill and teamwork that they displayed to get to Williamsport, Pa., and then, under the guidance of their dedicated coaches and with the support of their parents, to win it all.

As I was watching Iolana Akau, Jedd Andrade and their teammates parade down Kalakaua Avenue, I thought about the next few years of their lives. In four or five years, these 12 and 13 year olds will be entering college, and by the spring of 2017 or 2018 they will be graduating.

Will UH be ready for them? Will we have the faculty, the facilities and the financial resources? Can we replicate the transformation that UH experienced in the years before, during and immediately after the Cleveland era?

Our Strategic Outcomes: Looking Ahead to 2015

I think we can, and in fact we must if Hawai‘i is to continue to have a vibrant, competitive economy and a well-educated citizenry.

Since last year’s convocation, we’ve revisited our strategic plan, affirming the values, including those of the Native Hawaiians, that animate it and the goals the plan espouses. But we realized that we needed to articulate a set of outcomes that would insure that we reached those goals and attach performance measures to them. Last spring we published the result: Serving the State of Hawaii: University of Hawai‘i System Strategic Outcomes and Performance Measures, 2008-2015.

Hitting these performance targets for 2015 will insure that UH will be ready for the Waipi‘o Little Leaguers when they enroll. Let me give you a few examples.

When Matthew Yap or Pikai Winchester come to UH, they’ll find more of their teammates by their side, since the percentage of Hawai‘i high school graduates entering UH will have risen from 35 percent to 43 percent.

They should find UH more affordable, since our Pell grant disbursements will have grown from $22 million to $31 million, and continued fundraising success will be providing more scholarships. This fundraising emphasis is part of our effort to boost non-state sources of funds by 40 percent by 2015.

The facilities in which the Waipi‘o players live and learn will be properly maintained, since the repair and maintenance program started in 2008 will have reduced the deferred maintenance backlog substantially. And, reflecting the commitments of UH Manoa and our other campuses to become more sustainable, our energy usage will have fallen by 50 percent from 2007 levels.

The faculty teaching Matthew or Pikai or their teammates will include many new faces, including more National Academy of Sciences members and endowed chairs—another result of continued fundraising success, as well as our efforts to expand faculty housing and mortgage assistance programs.

I’ll be proposing initiatives in both areas to our Board of Regents later this fall.

The Waipi‘o players may elect to major in a STEM field; UH will support a 23 percent increase in students concentrating on science, technology, engineering or math.

Or they may focus on teaching, nursing, social work, or the hospitality industry. UH has committed to increase its production of graduates by 30–40 percent in each of these workforce shortage areas by 2015.

While students, Matthew or Pikai or their teammates are more likely to have an internship with a scholar whose research is supported by extramural funding; UH expects to grow these research funds by almost 25 percent by 2015.

Our research enterprise has already doubled in the last decade, to about $350 million, and UH Manoa is now ranked as one of the top 25 public research universities in America. Our latest amazing research finding is the longevity gene. Researchers with Kuakini Medical Center, the Pacific Health Research Institute and UH Manoa’s John A. Burns School of Medicine have discovered that having a specific variation of a gene related to the regulation of cellular and blood sugar levels is linked with having a long and healthy life.

It’s hard to predict what remarkable discoveries await the Waipi‘o kids, but we know there will be plenty of them. Between now and 2015, UH is targeting a 50 percent hike in inventions and a doubling of both patents issued and licenses granted.

Graduation may be a little more crowded though; UH expects to graduate 34 percent more students by 2015, granting more than 10,000 degrees and certificates of achievement by then. And if we achieve our performance targets, more of those graduates will be Native Hawaiians, since Native Hawaiian degree completion will be up by 64 percent from current levels.

That’s our “game plan” through 2015. These performance measures demonstrate our willingness to be held accountable. The goals we have set for 2015 are stretch goals and challenge us to reinvent ourselves. We acknowledge that just as the number of pass completions or a player’s batting average doesn’t tell the whole story of a game, many of our core values—academic rigor and excellence, integrity and service, aloha and respect—are qualitative in nature but are nonetheless central to our mission.

UH’s Commitment to Hawai‘i

Our overarching commitment is to increase the educational capital of the state of Hawai‘i, in order to improve the social, economic and environmental well being of current and future generations.

This commitment to produce more graduates in the workforce areas Hawai‘i needs is consistent with the Hawai‘i P–20 Council goal of having 55 percent of Hawai‘i’s working age population holding a college degree by the year 2025.

Currently, about 40 percent of Hawai‘i’s population has at least a two-year college degree, about the national average. But the 25–40 age group has less education than their parents…and this at a time when a number of nations—for example, Canada, Japan, Korea, Sweden, Belgium and Ireland—have more college graduates among young adults than we do now and are projected to have 55 percent of their populations with a college degree by 2025.

While our progress as a state and a nation has stalled, much of the rest of the world has improved—educating more people to higher levels. So for competitiveness reasons alone, Hawai‘i has to increase its educational capital, and the University of Hawai‘i must play a central role in that effort.

I am pleased to report that this year the University of Hawai‘i at Manoa graduated 8 percent more seniors than in the spring of 2007.

The urgency in attaining the goals we have set is not only about competitiveness with others; it is also for ourselves; it is about your university reaching for the standard of excellence set by the Waipi‘o Little League team; it is about the role of education in sustaining and enhancing the quality of life in Hawai‘i, for the sake of our children, and for the sake of the future.

The Cleveland era was a time of some turbulence—the Vietnam War was ongoing, and the first oil price shock occurred in 1973—but it was also a time of great hope for the university. Harlan Cleveland is said to have located the university’s position in reputational space as being “five minutes from greatness, and holding.”

In the three decades since, UH’s fortunes ebbed and flowed, largely mirroring the tide of the state’s economy, since general funds appropriations represented the overwhelming majority of UH’s financial resources. In the Japanese-led boom of the late 1980s, we were able to attract a number of leading scholars and aggressively pursue our goal of selective excellence. When the economic tide went out in the 1990s, we lost some of those stars. The first years of this decade brought a revival of the economy, but UH was slow to participate owing to governance conflicts and still-limited finances.

Today, even as the Hawai‘i economy slows, I have great hope for our university. I believe UH can realize the potential implicit in Harlan Cleveland’s statement.

Our governance conflicts have been resolved, and our accreditors are generally pleased. UH should be able to ride out the coming financial storm. Since 2004 we have seen notable increases, amounting to several hundred million dollars, in operating general funds and in money for capital improvement projects.

We have greater financial flexibility due to our more-diversified financial base, with significant revenues now coming from tuition, from our continued and remarkable research prowess, and from a stunningly successful Centennial Campaign (which has boosted alumni participation to near 20 percent at Manoa, vs. for example, UCLA’s 12 percent).

We have more operational flexibility due to our constitutional autonomy, never as great as we would wish or as much as our private sector counterparts have, but still sufficient to permit a degree of nimbleness in our operations that other state agencies don’t possess.

Most fundamentally, we have the remarkable talent and commitment represented by the achievements of the dedicated scholars and administrators we honor today.

You are our shining stars, the truly excellent among us. Aristotle said, “With regard to excellence, it is not enough to know, but we must try to have and use it.”

Today’s honorees know excellence, have excellence and have used excellence for the benefit of our students, our university and the communities we serve.

Mahalo nui loa and congratulations to you all!