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Layoffs, Budget Cuts and Aloha Tower: What’s Next for Hawaii Pacific University?

A change in leadership, job cuts, a sharp jump in tuition, and faculty and staff job cuts have shaken Hawaii Pacific University, even as it embarks on an ambitious plan to develop Aloha Tower Marketplace as its new core.


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Moving Forward

Bannister’s long-term vision for the university includes bold and ambitious goals, notably for the school to increase its caliber of academics and eventually rank in the top 10 of the regional universities in the West, including Santa Clara University, Mills College and Loyola Marymount University.

HPU is currently ranked No. 71 out of about 150 schools in U.S. News and World Report’s college rankings of regional universities in the West. As a mid-tier school, HPU has a long way to go, but Bannister believes the transitions underway position the university to move in that direction.

“All day, every day, we’re working to make it a better university at every step by strengthening the academic programs, strengthening the credentials of the faculty and providing the facilities that a private university needs to succeed,” Bannister says.

Bannister points to HPU’s merger with Oceanic Institute, completed in January, as a major step toward becoming a comprehensive research institution. By some estimates, HPU’s Oceanic Institute brings in some $13 million in research money in aquaculture, sustainability and land-based agriculture. Oceanic Institute has been affiliated with HPU since 2003.

Provost Liao-Troth joined the university last year, attracted in part by Bannister’s ambitious vision for an academic- and research-oriented private university.

“Very rarely do you get to be involved in a university while it is going through a major transformation. Dr. Bannister has an audacious vision,” he says. “The university has evolved over many years and is taking some big steps right now to become a comprehensive master’s university.”

One of those steps is the university’s expansion to Aloha Tower, but it’s more complicated than that. Moving into the top tier will involve the university becoming more research oriented (already, outside of the Oceanic Institute, the university is bringing in some $3 million in research grant money, a vast increase from just three years ago). It also means having faculty who are renowned in their academic fields. Just a fraction of HPU’s students are enrolled in a graduate program, so part of the plan includes expanding the university’s master’s degree offerings.

To make HPU a “destination university,” it will need to build its reputation outside of Hawaii. “Instead of being the top private university in Hawaii, we want to be one of the top private universities in the West,” Liao-Troth says.        


A New Look

In spring 2013, the HPU administration sparked a mini social-media uproar when it unveiled new branding that retired the university’s long-time and iconic triple yin-yang seal for a more streamlined logo designed by the Jon Durante Design Group of Honolulu. The old seal—which featured the university’s motto, Holomua Me Ka Oiaio, meaning Forward with Truth—will continue to be used for diplomas, graduation and other official business, but the revamped logo has become the university’s new brand. The university could not say how much was spent on its rebranding efforts.

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Honolulu Magazine February 2020
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