University of Hawaii President David Lassner’s roles as the higher education system’s president and UH Manoa’s chancellor will be combined under a new organization structure approved Thursday.

The UH Board of Regents voted Thursday to approve a plan that would combine the two offices while also creating a separate position to manage academic affairs at the UH system’s flagship campus. The positions used to be combined but were separated in 1971.

The re-joining of the two offices is a significant change in a bureaucratic overhaul of leadership at the UH Manoa.

The University of Hawaii Board of Regents voted to recombine the UH presidency with the Manoa chancellor. PF Bentley/Civil Beat

Under the reorganized system, Lassner would still be in charge of business, financial, legal and Native Hawaiian affairs. Academic affairs like research and student success at UH Manoa would be managed by a new provost position.

The plan would also shift several cabinet level positions into hybrid roles between the system and at UH Manoa. And that would all need to be accomplished without adding any more senior executives.

It’s not yet known how these high level shifts would affect employees in individual UH Manoa departments.

Lassner also wouldn’t say whether the new provost position would be recruited internally or through an outside search.

He told Civil Beat that he still needs to consult with the department heads to figure out how everything will operate under this new framework.

Still, the overhaul of high-level positions within UH Manoa and the system as a whole could affect hundreds of employees from three different public workers unions, board chair Lee Putnam said.

The reorganization won’t result in any layoffs at UH Manoa, Lassner said, but it means some departments may be moved around.

“It doesn’t necessarily change your life if your whole thing is picked up and moved somewhere. We don’t know what the details are if it’s all going to get moved intact or if something will be taken apart and put together with something else,” Lassner said.

Jeff Portnoy, one of the regents who voted against the reorganization, raised concerns over how the decision to recombine the offices could affect the future of the UH presidency.

He said that Lassner has done an excellent job in the dual role, however, he urged the board to look to the future when Lassner may not be around.

“Maybe you have the wrong people or the wrong structure. Don’t use that as an excuse for why they should be combined, ” Portnoy said.

Lassner has held this dual role as both president and Manoa chancellor since 2016 after he fired former Manoa Chancellor Tom Apple in 2014. A search for a new chancellor last year was put off for at least two years after the one of the finalists for the position pulled out.

He has not accepted several pay raises since taking over both positions.

Lassner’s reasoning for the reorganization revolved around stability issues that arose when the chancellorship and presidency were kept separate. Two presidents between 1984 and 2000 held both offices.

Since 2001, UH has changed presidents four times while Manoa saw seven chancellors walk in and out of its doors.

However, Simeon Acoba, another regent who voted against the reorganization, disagreed with Lassner’s reasoning.

“It’s based on the fact that we lack stability in situations where you have a chancellor,” Acoba said. “The only instability would rise from the fact that the president would have an argument with himself.”

Regents faced a similar vote on whether or not to combine the two positions three years ago. At that time, they struck down a proposal to recombine the positions based on recommendations from the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education.

“Why are we going to do something that the national experts told us not to do,” Portnoy said.

The decision isn’t set in stone, however. The board could, in the future, choose to separate the positions again.

Lassner said he wants to complete the administrative overhaul by June.

“It’s quite aggressive,” Lassner said. “But I like to set aggressive schedules and then try to make them happen.”

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