First off, Stewart Yerton should be commended on his well-researched and balanced article (“Hawaii’s Largest Private College Is Fighting For Its Future”). What is less clear is the point of view of some faculty members.

In 40 years of teaching in public and private universities, I have never encountered an institution where faculty and staff salaries were frozen for almost a decade.

Moreover, the salary freeze occurred while administrative salaries rose to between $250,000 to $300,000 a year, several times higher than HPU’s average faculty salary.

As the story reports, “HPU’s enrollment … declined … from a high of 10,331 in 2010-11 to a low of 4,884 in 2017-18. And as the number of students has decreased, so has this big source of revenue.”

To compensate for less revenue, HPU increased tuition and fees to $27,493 in 2019-2020 with room and board costing $17,953. The full cost of attending HPU rose to $45,446 a year, or $181,784 for a four-year degree (HPU is no longer the bargain it once was). While HPU’s tuition is still lower than many private nonprofit colleges in California and the Pacific Northwest, these lower costs come on the backs of faculty and staff whose salaries are frozen.

Front entrance to the Aloha Tower Marketplace, Hawaii Pacific University campus.
The front entrance to the Aloha Tower Marketplace and Hawaii Pacific University campus. The school’s financial problems have impacted faculty morale. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2020

Yerton lists 210 HPU full-time equivalent faculty members in 2018-2019. While I’m uncertain how he arrived at this number (most likely by counting adjunct faculty who teach a course on an irregular basis), I believe the real number of full-time faculty is well down from the mid-250s under former president Chatt Wright.

Gotanda stated that “We’re transforming our academic programs …” and I’m wondering how that can occur with an almost skeleton crew of around 140 full-time faculty.

Gotanda also noted that, “some 85% of students enrolled in the fall stayed for the spring semester.”

No Tenure System

Most students who drop out or transfer to another school do so at the end of an academic year, not mid-year. Gotanda also noted that applications and deposits for next year rose by more than 70%. This is a promising number, especially if the majority of applicants are full fee-paying students rather than subsidized athletes or those on other scholarships.

A sensitive issue involves faculty morale and their perceived value to the university. Yerton noted the drop in faculty numbers, which in many cases, was among highly productive research and scholarly faculty who left due to low salaries, little voice, and an absence of job security. Since HPU lacks a tenure system, all faculty are on contracts with loopholes that allow for termination for a variety of reasons. Consequently, many HPU faculty feel like at-will employees, and at least some are afraid to speak out for fear of losing their jobs.

These issues reached a climax when HPU faculty tried to unionize around salaries and job security, heavy teaching and service loads, and the lack of transparency and meaningful input into university decisions. In March 2017, the president of the HPU’s chapter of the American Association of University Professors wrote to President Gotanda informing him that 104 (71%) of full-time faculty members had signed cards designating the AAUP as their exclusive bargaining agent. The letter asked HPU to voluntarily recognize the union.

The administration first maintained that unionization would endanger the bonds by making the university appear unstable. HPU’s anti-union strategy became aggressive when they framed unionization as a threat to shared governance, which many faculty members had already lost faith in.

A sensitive issue involves faculty morale and their perceived value to the university.

The administration’s argument was based on the 1980 U.S. Supreme Court ruling (National Labor Relations Board v. Yeshiva University) that faculty at private colleges have “managerial status” since they make academic and personnel decisions. HPU claimed that any faculty member who sat on a hiring, promotion or retention committee was a manager or supervisor. Consequently, 130 out of the 150 faculty were categorized as supervisors or managers and would thereby be excluded from union membership.

HPU’s tactics were similar to the fear-based anti-union activities employed in the private sector. It also ran counter to a collegial college community. HPU’s argument was upheld by the National Labor Relations Board.

Defeating the union was a pyrrhic victory since it only further demoralized faculty. Recognizing that faculty morale was at a nadir, Gotanda instituted a series of “Talk Stories” designed to boost morale. Nevertheless, the low morale bled into university service as faculty often had to be cajoled into committee membership. Despite Gotanda’s “Talk Stories,” many faculty members remained skeptical of HPU’s future.

The union-busting was a lost opportunity since a seat at the collective bargaining table might have helped faculty better understand and support the difficult financial choices HPU will have to make.

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