A University of Hawaiʻi career spanning almost 50 years is coming to a close for John Morton, the vice president for community colleges.

“It is truly bittersweet to congratulate and thank John Morton on his retirement,” said UH President David Lassner. “His contributions to public higher education across the islands have been remarkable and will be sorely missed. But after nearly 49 years of service, his retirement could not be more richly deserved. We thank [his wife] Willow for sharing John with UH and Hawaiʻi, and wish them both all the best in their travels to come.”

“I guess I feel that I’ve been fortunate to have just a fantastic, unexpected career,” said Morton. “When I first joined the community colleges in 1970, it was not an intentional act.”

That’s when he started teaching chemistry and political science at Leeward Community College, and has been committed to the colleges’ social justice mission ever since. In 1984, Morton became the provost of Kapiʻolani CC, and oversaw the buildout of the new campus near Diamond Head.

In 2002, he led the planning, development and implementation of UH’s first unified student information system, and in 2005 Morton was named vice president of the university’s seven community colleges, with responsibility for up to 34,000 students in an academic year.

That responsibility came with plenty of goal-oriented targets. Under his tenure, significant building projects such as the Hawaiʻi CC Pālamanui campus and the Culinary Institute of the Pacific were designed and constructed.

Morton said, “It takes a long time sometimes for these dreams to become realities, but you gotta be patient, you gotta be persistent, and it’ll happen.”

Morton in 1979

Championing access to education

Morton has championed access to community colleges through programs such as Hawaiʻi Promise, which provides need-based last-dollar scholarships to qualified students, and a workforce education and training program called HINET, which stands for Hawaiʻi Nutrition Employment and Training and provides assistance for food, transportation, books and other expenses.

One of his big goals has been to improve college completion rates.

“We’ve been successful. We’re more than double the number of graduates than we used to,” Morton said. “We’re way more than double the number of Native Hawaiians. Twenty-eight percent of our enrollment is Native Hawaiian. We’ve got campuses that are over 40 percent Native Hawaiian enrollment.”

He enjoys contact with students, especially at commencement ceremonies. A special one is held every four years on Molokaʻi for the Molokaʻi Education Center, which is part of UH Maui College.

“I remember one in particular where a young woman was graduating. And then her mother was graduating and then her grandmother was graduating, all three in the same ceremony,” Morton said. “And to have that kind of an impact on a family across multiple generations, in a remote part of that county, I think really captures what community colleges are about and what they do to contribute to the state and its people.”

He says UH has an important role to play in the future of the state.

“It’s only from a collective effort of public policymakers, business and industry, and the university working together that we will be able to create the kind of economy and social structure that will allow Hawaiʻi to prosper for all of our citizens.”

Morton with the members of the Office of the Vice President of Community Colleges