This message was sent by University of Hawaiʻi Professional Assembly leadership to its members on May 7, 2021.
As a faculty member of the University of Hawaiʻi system, you play a key and significant role in supporting our state’s economic recovery. Unfortunately, our legislators, particularly those in the Senate, do not see you in this way.
After having to endure a tumultuous year of on-again/off-again threats of furloughs, layoffs and pay cuts from Gov. David Ige, we find ourselves back in a tenuous situation, only this time the problem stems from actions by legislators in the Senate.
Federal Funds Not Being Tapped to Continue Vital Functions
Our state’s budget deficit has required all of us—UHPA, UH administration, legislators and others—to come together to have an open dialogue to explore possible solutions. We had come up with the ideal solution: the House updated the budget using federal relief funds to fill in the budget gaps to ensure the University of Hawaiʻi could continue to operate without interruption. The proposed House budget provided the necessary components to ensure stability in our local economy and ensured faculty could continue to deliver key and vital services and functions—exactly what the federal relief funds were intended to do.
UH’s budget got gutted—by our Senate
With a solid budget in hand, we were all ready to move forward. Unfortunately, the Senate had other plans that no one had known about earlier. The Senate decided to throw a wrench into everyone’s plan by suggesting that the University of Hawaiʻi make up the budget shortfall by seeking other sources of funding. Our elected senators decided to instead gut and replace as much as they were allowed under federal guidelines. With no regard for transparency and openness, they offered no rhyme or reason for their changes. Their rationale and modus operandi still remains a mystery. Unfortunately, their actions and decisions will place many of you in a precarious position.
Mānoa caught the worst of it
They are apparently delighted in putting a squeeze on faculty, the very employees who are vitally necessary for Hawaiʻi’s economic recovery. At the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa, which would be the campus most impacted by their capricious decision, there will be a 13.8% budget reduction compared to the current fiscal year. This has grave implications for all UHPA members employed on the Mānoa campus.
Furloughs, Layoffs and Pay Cuts All Over Again?
The Senate has clearly revealed their intentions. There is no delicate way of saying this: the Senate is forcing the possibility of furloughs, pay cuts, and retrenchment on UH faculty. Just when we all thought we could confidently move forward together, we find ourselves right back to square one all over again, exactly where we were last year before the federal funds were received. The uncertainty this creates is crippling. How can the Senate expect UHPA members to continue to provide UH students with the support, services, and the quality of education they need to stay on the pathway for success and to develop the future leaders of the world in helping to rebuild our economy while simultaneously dealing with the haunting prospect of losing their jobs?
Moment of truth for Legislators—step up or stand by
It’s easy for legislators to try to appear heroic and proudly proclaim that they are deferring their own pay raises because so many in our community are unemployed. However, their actions and false narratives show a different scenario. Is it too much to expect that they step up and prevent more unemployment of Hawaiʻi residents, especially on their constituents that elected them to office? They not only have the power to make this happen, they have a choice to do so. Whether they choose to exercise this power to do what is pono is another story.
But it’s OK to spend millions on a project no one at UH is asking for
Even more concerning is the Senate’s allocation of $42.5 million for a Resource and Education Center in Wahiawa that was not requested by both the UH Board of Regents or the UH administration. There are still many unanswered questions and uncertainties as to why such a costly and unanticipated demand was placed on the University when the monies could’ve been allocated to help maintain essential services, programs, and personnel to help the institution stay afloat. According to Senator Donovan Dela Cruz, the project provides a new library and DOE offices and classrooms for the community college which will help revitalize the Wahiawa town. However, pursuing this project results in serious tradeoffs. The question we all have is at what expense and what impact to the UH system overall can this project be justified, especially at a time when the UH administration is already dealing with many other imminent and dangerous budgetary shortfalls? While we acknowledge the foresight, there are impending budgetary shortfalls that could more urgently use the federal allocations now.
It’s unacceptable and we’re not going to stand for it
We have fought long and hard by pushing back against the governor’s demands and threats. To have the Senate reverse the effort and agreements we have made through open dialogue and discussions is insulting and offensive. As the saying goes, when the going gets tough the tough gets going and rest assured that the leadership of UHPA will not tolerate such injustice and deceitfulness.
We’ll get through this—together
As it has been proven in the past, joint-decision making and collaboration is the proven method to moving forward. UHPA plans to work closely with the UH administration to find a better way to advance the University’s interests. Last year, because of our collective efforts to quickly mobilize with the UH administration to address the challenges of the pandemic, the UH system granted 10,850 degrees and certificates to students. For the spring semester, which is wrapping up soon, there could potentially be as many as 6,400 additional undergraduate and graduate degrees and certificates granted. The final figure will be confirmed after commencement is held on May 15. Clearly, the UH economic engine is humming, and needs to continue to operate to lift Hawaiʻi’s people out of the doldrums.
Economic recovery will come when we work together as a team instead of against each other as opponents. Isn’t it time we finally move forward with one mind, one spirit, and one common purpose?
Mahalo nui loa,
University of Hawaiʻi Professional Assembly