Sit in-5

UH chooses bad apple over good

The University System administration and President Lassner's decision to continue defending the unit director largely responsible for Chancellor Apple's removal jeopardizes both the future of the Cancer Center and the standing of the University as a whole.

Will Caron

Photo by Jimmy Edens

It’s official. University of Hawaiʻi (UH) at Mānoa Chancellor Tom Apple was handed termination papers Wednesday night by UH System President David Lassner, and his final request for reconsideration was denied by the recently inaugurated president.

Faculty and students have rallied behind Apple, staging a sit-in at Bachman Hall, the traditional UH System Headquarters, and refusing to leave until Apple is reinstated. Mānoa Faculty Senate Chair Ron Bontekoe has also sent a letter on behalf of the senate to President Lassner and to new Board of Regents Chair Randolph Moore expressing support for Apple as a competent and caring Chancellor:

The Mānoa Faculty Senate is concerned with the rumored impending termination of Chancellor Apple.  As the Board of Regents-sanctioned faculty advisory body to the Mānoa Chancellor, the Senate Executive Committee, acting on behalf of the Mānoa Faculty Senate, by unanimous vote at their meeting of July 28, 2014 affirms its stated support for the Mānoa Chancellor and finds the Chancellor’s performance over the last two years to have been exemplary.

We find the Chancellor’s actions over the last two years to be supportive of the following principles to which we adhere:

#1: Undergraduate tuition should support undergraduate education. Graduate tuition should support graduate education.
#2: The hiring and firing of a chancellor must involve the faculty and students.
#3: Integrity and transparency are paramount in budget and administration.

The Senate Executive Committee expects to work with Chancellor Apple over the next several years to develop practices and policies in conformance with these principles.

As reported in a prior article, the removal of Apple as Chancellor is a result of internal system politics, centered on a power struggle between Apple and his subordinates at the John A. Burns School of Medicine (JABSOM) and the UH Cancer Center (UHCC).

But what’s even worse: Apple’s removal is the price of the continued defense—by both UH System administrators and outside influencers such as State Senator Rosalyn Baker and Queens Hospital CEO Art Ushijima—of a director who has jeopardized the future of his own unit and violated numerous academic codes in the process. That man is UHCC Director Michele Carbone.

Academic grievances

Since becoming director in 2008, UHCC faculty have filed at least 25 grievances against Dr. Carbone for various violations of academic codes of conduct and of their academic rights—more grievances than any other UH unit ever.

Examining the summaries of these grievances clearly shows a pattern of lies, misdirection, abuse of power, serious limiting of academic freedom, spiteful personal attacks, removal of faculty from grant responsibilities they secured through the National Institute of Health (NIH), privacy violations, unilateral and dictatorial decisions that adversely affect faculty members with no consultation of UHPA, inclusion of inappropriate information into official documents with the intent to harm reputation, willful disregard for the rights of faculty members as researchers and members of a union and creation of a hostile work environment. All of the grievances that have been resolved up to this point sided with the faculty members.

The University of Hawaiʻi Professional Assembly (UHPA), the faculty union, has published a statement of concern which states that, “UHPA is very concerned about this situation and the consequences to our bargaining unit members and the integrity of the Cancer Center … The UH Manoa Chancellor’s office has needed to repeatedly involve itself in attempted resolution of these grievances, because the pattern is that Director Carbone’s administration does not resolve them.”

“There was some corrective actions taken, but at the worst he got his fingers slammed,” reported Dr. Loic Le Marchand, a 27-year faculty veteran at the UHCC. “But there have been so many grievances—it’s unheard of—so clearly adequate corrective action has not been taken. To the credit of Tom Apple, he tried to fire [Carbone], actually a couple of times—the last time in December—and he got in very hot water.”

Defending incompetence

Not only has Dr. Carbone racked up an unheard of amount of grievances, he has also jeopardized the UHCC’s federal grant money and National Cancer Institution (NCI) standing and mismanaged the center to the point where it is no longer clear it will be able to remain competitive.

“I have been at the center for a very long time; I have helped build the center; and I am very distraught by the turn of events, certainly, especially by the fact that we are still placing confidence and trust in [Carbone], and giving him more money and positions,” Le Marchand told the Independent. “To me, that will cause the end of cancer research here.”

Carbone was hired in 2008 by then Chancellor Virginia Hinshaw. The two held weekly meetings together throughout Hinshaw’s term as Chancellor, and she has always been a close supporter of Carbone. Hinshaw is now a special adviser to the center.

According to Le Marchand, Apple immediately recognized the serious managerial and ethical problems occurring at the UHCC and the danger they posed to the entire University. “In the first two weeks of his administration, [Apple] blocked an unethical covert request made to NIH by Carbone and Hinshaw to change the PIship on a large 20-year grant from his original legitimate PI to an unscrupulous faculty recruit attracted by the opportunity of being given this grant … He has been the only UH administrator who has publicly shown any concern about the situation and has taken action to correct it.”

This includes trying, unsuccessfully, at least twice to remove Carbone from his position as director. But with UH System politics being what they apparently are, Apple’s days as Chancellor became immediately numbered as a result.

