The following is Tom Apple’s letter in response to President Lassner’s criticisms based on “negative performance” evaluations, in it’s entirety and with no names redacted:
Dear President Lassner,
I have reviewed your evaluation letter of me, dated July 18 of this year. Please accept this as my response.
You have stated that I have responsibility for ‘setting the strategic direction of the campus’, and you have criticized my performance by also stating that ‘there is not a cohesive strategy for forward progress shared among your senior leadership’. You have also stated that my initiatives suffer from a lack of effective implementation.
In defense of my performance, I will discuss below several examples of initiatives I have spearheaded in my first 2 years as Chancellor which do show “strategic direction” and I will demonstrate the evidence of their implementation. Each of these initiatives has also been thoroughly discussed, on numerous occasions, with both leadership and constituents. These facts are very well documented should there be any dispute:
1. ‘Achieving our Destiny’: This strategic plan was developed under Chancellor Hinshaw. However, the implementation of it fell to me. I have co-chaired the Steering Committee for Strategic Planning with the head of the Senate Executive Committee. We created 6 faculty working groups to develop and implement this fine plan, with the following very good results:
a. Improved graduate student support.
b. Renovation of classrooms, allowing for more interactive teaching methods.
c. Creation of a zone management system for better campus maintenance.
d. Modification of promotion and tenure procedures to support greater
The implementation of this overall plan has been so very successful that Susan Hippensteele, our Faculty Director, has been asked numerous times to talk about it at
2. ‘Find Your Passion, Research That Matters, and a Hawaiian Place of Learning’: This mantra is one I have strongly supported from the inception of my service to UHM and these are initiatives in which I strongly believe. They also closely align with the system’s strategic directions. The first, ‘Find Your Passion’ refers to students’ success — now and in their future. To that end, I have provided more support for undergraduate research, jobs on campus, study away and honors programs.
This includes the fact that we have developed 4 year plans for all degrees and the STAR system to help students in their quest for a degree. We have signed up new students for 15 credits in such a way that they must opt out rather than in for 15 credits a semester.
The results of these strategic plans are already clear: For the 6 years before I arrived, the proportion of students taking at least 15 credits was 32%, and in the past 2 years that rose to 40% — which is a 25% increase!
Our 6 year graduation rate has also increased in each of the past 2 years. In addition, the overall number of degrees graduated in the past two years has increased dramatically, from 2700 to over 3000 — about an 11% increase.
We have introduced a new, ‘Welcome Back to Manoa’ program which invites ungraduated seniors in good academic standing to return to finish their degrees.
We have also revamped student advising, particularly in Arts and Sciences, as a result of student and staff feedback.
We have also just launched the “Manoa Promise”. This program provides a pathway for all Hawai’i high school seniors to obtain a Manoa degree.
We have made changes in the promotion and tenure documentation, which have contributed to the initiative of conducting ‘Research That Matters’.
With respect to making UHM a ‘Hawaiian Place of Learning’, I have worked well and very closely with the Kuali’i Council. By doing so I have successfully recruited 9 new native Hawaiian faculty.
We have also implemented an initiative called Ka’ie’ie, an advising system which facilitates transfers of HI Community College students to Manoa.
We have also placed advisors on all HI Community College campuses. To facilitate their mission, this year we made these advisers, Manoa admissions officers.
3. Four approaches to deal with our Financial Shortfalls: I recognized the severe financial problem we faced and took the initiative to try to solve it with the following steps:
>a. Increasing enrollments: My thrust here was to launch an active admissions outreach program, rather than a passive filtering process, especially in the Western US and internationally in order to get more students to our campus and in turn generate more income from tuition.
b. Changing the research paradigm to more closely reflect the needs of the campus as a whole: My initiative here was to ask research faculty to pay more of their salary by bringing in more funding and by writing new grant proposals which budgeted for some of their salary.
c. Control of utility costs: My initiative here was metering and sub-metering of buildings, starting a smart grid initiative, and tackling deferred maintenance of outmoded HVAC systems in order to build incentives into the budget and to save on utility costs—which will in turn save us money.
d. Greater efficiencies through reorganization and reallocation: Consolidation of units to save on executive and managerial salaries and better budget efficiencies. This initiative was discussed and molded in campus
conversations, dozens of leadership meetings, and meetings with constituencies all over campus. This has been a widely publicized initiative.
So, it is simply not true that you and my own executive team are not aware of these often-stated initiatives, or that I have not discussed implementation methods with you and my team. I certainly could not have accomplished the vast majority of these things without the hard work and dedication of people both on campus and off.
Your evaluation also alleges a decline in the fiscal integrity of the campus and you blame me for that. However, only 15 months ago, UH Manoa was being scolded by the Legislature for having too large a surplus. Despite that scolding I slowed the decline of the surplus from that of my predecessor. I authored the original reserve policy and I forwarded it to the former President, MRC Greenwood and Howard Todo in early 2013, as a justification for our large reserves. I pinpointed the causes for the continuing decline in reserves. Then I came up with remedies to help close this very serious budget gap. I noted that new revenue streams were needed and that reallocation of current funds was necessary. These observations are recorded in live conversations and in several memos so they are also easy to establish. It thus is surprising that you do not mention them at all in my review.
In addition to these measures, I pointed out that our student/faculty ratio was unsustainable. This was the reason for my recent request for a hiring freeze.
