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UH at 100

What’s next for Hawaii’s university?


(page 2 of 3)

Photo: Courtesy of University of Hawaii

Expect a move toward West Oahu and a growing emphasis on the community colleges.

If the university can’t count on more money from the state, it can always tighten its belt. Cutting academic programs is always a dicey subject—former Gov. Ben Cayetano once caught flak for even suggesting that UH nix the study of Sanskrit—but moving them to a smaller campus may prove to be more palatable. UH West Oahu’s new four-year campus is scheduled to open in fall 2010, and it’s likely that it will take on a number of programs currently being offered at UH Manoa, such as education and nursing.

McClain says he doesn’t expect to transplant programs wholesale overnight, but that an organic shift in emphasis is the eventual goal. “On those campuses where the physical structure is too large for the revenue that can support it, there’ll be some consolidation,” he says. “In the past, [UH Manoa] has been asked to be all things to all people. We’re going to have to focus a little more sharply in our second century.”

Accordingly, the university’s current 2002-2015 strategic plan is characterized by back-to-basics goals, to be accomplished by strengthening UH Manoa’s satellite campuses, especially its four-year campuses:

  • Increase the total number of UH degrees earned by 3 to 6 percent per year.
  • Increase the percentage of high school graduates entering UH by 3 percent per year.
  • Increase by 5 percent per year the number of graduates in fields experiencing a shortage in Hawaii (including teachers, nurses and hospitality workers).
  • Increase the degree attainment of Native Hawaiians by 6 to 9 percent per year.

“We’ve never had a strong middle in this state,” says UH vice president for academic planning and policy Linda Johnsrud, who was involved in drafting UH’s strategic plan. “We’ve got a strong research university and strong community colleges, and then we’ve got itty bitty little West Oahu and UH Hilo on the Big Island. The idea is to bring education to these geographic areas that will allow people to get into the workforce immediately.”

How would you improve UH Manoa?

We asked people around town how they’d make the University of Hawaii a better school. Here are a few of their suggestions:

Former Gov. Ben Cayetano:
Raise freshman-level entrance requirements. “The university is really a solid institution. But it’s never going to be a Berkeley or UCLA of the Pacific as long as the admission requirements are too low. If you get a high-quality freshman class, it holds the faculty to a higher standard, and everything is uplifted.”


State Sen. Clayton Hee:
Move undergrad programs to West Oahu. “I believe 80 percent of Manoa’s undergraduate programs should go out to West Oahu. Rather than retrofitting old buildings, we can build new buildings at what will be the fastest growing campus in the state. Manoa would become more of a Cal Berkeley situation, primarily a research institution, but it would also have the upper 15 or 20 percent of the undergraduates.”


J.N. Musto, executive director of the UH Professional Assembly:
Keep tuition cheap. “All of the children of Hawaii should know that if they don’t have a choice in terms of going to school on the Mainland, financially, that finances are not going to get in your way at UH. This should be a meritocracy. If you are qualified, come on down, we want you.”


UH Manoa chancellor Virginia Hinshaw:
Loosen procurement guidelines for new UH projects. “We’ve followed the federal guidelines in the past, which often slows processes and doesn’t add great value. It’s important to be accountable, but you also need the nimbleness and flexibility to move more quickly in certain arenas.”


Klaus Keil, chair of the 2007-2008 UH Manoa Faculty Senate Executive Committee:
Market the university better. “UH Manoa is a first-rate state university, but we haven’t advertised ourselves enough. Our marketing isn’t up to snuff; it’s much less than other higher education institutions here in Hawaii that can’t even compete with us.”

UH also intends to beef up its community colleges, in hopes of quickly energizing the local economy. The Rapid Response Fund, established last year by the Legislature, for example, sets aside approximately $70,000 for special education and training, speeding up the university’s response time. “When an industry comes into town, or a new business that needs specialized training, we can be more responsive,” says Johnsrud. “We no longer have to put it into a biennium budget proposal and wait for another year to get legislative funding in order to provide that training.”

Among the first beneficiaries of the fund are the laid-off workers of Aloha Airlines, who are eligible for a 50-percent discount on the cost of tuition.

Expect continued growth of Manoa’s already strong research programs.

All the focus on the other campuses doesn’t mean UH Manoa will be standing still. Expect to see a continued expansion of the school’s already excellent research enterprise.

UH Manoa pulled in $339 million in extramural funding in 2007, which includes research grants, training, art performances and other sources of outside income. The university is now consistently earning more than double what it was in the late ’90s, and the strategic plan calls for it to bump that to $417 million a year by 2015.

The bulk of this money is from research and grants in science-related heavy hitters such as the School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology, which alone brought in $80 million this year.

Going forward, the name of the game will be cooperation, both among professors in each of the colleges, and among different colleges across the UH Manoa campus, to more effectively chase research money from institutions such as NASA.

“Thirty years ago, you would have had 60 different professors working on 60 different research projects,” says Peter Crouch, dean of the College of Engineering. “That’s not going to cut it today.” He’s laid out five specific areas of concentration for his engineering professors, including biomedical engineering and exploration engineering, to focus their energies toward the development of stronger specialties within the college.

One example of this new kind of cooperation is the Hawaii Space Flight Laboratory, established in May 2007 as a joint venture between the College of Engineering and SOEST. By uniting the engineering know how of the former with the science chops of the latter, the two colleges are hoping to launch satellites into space within the next few years—a feat that would make UH the first university to have done so. “If it works, it’s going to be huge,” enthuses Crouch.


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Honolulu Magazine May 2018
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