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Sept. 15, 2009

President M.R.C Greenwood’s remarks
at the University of Hawai‘i Awards Convocation


I am so pleased to be here today to recognize and honor the University of Hawai‘i’s best and brightest. As you all know, I am, to state the obvious, “the newest kid on campus.” Yet in the short while that I have been here, I have been provided with insight into two local concepts that I’ve found to be not only engaging but indispensable in assessing all that surrounds me.

The first is the spirit of aloha. I have basked in that spirit and the warm welcome that so many of you have given me over these past few weeks, and I want to personally thank you so much for that generosity and graciousness. You can’t imagine how much it has meant to me.

My sincere thanks also to everyone who has helped to make this transition a smooth one. including former President David McClain, members of the Board of Regents and university faculty and staff.

As we embark on this new era, not only for me but for the university as well, I hope to call on this refreshing spirit of openness and healthy regard for others to help us all meet the many challenges that confront us today.

The other concept that I have been introduced to is ‘ohana—this sense of family and of belonging to something that is greater than yourself. It is the compelling spirit of inclusiveness in which we become even greater together than we are individually.

‘Ohana is especially important today at this convocation, as we recognize both individually and collectively, outstanding professionals for their dedication and successful efforts on behalf of this university.

We are grateful for, and inspired by, their commitment to excellence in teaching, research and service across a broad spectrum. Your contributions give us all reasons to be optimistic about the years ahead.

Coming together as ‘ohana, we have the opportunity to celebrate collectively and to remind ourselves of our shared goals and purpose in this remarkable University of Hawai‘i System. It is truly exceptional and, I can honestly say, like no other university system that I’ve ever had the pleasure to work for.

And because of its uniqueness, it behooves us to nurture and ensure that this system, this ’ohana, continues to work diligently for all of Hawai‘i, revitalizing education in the state and contributing to its overall well-being.

The challenges, of course, are significant.

In these unprecedented times, we must demonstrate and articulate clearly and persuasively that the university is indeed a powerful agent for economic improvement and that there is no better investment for the future of our state than in education and the University of Hawai‘i.

The link between our educational health and economic well-being is brought home in a recent McKinsey report that shows a growing gap between U.S. performance compared with other advanced nations. The report shows a dramatic gap among American students of different income levels and striking performance differences between schools, as well as between states.

These achievement gaps, says the report, create “the economic equivalent of a permanent national recession—one substantially larger than the deep recession the country is currently experiencing…(these) avoidable shortfalls in academic achievement impose heavy and often tragic consequences via lower earning, poor health, and higher rates of incarceration.”

The implications of the McKinsey assessment are disturbing. Forty years ago, the United States was a leader in high school graduation rates. Today it ranks 18th out of 24 industrialized nations. This and other indicators signal a serious erosion of America’s onetime leadership in education.

The American educational system, especially higher education, has been the envy of the world. However, a paper from the National Bureau of Economic Research suggests that our nation’s public universities are faltering in the international arena, notably in scientific research productivity. For example, between 1992 and 2003, the American share of scientific publications declined from 52 percent to 42 percent.

This decline can be attributed to a number of factors, including the fact that despite growth in U.S. federal research support, state appropriations for higher education have chronically lagged behind. Hawai‘i has faired better than many states in this regard. Nevertheless, when our nation’s competitive position in higher education is at risk, we all must be concerned.

To ensure a better future, we must graduate more students to advance the educational level of Hawai‘i’s people.

Our greatest resource is our youth—our future work force and the source of innovation and economic security. Our youth represent, in the words of the Agenda for Higher Education in Hawai‘i, our “educational capital”—capital that we must increase and leverage.

This means actively encouraging more students to go to college. We must start encouraging this aspiration even in primary school. We must graduate more students with the credentials and education needed to excel in jobs in today’s as well as tomorrow’s marketplace.

As the only public higher education institution in the state, it is also our job to lead Hawai‘i’s economic, intellectual and creative diversification and to work with our business partners to create jobs for the people of Hawai‘i.

To achieve these ends, we must reach out continuously to those who are academically unserved or underserved in our state. And let me add, I also believe the University of Hawai‘i plays a critical role in preserving and supporting the diverse cultures that so distinguish our island home.

Our university’s mission statement makes explicit our institution’s unique responsibilities to Hawai‘i’s indigenous people. As we fulfill this mission, we will provide a distinct model for other institutions, and we will help to distinguish the University of Hawai‘i as one of the world’s foremost indigenous-serving universities.

We must also focus on outcomes, with a willingness to make changes that enhance our capacities while continuing to improve quality and expand access. We must be faithful to our purpose while being adaptable and resilient in the face of changing conditions, and we must enable our students to develop their own capacities for renewal.

I mentioned earlier about how remarkable and unique we are as a university system. That includes unique strengths that we can and must build on. We have a unified system that encompasses all public higher education in the state. This provides us with an incredible and rare opportunity that most states can only dream of.

I truly believe that our University of Hawai‘i System is well-positioned to achieve a new level of excellence. But the question remains: Are we prepared to take it there? I believe we are.

A revitalized vision for higher education in this country is emerging—one that directly links success in school with success on the job and in life.

