Manoa Chancellor Tom Apple surprised members of the UH Manoa faculty senate earlier this month when he told them a plan to quell public controversy surrounding the director of the UH Cancer Center by restructuring its administration is a temporary solution to “calm the waters.”

Apple, speaking at the senate’s regular January 15 meeting, credited UH President David Lassner and members of the Board of Regents for their efforts to find “the best path for now.”

However, Apple said, the move is only a temporary solution and will be revisited within the year, according to notes taken by one member of the senate and later confirmed by two others.

“I do not believe that what we have now is permanent solution,” Apple said.

The Cancer Center has been in the news recently following reports that its controversial director, Michele Carbone, has been the target than two dozen formal grievances for violating academic freedom and related management issues, far more than generated by any other UH department or unit.
Less than a week before his appearance at the senate, Apple’s name was among those of five top university administrators identified as signing off on the restructuring plan for the Cancer Center. Others included Lassner, BOR Chair John Holzman, Brian Taylor, UH Manoa interim vice-chancellor for research, and Carbone.

One of those present at the senate meeting said he had the impression Apple had been “encouraged” to go along with the proposed solution but was not happy about it.

The reorganization plan includes retaining Carbone as director of the center, while shunting many of his day-to-day administrative responsibilities to Pat Blanchette, who will move from her current position as CEO of a nonprofit organization supporting research and clinical activities by faculty at the UH medical school. She will be assuming a newly created position as chief operating officer of the Cancer Center at an as yet undisclosed salary.

The administrative restructuring was announced before the start of the Jan. 9 meeting of the Board of Regents Committee on Academic Affairs, where the issue of Cancer Center leadership was to be considered in a closed executive session. The decision was made even before any testimony for or against Carbone’s leadership was presented. It effectively preempted the committee and rendered testimony by any interested parties moot.

It brought back visions of the Red Queen in Alice in Wonderland, who stood logic on its head by suggesting a reversal of trial proceedings.

“Sentence first – verdict afterwards,” was the Queen’s version. The UH version isn’t much different, “Decision first – testimony afterwards.”

But the point is more serious. This is another awkward and increasingly familiar moment for the university administration, where decisions are rushed forward without public discussion and without regard to normal process and procedure. The short cuts, while perhaps appearing efficient in the short run, will predictably continue to erode confidence in the long run.

Despite his apparent agreement with the reorganization plan, Apple confirmed to the faculty senate that he had earlier attempted to remove Carbone as director.

“I informed the director that I wanted to make a change,” Apple reportedly said, adding that his idea had been to ease Carbone out over some period of time.

The chancellor said he was “very surprised by the explosive reaction” from key legislators and donors backing Carbone.

In an unusually candid moment, Apple acknowledged that, in retrospect, he should have proceeded differently.

“I tried to be open,” Apple said. “It was a mistake.”

Apple told senators he should have just “gotten my ducks in order” and made an immediate change at the Cancer Center.

Summing up the situation at the center, Apple said, “there are too many cooks in the kitchen.”

Following the question and answer session with Apple, the faculty senate considered a resolution supporting the chancellor.

The resolution cited the critical role of autonomy and academic decision-making authority as key factors in retaining campus accreditation, and said the chancellor “appears to have been prevented from exercising his appropriate line of authority” regarding the Cancer Center director.

The resolution concludes: “Resolved, That the University of Hawaii at Manoa Faculty Senate decries any interference in the exercise of the Chancellor’s authority.”

The resolution was approved by a lopsided 51-7 vote.

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