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Mānoa faculty censure Lassner

After nearly voting to send the UH system president a resolution of no confidence, Mānoa faculty opted to censure him instead.

Will Caron

University of Hawaiʻi President David Lassner came one vote away from receiving a resolution of no confidence from the Mānoa Faculty Senate yesterday. The vote comes after widespread faculty and student disapproval (in some cases outrage) over President Lassner’s unilateral firing of University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa Chancellor Tom Apple for alleged poor performance and fiscal mismanagement.

Many students and faculty supported Apple, and even those that may have been indifferent to Apple’s leadership still see, in the way President Lassner fired him, an eroding of the system of shared governance that ensures all parties have a voice in the direction of the institution.

“For me this has always been about the principles of shared governance and the need for us as a faculty to stand up for what that means; that we need to be consulted, especially on an issue that is so important, like the leader of our campus,” said Bonnyjean Manini, the Director of Student Involvement & Leadership Development, part of Student Life & Development. “I like both of these leaders, but the decisions that were made—and they way they were made—stepped on the students and stepped on the faculty and did not respect the principles of shared governance.”

“My greatest concern is that the faculty and the students no longer have a voice in anything in this institution, and Lassner is responsible for that,” said Margaret Maaka, a professor of Curriculum Studies in the College of Education. “So I have no other option but to support a vote of no confidence in that type of leadership.”

“We are a very timid faculty and student group, compared to many other universities; but enough is enough,” said Vilsoni Hereniko a professor at the Academy for Creative Media. “Earlier we heard that there was no vote of no confidence for Greenwood; there was no vote of no confidence for Dobelle—and this is the legacy: we have Lassner.

“If we want to be effective; if we want to change the status quo; if we want to say, ‘Enough is enough, it is time to stop messing around with our university, with our students, with our faculty,’ and if we want shared governance, then we need to send the message that we have no confidence in the President’s leadership,” Hereniko said.

Manfred Steger, a professor of Political Science, articulated the primary sticking points for faculty opposed to the vote of no confidence in Lassner. “If it turns out that [Lassner] doesn’t deserve the [benefit of the] doubt; if it turns out that there are one after another actions like this, then I think we could go forward—we would have a much stronger case for a vote of no confidence,” Steger said. “But right now, three months in, I think this would not be a good idea, it would not go over well and it would leave us in a position much weakened.”

Hereniko introduced the amendment to replace original resolution language censuring President Lassner with language expressing a loss of confidence in his leadership. The senators who took part in the amendment vote were evenly divided, 28–28. Faculty Senate Executive Committee (SEC) Chair Ron Bontekoe, who authored the original resolution to censure, broke the tie with a vote to retain the original language.

“My preference for the censure language is, we have a president who is just beginning his term,” Bontekoe explained after the vote, echoing statements made by Steger. “Yes, he’s made what most of us consider to be an egregious misstep, but he’s not going away yet.

“My feeling was that a resolution of censure as opposed to a resolution of no confidence would keep the door open for future movement,” Bontekoe continued. “I think a motion of no confidence would be a statement that we think [Lassner] should resign—he will not. And then he will probably cease speaking to us.”

After the amendment failed to pass, the senate voted on the original resolution to censure the president. With 43 senators voting for the censure compared to 16 no votes and one abstain, it appears that more than two-thirds of faculty (based on their senate representation) are at least upset, if not outraged, over the loss of shared governance demonstrated in Apple’s termination. Here is the resolution text:

Whereas, President Lassner, while still interim president, overrode former Chancellor Apple’s decision to remove a director of a UH Mānoa unit for good cause—a clear violation of line authority; and

Whereas, President Lassner, upon attaining the permanent position, immediately removed Chancellor Apple without sufficient consultation with UH Mānoa faculty, students, and other important constituencies, as is called for by “shared governance” principles that are explicitly laid out in the AAUP report, “Faculty Participation in the Selection, Evaluation, and Retention of Administrators” (1981); and

Whereas, this insufficient consultation, moreover, clearly violates the UH Board of Regents’ own delegation to UHM faculty of a role in the evaluation of campus administrators, which is to be found in its “Policies and Bylaws” Chapter 1-10; and

Whereas, the precipitous firing of Chancellor Apple threatens the accreditation of the University, its autonomy, fiscal stability, and its ability to recruit highly qualified external administrators in the future;

Therefore, be it resolved, that the Mānoa Faculty Senate censures President Lassner for the inadequate review prior to Chancellor Apple’s dismissal.

But while a censure is still a clear signal to President Lassner that the Mānoa faculty are not happy about his first major decision as the official leader of the system, it does not go far enough for faculty members like Hereniko.

“The word censure seems like someone who has been abused by an abuser and wants to protest, but is a little afraid in case he or she might get another slap in the face,” said Hereniko.

Other faculty members agreed and pointed out that although he only recently became the official president of the university, he spent an entire year as interim president—a year in which he twice superseded and undermined Chancellor Apple’s authority with regards to a legitimate removal a problematic subordinate unit director, and with regard to the fiscal management of the campus—and was a Vice President for years before that.

In a statement, Lassner says he is disappointed by the Faculty Senate action, but looks forward to working with its members in the future.

To try and ensure that such abuse of power and loss of shared governance does not happen again, the senate also passed a second resolution which will send recommendations to the Board of Regents “to improve the governance and operation of the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa.”  The suggestions are provided below:

The position of the UH system president and the policy direction of the UH Board of Regents both require redress in light of the danger that their recent actions pose to the autonomy and integrity of UH Mānoa. The UH Board of Regents can strengthen both UH Mānoa and the UH system by implementing the following changes:

(1) Limit, through policy, the UH system president’s ability to directly manage UH Mānoa.

(2) Ensure that line authority is clear on decisions and that subordinates cannot “go around” the UHM chancellor to the system president or the BoR. At present, this “going around” undermines disturbingly the UHM chancellor’s authority. It should be board policy to tell subordinates to speak to their administrative superior.

(3) Eliminate the BoR committee structure instituted after the “Wonder Blunder.” That event was an aberration. The current BoR structure encourages interference in, and the micromanagement of, UH Mānoa campus operations by board members who are not necessarily, simply by virtue of their being regents, qualified to serve as university administrators.

(4) Reduce the amount of board business conducted in executive session, to comply with the spirit of Hawaiʻi’s “sunshine” laws.

(5) Advocate for (possibly non-voting) UH Manoa faculty representation on the Board of Regents. The faculty perspective is every bit as important as is the student perspective and, if anything, is likely to be even less well understood by regents coming from a background in business or politics in the absence of a strong advocate for faculty concerns—someone whose presence would be indispensable when the BoR does withdraw into executive session discussions.