Tom apple-01

Apple cored: business as usual at UH

Chancellor Apple's removal after only two years on the job is a reflection of political in-fighting and dysfunction within the university, not on the performance of his duties.

Will Caron

University of Hawai‘i (UH) at Mānoa Chancellor Tom Apple has been told he will not be retained for the remaining three years of his five-year contract after new System President David Lassner held “confidential performance evaluations” which came back with unfavorable results for the chancellor. Buying out Apple’s remaining three years will cost the University an estimated $1.3 million during a time in which money is extremely tight.

Faculty at Mānoa have spoken out in favor of Apple, saying that not only did he do an admirable job of listening to faculty and student concerns, but he was trying to rectify problems on the flagship campus that have existed for years. Faculty Senate Vice Chair Bob Cooney has been quoted extensively in a Hawaii News Now story, backing up Apple and decrying his removal.

“Now we once again have chaos at the top level of administration for this campus at a time when we desperately need leadership and organization” a Mānoa professor commented when asked by the Independent about the situation.

When asking the regents to approve Apple’s five-year hire, former UH System President M.R.C. Greenwood asked the regents to make an “exception to board policies, which permit initial appointments of up to three years for academic leaders.”

“The duration of this appointment reflects my assessment that the UH Mānoa campus needs to be assured of sustained, continuous leadership in order to continue to achieve its academic goals,” Greenwood wrote in a May 2012 memo.

The disconnect between Apple’s by-all-accounts good performance at Mānoa over the past two years and the negative performance evaluations Lassner received has nothing to do with Apple’s management of the flagship campus and everything to do with internal politics and power: business as usual for a state university system which has become notorious for its dysfunction at its administrative levels.

The recent budget crisis, in which the chancellor announced to the Mānoa departments that they would be experiencing a hiring freeze and budget reductions, was precipitated by an internal power struggle between the chancellor and Cancer Research Center (CRC) Director Michele Carbone, a professor within the John A. Burns School of Medicine (JABSOM).

Carbone has racked up 25 official grievances and personnel complaints filed by his own Cancer Center researchers and professors, more than any other UH department. Last fall, Apple attempted to remove Carbone, but was blocked by his powerful supporters. This clash, coupled with proposals to cut $1 million from JABSOM and from other departments has made Apple “unpopular” with Deans like Jerris Hedges, who runs the medical school.

A seperate source within the University told the Independent that during a Saturday meeting in June between the president, chancellor, Carbone and several key power players including Hedges, Apple was confronted with a demand that the CRC receive an additional $9-10 million in order to hire 16-25 new faculty over the next two years (salaries would average in at close to $400,000, based on the $9-10 million figure).

The reasoning was that without new hires to diversify its research, the CRC could lose its federal National Cancer Institute (NCI) designation and P30 grant funding from the Office of Cancer Centers. “In order to meet this demand [Apple] felt obligated to institute the freeze and budget reductions for Mānoa, which will result in approximately 75 faculty positions not being filled this year on the Mānoa campus,” reports our source.

“While it is true that as of this moment the Cancer Center still has reserves from the considerable infusion of State cigarette tax money over the last six years, at the rate of current spending this money will be insufficient to meet the ever-expanding needs of the cancer center,” our source continues. “So while Carbone’s statement that their budget is currently not in the red is technically, partially true, his projected budget cannot be covered by the considerable state support he already receives and, according to him, it is essential that they hire these additional faculty (as I understand it 16 this year and another 9 subsequently).”

So when Carbone says that, “The UH Cancer Center is not responsible for any of the annual UH shortfall recently described by Chancellor Apple,” as reported by Hawaii News Now, he is being highly disingenuous.

Strong-armed into agreeing to release the funds Carbone said he needed, Apple is now being fired, just over a month later. Who convinced President Lassner to conduct these biased performance evaluations so obviously geared toward firing Tom Apple? Our source says it’s the same power players who were present during the June meeting that demonstrated the system’s preference for CRC funding over all other budgets for remaining Mānoa campus units. In an email sent out by Dr. Carbone himself after Apple was forced to agree to release the additional CRC money, he names several of these players:

I am pleased to report that the UH President, Chancellor, the Dean of the Medical School and other UH and UHF VIPs, Consortium leadership, key donors and state legislator (sen Roz Baker) unanimously decided that NCI designation is of critical importance to the residents of the State of Hawaii, and therefore that we need to do whatever it takes to renew P30 in 2017. Accordingly as we work together to generate additional economic resources, they authorized me to go ahead with the required recruitment to meet P30 new guidelines.

