Tom Apple, who was removed as head of the University of Hawaii at Manoa this week, wrote in a recent letter that his job was at risk because he ruffled the feathers of a small group of powerful people who didn’t like his approach to the campus budget.

Apple wrote a rebuttal letter late last month to UH president David Lassner, who on July 18 had handed Apple a negative annual evaluation claiming he failed to unify leadership on campus and failed to ensure its financial stability.

It was this evaluation that prompted Apple’s high-profile dismissal. (Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly referred to the evaluation being based on comments from 360 people.)


Tom Apple, former chancellor of UH Manoa.

University of Hawaii

Apple on Thursday provided Civil Beat with several internal memos he exchanged with Lassner, including the rebuttal letter, that shed further light on the circumstances behind his termination. Apple said he had intended for all the names cited in the documents to be redacted, but the redactions were inadvertently removed because of a technological error,  revealing the names of people Apple believes precipitated his firing.

They include Michele Carbone, director of the UH Cancer Center, and former UH Board of Regents Chairman John Holzman. Apple’s memos also reference other individuals without naming them.

Lassner gave Apple his termination letter Wednesday, along with a settlement offer that includes a $299,000 tenured faculty position in the school’s chemistry department and a one-time lump sum payment of $100,000. Apple was hired as chancellor in 2012 under a $439,000 employment agreement that was set to expire in 2017.

Lacking ‘coherent financial strategy’

At a student-led rally Thursday protesting Apple’s dismissal, Lassner explained that he let Apple go because he failed to “build a team spirit” and led the university’s flagship campus into financial instability — culminating in a budget crisis that forced Apple to implement a hiring freeze July 15. Lassner’s rationale is reflected in his July 18 evaluation memo.

“Your decision-making in developing and moving strategies and initiatives forward has been less than satisfactory,” Lassner wrote. “While you have invested campus resources and taken action in several efforts with intent to move important initiatives forward, these actions have not been part of a coherent financial strategy.”

But Apple contends much of that is a facade. His rebuttal starts with a rundown of his initiatives and other accomplishments, ranging from  graduation-rate increases to Native Hawaiian faculty outreach efforts. He writes of his knack for engaging with the community — a trait many students and professors who supported him have highlighted — and his strategies for addressing the campus’s financial shortfalls.

Apple thinks it was his disputes with the Cancer Center, along with internal politics and special interests, that led to his removal. At issue is Carbone, whom Apple attempted to fire last year.

“Though you criticize my implementation I have repeatedly been told by many members of the community that I am far more communicative and engaged than were previous Chancellors,” Apple wrote to Lassner. “Your negative comments in my evaluation about interactions with community stakeholders thus do appear to refer to those few powerful people who support the Director of the Cancer Center … Indeed it is that area which caused your criticism of me in the first place.”

“Your decision-making in developing and moving strategies and initiatives forward has been less than satisfactory.” — UH President David Lassner

Carbone did not respond to a request for comment Friday and Holzman could not be reached for comment.

The Cancer Center has been embroiled in controversy for months. Carbone, who was hired in 2009, has been described by some center researchers as a divisive, iron-fisted leader who has mismanaged the institute and regularly violated faculty rights.

As of last December, Carbone was the subject of 25 faculty grievances, though a faculty union spokeswoman said Friday that the number has since grown.

In his rebuttal letter, Apple claimed that Carbone “has driven away” two of the center’s top researchers and alienated another two. Apple described that as a “thoroughly embarrassing and truly awful history.”

Cancer Center: ‘Frightful overspending’

One of those “alienated” researchers is Loic Le Marchand, who’s also named in the rebuttal.

I find it totally unconscionable for UH, yielding to Carbone’s powerful political and corporate backers, to have again entrusted him with leading the Center toward the competitive renewal of its (National Cancer Center) designation in three years,” Le Marchand told Civil Beat.

Meanwhile, the Cancer Center continues to lose funding, publications and its ability to attract and retain researchers under Carbone’s watch, according to Apple. 

“There has been a frightful overspending by (Carbone) with no real oversight,” Apple wrote. “To add insult to injury, a small cadre of community members has since than (sic) badgered UH into going even further into reserves to the tune of $15M/year. with no known source of revenue on the horizon to cover the projected shortfall.”

UH Cancer Center

University of Hawaii Cancer Center

PF Bentley/Civil Beat

Carbone recently issued a statement that read in part: “The UH Cancer Center is not responsible for any of the annual UH shortfall recently described by Chancellor Apple.”

Apple wrote in the rebuttal letter that his efforts to address the Cancer Center’s financial woes and reallocate funding garnered “personal attacks” from “Carbone’s supporters.” According to Apple, Lassner and Holzman originally supported the chancellor’s decision to fire Carbone but later reversed their positions.

Speaking to the protestors Thursday, Lassner denied the accusations that Carbone or other Cancer Center supports influenced his decision, emphasizing that it stemmed from Apple’s handling of the budget and the campus administration. 

“Though you criticize my implementation I have repeatedly been told by many members of the community that I am far more communicative and engaged than were previous Chancellors.” — Tom Apple

Apple didn’t specify who was in the “small cadre of community members” that he mentioned in his rebuttal letter, but Le Marchand speculated about a handful of policymakers and hospital executives, including state Sen. Roz Baker and Queen’s Hospital CEO Art Ushijima. 

Ushijima declined to comment through hospital spokesman Cedric Yamanaka.

Baker told Civil Beat said that while she wholly supports the Cancer Center and Carbone, she has had no say in the decision to fire Apple and has no formal role at the center.

She stressed the importance of retaining the center’s national designation and bemoaned “all the drama and noise” surrounding Apple’s removal — a decision, she added, that she supports.

It pains me that there are people at the university and still at the center who have a different agenda and are trying to have the center fail because they are not leading the center any longer, and I think that’s too bad,” Baker said. “It doesn’t mean I’ve actively done anything to rectify the situation.”

Lassner’s Evaluation and Apple’s Rebuttal (Redacted Version)

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