Lawmakers want the University of Hawaii to get its costs under control, starting with the 72 employees who make more than $200,000 each year.

Senators on the Ways and Means and Higher Education Committees urged the university to do a better job of containing the rising salaries of high-level executives and faculty.

“I’m very concerned about that because it raises the cost of tuition and college costs across the country are just getting out of hand and people can’t afford to send their kids to school,” said Senate President Donna Mercado Kim. “There’s a huge disparity — a huge disparity.”

At the meeting Mercado Kim criticized the university for contributing to rising administrative costs instead of trying to control them. UH officials emphasized that the larger salaries were necessary to attract high quality faculty.

University spending is under increased scrutiny this year because of the recent failed Stevie Wonder concert fiasco.

Lawmakers pointed to instances in which the university significantly upped the salaries of new executives. Mercado Kim noted that new UH Manoa Chancellor Tom Apple’s salary is nearly $100,000 more than that of his predecessor, former Chancellor Virginia Hinshaw.

UH Provost Linda Johnsrud said that the university doesn’t suffer from “administrative bloat.”

After the meeting, Mercado Kim said Johnsrud’s response frustrated her, citing differences between the salaries of former UH president Kenneth Mortimer, who she said made $187,000, and current president M.R.C. Greenwood, who makes over $400,000.

Sen. Will Espero talked about UH head football coach Norm Chow and the bonuses he receives, including those for travel.

“Why does he get that benefit when you see tens of thousands of people don’t even match what his bonuses could be?” Espero said. “There’s certainly a need to look at the glaring and obvious inequities.”

Senators also grilled two UH Regents who attended the meeting on why some regents received dozens of free tickets to university events. The university is supposed to only give each official two tickets, Mercado Kim said.

Regents Eric Martinson and James Lee couldn’t provide answers, instead assuring the senators that regents are only allotted two tickets each, meant for entertaining donors and spouses. They also said that regents don’t receive travel bonuses.

“If you see there are four tickets and in one case 32 tickets, 7 tickets, 50 tickets, then it really raises the red flag,” Mercado Kim said. “I’m surprised that the head of the Board of Regents is not aware of this practice and it’s public information.”

The senators also asked why the university had violated its own employment policies, such as when it gave salary allowances to Hinshaw, who was granted a 10-month sabbatical at a chancellor’s salary. The university failed to comply with two employment policies, according to the senators.

Johnsrud said the Board of Regents made the exceptions at the recommendation of Greenwood.

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