Drs. Blanchette, Issell, and Tius, and our CFO, Chip Ellis, participated in the meeting and played a very important role in helping convince all of the participants of the importance of NCI designation to Hawaii, and thus the need to come up with the required additional resources.  Please be grateful to them and to our new University President David Lassner who conveyed and Chaired the meeting that produced this important decision.

State Senator Rosalyn Baker (Maui, District 6) was elected chair of the board of the American Cancer Society Hawai‘i Pacific in 2012 and has received campaign donations from multiple medical-field donors over the years including Pfizer, the Hawaii Medical Service Association, the Hawaii Optometric Association, Glaxosmithkline, Astrazeneca, Hawaii Air Ambulance, Davita Inc., Medco Health Solutions, Unitedhealth Group, Medimmune and Abbott Laboratories—totaling more than $50,000. Interestingly, she has also received money from Altria, a tobacco products company and Anheuser-Busch. A source within the State Senate told the Independent that Sen. Baker is the “chief legislative supporter of Carbone.”

In addition to Baker and JABSOM Dean Jerris Hedges, the Independent has been informed that three additional key power players present at the June meeting were Art Ushijima, CEO of Queens Hospital, venture capitalist and part-time Hawai‘i resident Barry Weinman and former UH Board of Regents (BOR) Chair John Holtzman.

Ushijima has been involved with UH and the Medical School for years, having sat on the Board of Trustees for the UH Foundation and served as a board director of the Hawai‘i Residency Programs, Inc.—a nonprofit corporation established by JABSOM and six major acute care facilities in Honolulu. His other current board affiliations are Healthcare Association of Hawai‘i, Aloha Medical Mission Advisory Board, and VHA Inc., a national health care alliance based in Texas. He also served as a member of the search committee for the UH Medical School Dean that hired Hedges.

According to Weinman’s bio, he has “been making venture capital investments, principally in Silicon Valley, since 1980. He is Co-Founder and former Managing Director of Allegis Capital and AVI Capital.” Weinman has led and participated in investments resulting in over $25 billion in market value, including: Palm (NASDAQ), Cypress Semiconductor (NYSE), Caere (NASDAQ), Cadnetix (NASDAQ), Columbia/HCA (NYSE), (NASDAQ), Medscape (NASDAQ), Liveworld (NASDAQ), InfoGear (CSCO), Be Inc. (NASDAQ), Quokka (NASDAQ) and XOMA (NASDAQ).

With a great deal of today’s medical-field advancements tied directly to related technological advancements—particularly software related—it’s not hard to see why Weinman would be interested in seeing CRC remain fully funded. Medscape, one of his investment ventures, is a web resource for physicians and health professionals. It features peer-reviewed original medical journal articles, CME (Continuing Medical Education), a customized version of the National Library of Medicine’s MEDLINE database, daily medical news, major conference coverage and drug information—including a drug database (Medscape Drug Reference, or MDR) and drug interaction checker.

It’s also unsurprising that Weinman would be invited to participate in a UH administrative meeting, having been involved with UH at a high level for years. In 1999, he helped former Dean of the UH College of Business Administration David McClain successfully lobby the Legislature for funding for the school’s Center for Entrepreneurship and E-business. He’s also been quoted as saying that his recipe for a successful entrepreneur and a healthy economy starts with the university.

As for Holtzman, his term on the BOR ended shortly after the June meeting.

According to our source, these are the same individuals that have gone to bat for Carbone, keeping him in his position as Director of the CRC in spite of the numerous grievances filed against him.

“David Lassner was appointed in a ridiculous farce of a search process in which he and former Chair Holtzman stretched the truth to the breaking point,” says our source. “I do not know for sure who is pulling Lassner’s strings; however, it is clear someone is. Obviously [Lassner] could have Apple’s enemies provide information for his review that would be negative. Typically that is how they go about removing those they dislike. Carbone’s reviews, I suspect, are not flattering—yet you hear nothing about those.”

Why would Apple be removed after agreeing to fund the CRC at the expense of the rest of Mānoa? If this episode reminds anyone of former Mānoa Chancellor Peter Englert’s removal, that’s because Englert was also fired for trying to enact his own vision for the Mānoa campus, in the process stepping on well-connected toes.