UPDATED 3/21/12 10 a.m.

Editor’s note: After this story was published, Manoa Faculty Senate officials said they pushed back a vote on the non-confidence resolution until the group’s April 18 meeting “to allow additional time to gather relevant information and permit the administration to comply with the Senate’s requests.”

The years-long controversy over whether or not to shut down a major research center at the University of Hawaii at Manoa has led faculty members to draw up a damning resolution condemning the center’s interim director, who they’ve repeatedly asked to resign.

The Manoa Faculty Senate this afternoon is expected to vote on a resolution accusing Gary Ostander of having “a clear administrative conflict of interest” in his role as both interim director of the Pacific Biosciences Research Center and an administrator for UH Manoa.

Ostrander has been the university’s vice chancellor for research and graduate education since 2004, the same year he was named interim director of the research center.

The center is a research unit that focuses on biomedical and biosciences at UH’s flagship Manoa campus. Researchers at the center say Ostrander hasn’t been a good leader and has undercut the group’s work by refusing to fill vacancies and hire new talent. They claim he can’t fairly represent the interests of the center since he’s been a lead advocate for abolishing the center to save money.

The resolution says the faculty senate has repeatedly asked Ostrander to resign as interim director — as recently as January — but that he has “ignored all of these requests.”

“Therefore be it resolved that: The Manoa Faculty Senate has lost confidence in the Vice Chancellor for Research and Graduate Education,” it concludes.

UH officials since 2008 have supported closing the Pacific Biosciences Research Center, which they say performs redundant work.

PBRC faculty argue that dissolving the center will devalue UH as a research institution. The center has spawned major University of Hawaii institutions, including the John A. Burns School of Medicine and the Cancer Research Center of Hawaii.

The research center brings in $6 million in competitive federal research grants to the university, while its operating budget is about $3 million a year. It offers undergraduate and graduate training in biological, marine and environmental sciences. It also provides support for academic and other research units on UH Manoa campus and operates a marine research laboratory in Kewalo.

The argument came to a head before the UH Board of Regents last May, where both sides presented their cases. But regents couldn’t agree, and that meeting ended in a split vote.

The decision was punted over to UH President M.R.C. Greenwood. Since then, PBRC staff say Greenwood hasn’t responded to requests for meetings to discuss the center’s future.

In January, the Manoa Faculty Senate voted to approve a resolution that called — “for the third time” — for Ostrander to resign, that a new director be appointed with 30 days, and that vacant positions at the center be filled.

UH Manoa Chancellor Virginia Hinshaw says Greenwood has been contemplating PBRC’s future in the context of the 10-campus system’s “long-range direction of Marine Sciences.”

In response to the new resolution expressing non-confidence in Ostrander, Hinshaw wrote that Greenwood wants an independent review of the marine sciences programs across the UH system to help identify strengths and weaknesses of current programs and to recommend future opportunities.

She noted that Greenwood would be meeting with PBRC leadership this week to discuss the proposed review.

Hinshaw also defended Ostrander, noting in her remarks that UH Manoa’s “research activity has increased 50 percent during his tenure, so he has obviously contributed to increased opportunities for our faculty to succeed in their endeavors.”

She also said that Ostrander has been “directed to maintain the PBRC program in its current state without committing additional resources or hires until such time as the review is completed.”

Ostrander was traveling and could not be reached for comment this week.

Hinshaw said she has personally asked PBRC’s interim associate director, Marilyn Dunlap, to serve as interim director while Greenwood’s review is completed, which “could potentially reduce existing areas of concerns.” She said Dunlap is considering the offer, but first wanted to hear from Greenwood on the plans for the review.


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