After Apple tried to fire Carbone in December, the director of the UHCC called a meeting of the Hawaiʻi Cancer Consortium—an association comprising health care industry non-profits, the University, the UHCC, JABSOM, Queen’s Medical Center, Kapiʻolani Medical Center and Kuakini Medical Center.

Unbeknownst to Chancellor Apple, Carbone also brought State Senator Rosalyn Baker—described by a source within the Senate as “Carbone’s chief supporter”—to the meeting. State Senator Josh Green was also present. At the meeting, Apple was told he was no longer allowed to deal directly with the UHCC, and that any further attempts to remove Dr. Carbone from his position would result in Apple being fired himself.

Much of this is described in Chancellor Apple’s own rebuttal letter sent to President Lassner last night:

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 projected shortfall.

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.

Lassner was initially supportive of Apple’s plan to remove Carbone. But Carbone’s powerful supporters clearly changed his mind. And yet, Lassner continues to stick to his story that Apple’s termination was based solely on poor performance; a point he repeated to students at yesterday’s sit-in and in an email sent to faculty members:

“For the record: None of the alleged outside or political influencers even approached me regarding these events, much less urged action or exerted influence,” Lassner wrote. 

After the December meeting in which Apple was essentially ambushed by Carbone and his supporters, Lassner (who was then acting president) and Vice Chancellor for Research Brian Taylor were put in charge of dealing with the center instead. They named Hinshaw a special adviser to the UHCC (with a salary of $300,000) and also named Dr. Patricia Blanchette as acting chief administrator of the UHCC in January (also with a $300,000 salary).

“[Dr. Blanchette] is really running the center now because Carbone was unable to run it—he was mismanaging the accounts—it was a mess,” said Le Marchand. “So to avoid any big scandal, they named this person who was at the Medical School—a good administrator, but not a cancer researcher—to run the center.”

Six months later, the center has been somewhat stabilized because of Blanchette, but there are still indications of a projected $10 million deficit beginning next year.

“That is the major crisis on the horizon,” said Le Marchand.

Losing the center’s federal funding

It is widely believed that U.S. Senator Daniel Inouye intervened and put pressure on the Office of Cancer Centers (OCC) to renew the UHCC’s NCI designation and P30 grant after Carbone took over. OCC gave in to the powerful senior senator and agreed to renew the designation, but only funded the grant at around 20 percent of what was asked for.

“That was a clear indication that [the OCC] was only funding the Cancer Center for political reasons, and certainly not because of the scientific excellence of the research here,” explained Le Marchand.

Despite Carbone’s terrible record as director, Lassner asked him to lead the center for the next three years towards the renewal of center’s NCI designation and P30 grant.

“This is, of course, in light of his documented record of mismanagement, repeated violation of faculty rights and [the] precipitous fall in the center’s scientific standing, reflected in a drop in the numbers of competitive programs and NIH-funded investigators at UHCC,” wrote Le Marchand in an email response to David Lassner and other faculty. “Many of us who have worked very hard to build the center over decades are very saddened by this turn of events and see this decision as the final nail in the coffin of cancer research in Hawaii.”

Hinshaw gave Carbone additional faculty hires early during her term as Chancellor, but in the five years since then, very few of those hires have proved competitive in producing grants for the Cancer Center, according to Le Marchand.

“With a record already in place showing that [Carbone] has been unable to recruit good researchers—and with clear indication that he won’t be able to do any better in the coming three years—the decision that should have been made would be to fire Carbone six months ago or over the summer, and to look for a new Director with experience,” Le Marchand said.

In fact, in cases where a director of a research center is removed and a new one put in place, the OCC automatically gives an extension to NCI designation and to the P30 grant. By retaining Carbone, the University is actively damaging the center’s chances of renewing its NCI designation and P30 grant.

Apple was forced to institute a hiring freeze and budget cuts for Mānoa units to try and shore up deficits he largely inherited from Hinshaw, a move that was obviously unpopular with faculty members. And yet, over the summer, Carbone’s supporters strong-armed Apple into handing the UHCC director $9–10 million for additional hires, supposedly to save NCI designation and P30 grant money.

“[Without Carbone] we would have had an additional two or three years to rebuild the center and be competitive before having to worry about renewing our designation,” explained Le Marchand. “But now it is absolutely certain that [the NIC] is not going to be renewed at this point; that is a pipe-dream.”

This is to say nothing of Carbone’s out-of-control spending during his time as director on things like lavish dinners, entertaining bigwigs and an insane $700,000 to build a kitchen in order to host a television show about healthy eating, which he subsequently cancelled anyway.

The UHCC has had NCI designation and access to P30 grants for almost 25 years and, prior to Carbone’s appointment as director, had been successful, competitive and internationally recognized for its research. In the past six years under Carbone’s leadership, much of this prestige has been eroded and the chance for the UHCC to be competitive once again is rapidly slipping away.

If Tom Apple is being fired, ostensibly for poor performance during his two years on the job, how is it that a unit director with an unheard of amount of grievances filed against him, a dubious moral track record and a proven high-level of incompetence is not only allowed to remain director, but is actually given additional funding at the expense of the rest of Mānoa, and defended by high-level stakeholders both within and without the University system? What connections does Dr. Carbone posses that compel the University to continue to support him?

The Hawaii Independent reached out to President Lassner, Director Carbone and Senator Baker for statements but, at press deadline, had received none.