Sit in-2-2

Students, faculty, community stage sit-in at Bachman Hall

Hoping to force UH System President David Lassner to reverse his decision to fire Manoa Chancellor Tom Apple, students, faculty and community members staged a sit-in outside the president’s office yesterday.

Manjari Fergusson

Photo by Jimmy Edens

The uproar over the ousting of Tom Apple as the University of Hawaii at Manoa’s chancellor translated into physical action Thursday morning, as students, faculty and community members gathered to protest what they considered to be his unjust firing.

About 50 gathered outside of Hawaii Hall on the UH Manoa campus and then marched to Bachman Hall, where UH President David Lassner’s office is located.

Lassner sat cross-legged on the ground outside of Bachman Hall and spoke with students for around an hour with his paper of talking points, mostly reiterating what he said in a statement released on Tuesday, where he apologized for the “public spectacle” the situation has become.

“I do not believe that my decision was wrong,” Lassner told the crowd.

Dozens of students planning the sit-in for Thursday morning were hoping to prevent the president from going through with firing Apple, but were too late, after it was announced that Apple was fired on Wednesday evening. They emphasized their support of Apple with signs like “THIS IS OUR SCHOOL”, “Our Money Our Choice” and “#KeepApple2014”.

Kelly Zakumi, vice president of the Associated Students of the University of Hawaii (ASUH), wrote on the sit-in group’s facebook page late Wednesday, “The decision to hand Apple his termination papers is absolutely appalling - to me, it implies that President Lassner does not care about the faculty and students.”

“This situation goes beyond Tom Apple. It has now become a blatant disregard of the student voice. We are continuing with the protest tomorrow - we are not only fighting for Tom Apple, but our right to be heard and valued as students.”

Apple’s $439,000 a year position as chancellor came with the stipulation of satisfactory performance evaluations every year, although the evaluation process does not include student and faculty input, something that has upset the ASUH and the Graduate Student Organization (GSO).

The president pointed to the campus budget as one of the reasons he gave Apple an unsatisfactory evaluation, noting the $20 million budget shortfall that forced Apple to implement a controversial hiring freeze on July 15, which was intended to save $10 million annually over the next two years.  The freeze has put a cloud of doubt over some classes heading into the next school year, angering students and faculty.

Lassner acknowledged that the job of chancellor is “hard”, but said that Apple had not been able to gather an effective leadership team. Apple refutes claims of his poor performance in a rebuttal letter sent to President Lassner Thursday night.

Sources have indicated that one of the main reasons for the ousting is Apple’s battle with the UH Cancer Research Center Director Michele Carbone, who he unsuccessfully tried to fire twice last year, though Lassner insisted that no outside influence pressured him to remove Apple.

However, the situation has led to a more divisive atmosphere at Manoa than ever, where the flagship campus is still grappling with the 2012 ‘Wonder Blunder’ embarrassment, the new leadership of Lassner who was selected as president on a permanent basis only last month, the ongoing repair and maintenance backlog, and most recently, the hiring freeze.

Lassner hopes to hire an interim chancellor in August before the fall semester begins, and said he intends to include student and faculty input in the decision.

Apple’s termination settlement Wednesday had him accepting a tenured faculty position as a chemistry professor with a $299,000 annual salary, starting Sept. 1. He will also receive a lump sum of $100,000.

After speaking with those who gathered, Lassner left on a scheduled trip to Kona; the protesters say they will remain in Bachman Hall until Lassner reverses his decision.