Yesterday, the Honolulu television station news consortium, Hawaii News Now, came out with a tantalizingly brief report that the University of Hawaii at Manoa chancellor, Dr. Tom Apple, is to be removed from office after only a couple of years into what is normally a five-year contract. This was followed by an online posting from the UHM student paper, Ka Leo, to the effect that the chancellor had ruffled the wrong feathers.

Whatever the case, as usual, the lawyers are now gearing up for a fight over how much he gets of the remaining funding for his incredibly lavish salary (close to half a million a year) – which is the equivalent of about seven or eight new assistant professors, if a complete hiring freeze were not in force at UHM because the state, in its wisdom, does not believe that a well-funded university is all that important.
Tom Apple UH Manoa Chancellor

Dr. Tom Apple, the University of Hawaii at Manoa chancellor.

University of Hawaii at Manoa

This is striking news, at least to those of us who work at the face of the coal. The folks up at the head mining office may have already been aware that something was afoot but it does not seem to have been bruited about very widely amongst the rank and file.

As someone who, like most of Civil Beat’s readers, spends most of his time down in the pit digging away on the day-to-day job (in my case, it’s teaching, research, and service), I often find what goes on up at the head office a puzzle.

People are hired upstairs who, to the average faculty member, used to peer reviews and rigorous vetting for any kind of increased responsibility or compensation, often seem less than brilliant, to put it mildly. However, we just get on with the work in hand and deal as best we can with whomever the gods have chosen to set over us.

Speaking of “gods”: what they most often do is to cover up blunders and conceal major missteps until they can no longer be hidden from public view. News of this sort will suddenly appear sometime in the middle of summer when “nobody’s on campus” and then the ones in charge go out back to empty the waste baskets and hope that nobody will sort through the dumpster.

UH President David Lassner was ensconced only a few short weeks ago and it would seem that he may already have been in possession of information that would lead him to decide to “can” the chancellor. As the “interim” or “acting” or “brevet” high chief (or whatever the term of art is for someone whose powers have not been made more-or-less permanent), Dr. Lassner most likely had to wait until after his official coronation to make a move on Tom Apple.

Of course, the above scenario could be entirely wrong. Dr. Apple may have been caught in flagrante delicto just last night, but that seems unlikely – the UH might have had some odd characters amongst our administrators over the years (I can think of several), but unforeseen crimes of passion have been rather rare.

So it would appear that something has been rotting in Denmark for a while and what that is has yet to come out. The question is “will it all come out” or will only part of the story come to light or will the powers-that-be dissimulate entirely and words like “for personal reasons” or for “reasons of health” or some similar but all-too-familiar boilerplate be offered?

And given the UH’s track record of appalling top appointments – e.g., our recent president, Evan Dobelle, who was “fired for cause” in Hawaii only to go back to Massachusetts and get kicked out again shortly later for exactly the same reasons – will the next chancellor be any better?

About the Author

  • Stephen O'Harrow
    Stephen O'Harrow is a professor of Asian Languages and currently one of the longest-serving members of the faculty at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. A resident of Hawaii since 1968, he's been active in local political campaigns since the 1970s and is a member of the Board of Directors, Americans for Democratic Action/Hawaii.