President Obama and his under secretary for higher education, Martha Kanter, have emphasized that the nation urgently needs more college and university graduates. The unprecedented enrollment surge at the University of Hawai‘i this semester is evidence of how many people in our community recognize that higher education is their personal key to a better future.

And we have become an integral part of reinvigorating public higher education.

The Hawai‘i P–20 Partnerships for Education program (of which UH is a member) has begun to show the way, and there is even more we can do.

As I continue to learn from my recent visits to our campuses, our community colleges are extraordinary. Hawai‘i’s community colleges, as well as our four-year campuses, have been working with national projects, such as Achieving the Dream and the American Diploma Project to achieve improved outcomes.

The University of Hawai‘i has also been working with the National Association of System Head’s Access to Success agenda to improve the performance of the under-served. Our dual-enrollment program is another example.

These initiatives and others like them will be even more important as we work to improve the flow in Hawai‘i’s educational pipeline, from the earliest years to higher education and from our community colleges into our universities or skilled employment.

Our students tell us that the University of Hawai‘i is making a difference in their lives. I’ve received many wonderful email messages from students, telling me their real-life stories about making the transition to college. I am deeply touched to hear how meaningful educational opportunity has helped them to find their passion and garner the strength to pursue new dreams and to believe in a better tomorrow.

One UH West O’ahu student described his education as “a journey that forever changed me.” While we are busy making the case for public education, we should be listening to our students; they tell us where we are succeeding and where we are not.

The University of Hawai‘i System is in fact leading the way along several paths.

  • We have, unlike many of our peers, developed strategic outcomes and performance measures that will help us achieve our goals. The University of Hawai‘i “dashboard” is a practical tool, showing that we are succeeding in many ways (such as increasing non-state funding) and needing additional attention in other areas (such as teacher education).
  • We have collaboration among our campuses to address critical workforce issues, in nursing and teacher education for example, with models we can extend into other disciplines and locations where the state needs help.
  • The University of Hawai‘i medical school and the Cancer Research Center represent two investments that return great benefits to our citizens.
  • As we work on the development of the state’s much-needed Science and Technology Plan, we are also working with stakeholders and partners to ensure that we are in tune with community interests and needs. The opportunities for Hawai‘i to work with partners in hosting two of the most advanced telescopes in the world on Maui and the Big Island is an indication of our international recognition. Such opportunities and synergies open up pathways to the creation of new jobs in a culturally and environmentally sensitive manner.

For our long term success, our ability to leverage opportunities such as this and to leverage other systems will be critical. For example,

  • The University of Hawai‘i System has a powerful shared infrastructure for distance learning—including technology, people and collaboration—that enables our campuses to work together to meet state needs. This can be extended to provide even more opportunities to students and partners statewide. Already 25 percent of students in the community colleges are taking either a distance education class or hybrid class.
  • The University of Hawai‘i System is also becoming a leader in implementing sophisticated new information systems—in finance, human resources and student information—that are helping us to realize substantial efficiencies and cost savings. We will utilize these adaptive advancements to inform our strategic decisions in many areas and to enable further improvement in services and management information.
  • One especially bright spot is the spectacular growth in extramural funding led by UH Manoa researchers, more than doubling over the past decade. This can be leveraged further to enhance our statewide capabilities in critical educational fields that support Hawai‘i’s long-term economic diversification. But we must maintain and increase our investment in infrastructure in order to sustain this growth and growth in the many other areas where the University of Hawai‘i makes a meaningful difference, in the arts, in social welfare, in cultural understanding, professional training and international relations.
  • It is no longer the case that public education can rely solely on public financing. Fortunately, Hawai‘i enjoys an open dialog and thoughtful approach to sharing the cost of higher education among stakeholders. Although tuition is increasing over six years, those cost increases are accompanied by a quadrupling of our financial aid commitments. The success of this approach is shown by our enrollment numbers and record disbursement of financial aid.
  • Furthermore, we are actively exploring public-private partnerships to help extend our capacity, notably in the highly underserved regions of West Hawai‘i and West O‘ahu.
  • The successful fundraising campaign that just concluded by the University of Hawai‘i Foundation demonstrates the commitment of our community and alumni to the success of their university. We can build on these successes for even greater levels of friend raising and fundraising.

I believe that the University of Hawai‘i’s future is bright and that we will lead peer institutions, but to do that we will need to rely on the generosity of many partners.

I opened my speech today, with a reference to that generosity of spirit found in our sense of aloha and ‘ohana. I sincerely believe we will need to call on both—
As we work to help everyone realize their full potential,
As we pursue innovation and new knowledge,
As we work to preserve the legacies that are uniquely Hawaiian, and
As we develop the workforce—and the work—that our state so urgently requires.

It is also clear to me that every part of our university ‘ohana—and each individual—has a role to play in addressing Hawai‘i’s needs for higher education. Our efforts must be coordinated, cumulative and aimed toward one overarching, unifying goal of creating a better educational environment for all of Hawai‘i’s citizens.

I came here knowing that the University of Hawai‘i was already a great university. With your support and input, we will become even greater.