One of the results of my management is that my central spending has been far less than the last Chancellor who, as Reed said “used Kathy Cutshaw as a credit card”.
The only programs of any size I requested were to support the library so that it could buy Science Direct, which is used by 40% of the campus, and to stay open on Saturdays (which is the single issue I have received the most positive student feedback on), for classroom renovations, and for raising the minimum stipend for graduate assistants from $13k to $17.5k. This latter cost is temporary, since graduate programs were to downsize, and 3 students x $17.5 = 4 students x $13k to accommodate to the new model. Moreover, our previous treatment of graduate students was frankly unethical as well as lacking in strategic vision. It prevented optimal recruiting of good prospects and it forced graduate students to work a second job—simply in order to survive—instead of working on their classes and research as they should.
All of the above ‘Chancellor initiatives’ cost, in total, about $2.8M total of a $400M operating budget. That is about 0.7% of our budget, for some rather dramatic improvements in performance. Despite this, you have criticized me. I held a retreat last year which set the guidelines for proposed spending and proposed cuts. All units had an equal, fair 3% reduction last year. If it was followed, our plan going forward would bring Manoa into budget sustainability to accommodate the ‘new normal’ of receiving less money from the Legislature. As you know, since 2009, the Legislature has cut about $75M in General funds from Manoa’s budget. Tuition funds have been used to replace a great deal of the lost funds so a very large part of our faculty and staff salaries are now derived from tuition funds, as opposed to General funds.
Though you criticize my implementation I have repeatedly been told by many members of the community that I am far more communicative and engaged than were previous Chancellors. Your negative comments in my evaluation about interactions with community stakeholders thus do appear to refer to those few powerful people who support the Director of the Cancer Center, whom I tried to remove with your initial consent. Indeed it is that area which caused your criticism of me in the first place.
So, I must very respectfully remind you that I carefully and fully discussed the removal of Dr. Carbone as Director with both you and (then-Board Chair) John Holzman well prior to attempting to do so. I did this in a context where, as you know, Dr. Carbone has driven away two of our top researchers (Goodman and Kolonel), alienated two other top researchers (Le Marchand and Wilkens), and angered, alienated and persecuted several others. In addition to this thoroughly embarrassing and truly awful history, Dr. Carbone now requires one full-time $300,000 ‘assistant’ (Blanchette) and another $300,000 advisor (Hinshaw) to oversee his conduct.
The grievances and prohibited practice claims against Dr. Carbone are so numerous, that it has been suggested that they total more than the combined number of grievances racked up around the entire balance of this University! These grievances require enormous amounts of staff time and resources and precious money to work through. Meanwhile, funding, publications, and our ability to attract and retain quality Principal Investigators (“PIs”) at the Cancer Center continue to decline under Dr. Carbone’s watch, (a trend which predated my arrival). There has been frightful overspending by him with no real oversight. To add insult to injury, a small cadre of community members has since than badgered UH into going even further into reserves to the tune of $15M/yr. with no known source of revenue on the horizon to cover the
In light of Dr. Carbone’s history, you initially indicated your support for my decision to remove him as Director of the Cancer Center. Then at the meeting with the Consortium Board which followed our discussion, John Holzman watched in silence as Director Carbone’s supporters made repeated personal attacks on me —rather than addressing the serious problems at the Cancer Center. A word from him in support of the actions you and he approved would have diffused the personal nature of that exchange. Instead, you chose to disregard all of the information which had convinced you that removal of Dr. Carbone was appropriate. You then put in place not one, but two high level, very expensive, overseers to monitor Dr. Carbone. In so doing, you rendered me powerless to continue working effectively with the Cancer Center. Had you not abruptly and unwisely reversed your earlier position on this issue, we would not now still have dysfunctional, erratic, and incredibly expensive leadership at the Cancer Center.
Any misgivings you may have had about the manner in which I attempted to deflect the attacks and steer the Consortium meeting back to its intended course, is a
separate issue as I did my best to manage a situation that was created by others.
You also stated that I have lost the confidence of the Board of Regents (“BOR”). However, in conversations with BOR members I have been led to believe that that this opinion is not held by a majority of the BOR and that they recognize the need for prudent fiscal management.
Personal and professional integrity are important to me in any position I take, especially one with such great responsibility. As part of the self-evaluation, I was specifically asked to list my weaknesses. I did so honestly and in good faith that these would promote a responsible discussion, rather than be taken out of context to build a false case against me. However this did not occur. Instead your evaluation also chastised me because I stated that I can learn from every situation. However I am proud to admit that I can learn from every situation. Do you not also try to do so?
These are hard times for the UHM, and they call for hard decisions. I am confident that each and every one of the initiatives I have spearheaded has been in the best interests of UHM, even though some have been unpopular with certain vested interests who profit from things as they are. You seem to have forgotten that you personally voiced support for my vision for UHM on many occasions. I stood up and took the knocks that inevitably come with such hard decisions, so I admit that I am very disappointed by the absence of support shown by you when controversy arises.
So, by contrast to your very general and un-specific criticisms of my performance, all of the above strategic initiatives show specific accomplishments that I either started or continued and then helped to achieve along with my team. It is unfortunate that you chose to ignore all of them in my evaluation. It appears that this was deliberately done to get the result you wished to achieve — support for a false
claim of unsatisfactory performance.
I remain committed to doing my job pursuant to my contract with UHM. I hope and expect that it will be honored, as I have tried my best to keep up my end of the bargain.