OPINION: Can the State Run UH Better Than … UH?

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If the crumbling relationship between the Senate, the University of Hawaii Board of Regents, and UH President M.R.C. Greenwood could be set to music, an apt choice would be Stevie Wonder’s 1971 Single, “Never Dreamed You’d Leave in Summer.”

The metaphor’s a bit flawed, of course. Greenwood will actually be leaving in the fall, and unlike Stevie’s fictional lovers, the characters in this real-life tale were never very touchy-feely to begin with.

Stevie himself of course became the subject of an epic spat between UH officials and lawmakers after the university blew $200,000 on a concert-promotion scam.

Two days of Senate hearings were convened, which brought to light a poor system of oversight on the part of UH President Greenwood, UH regents and other administrators when it came to the awarding of contracts to outside providers.

University of Hawaii President M.R.C. Greenwood. UH photo.

University of Hawaii President M.R.C. Greenwood. UH photo.

The end result of all the hand-wringing at the Capitol was the introduction and passage of “House Bill 114,” recently signed by Gov. Abercrombie. The bill strips the UH president of the ability to award contracts for “construction and professional services.”


Instead, those contracts will be awarded by the state procurement office.

The law really does single out the UH administration as inept, since executives of several other parts of the state system are still able to procure contracts.

That includes the chairperson of the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, the superintendent of the Department of Education, and the CEO of the Hawaii Health Systems Corporation.

A pristine, controversy-free list of agencies if there ever was one.


But even if you have gone through life believing that OHA and the DOE have been flawless stewards, it may be a little unrealistic to assume that the state will do a better job than UH.

Hawaiian Airlines Flight at Kailua-Kona Airport_Wikimedia Commons, Courtesy

An audit found fault with the way the state handled construction projects in Hilo and other airports. File photo.

For instance, a recent state auditor’s report issued a scathing review of how contracts were awarded for recent airport improvements around the islands.

In just one example of bungled budgeting, the auditors noted that nearly $974,000 was earmarked for a field office at the Kahului airport — roughly 30 times what it should have cost.

HB 114 may only end up handing a checkbook from one incapable organization to another. But on the bright side, at least future goofs will be more transparent.


During the Senate hearings, lawmakers fumed over redactions (blackouts) in public reports issued by UH over generous buyouts given to past university officials.

President Greenwood herself had reportedly sent a letter to UH regents demanding a $2 million buyout in order for her to resign. She later apologized for the letter, and claimed she would be leaving in September to spend time with family, and care for her health.

But whatever the fate of UH contracts, don’t play a sad song for the career of its soon-to-depart executive. Greenwood is reportedly considering a position at UH’s John Burns School of Medicine.

This time, she may be tenured.

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