A Thriving University For A Thriving Hawaii - Honolulu Civil Beat


About the Authors

Monisha Das Gupta

Monisha Das Gupta is a professor of Ethnic Studies and Women's Studies at the University of Hawaii Manoa and has published extensively on immigrant-led social movements. She received the Chancellorʻs Citation for Meritorious Teaching.

Cynthia Franklin

Cynthia Franklin, a resident of Hawaii since 1994, is a professor of English at the Universuty of Hawaii Manoa and coedits the journal Biography. She has received two system-wide teaching awards — the Board of Regents and the Frances Davis Teaching in Excellence Awards — and authored two books and a number of edited collections and articles.


On July 16, faculty, students, and staff at the University of Hawaii put enough pressure on the UH Board of Regents for Chair Benjamin Kudo to withdraw a letter to Gov. David Ige and agree to revise and postpone voting on an emergency resolution.

Both the letter and the resolution sought unprecedented and unilateral power for the UH administration to “utilize whatever means necessary” to reduce operating and personnel costs.

As it currently stands, the BOR resolution proposes harsh personnel cuts, furloughs, and elimination or mergers of programs, departments and academic units as the only way to contend with the pandemic-induced fiscal crisis. At the July 16 BOR meeting, the unionized workers at the university (UHPA and HGEA) stood together with representatives of the undergraduate and graduate student governments; the Faculty Senate; community members; and Academic Labor United, which represents student workers and contingent faculty, and achieved the postponement of the resolution.

This means we now have time to pause, and consider how we all — including the BOR and the administration — might work together collectively during this time of crisis to allow our university to thrive.

UH Manoa Hawaii Hall

Hawaii Hall at the UH Manoa campus. A budget resolution from the Board of Regent has provoked a united response from faculty, staff and students.

Cory Lum/Civil Beat

The pandemic presents us with a set of circumstances that was unthinkable just four months ago. Unlike other market failures, this crisis demands fresh ideas and new practices to arrive at a notion of public good.

Faculty, students and staff already have demonstrated dedication and resourcefulness in learning new skills to keep the university running as we sheltered at home. We are determined to continue coming up with creative ways to care for one another and for our university as the pandemic continues to rage.

COVID-19 has revealed the deadly consequences of downsizing and allowing the social safety net to fray. The pandemic is teaching us that in moments of crisis so far beyond any individual’s control, when so many of us are experiencing economic freefall as well as the devastations wrought by the virus itself, people need more support, not less.

In Hawaii, our new reality demands a greener and more diversified economy scaffolded by stronger social programs.

The BOR must not, through emergency resolutions, accelerate their and the UH administration’s already-existing trend to approach the university as a corporation rather than a public good. It cannot concentrate sweeping decision-making powers in an administration that has increasingly disregarded the principles and policies of faculty governance that keep a university true to its educational aims.

The testimony at the July BOR meeting curbed a move to give increased and extraordinary powers to the administration, and acted to protect the core educational mission of Hawaii’s only public university system.

Rather than accept the administration’s and BOR’s plan to widen and deepen the pandemic’s ill effects on UH workers and students, our top concern must be for the safety and long-term health of all members of our community, including the most vulnerable, and for the protection of our university as a public-serving institution. This pandemic presents us with a challenge — and a necessity — to think creatively and collectively, in order to expand access to and improve conditions for learning and working at UH.

In lieu of the BOR’s emergency resolution, approximately 800 students, faculty and staff signed a statement endorsing the proposals below. In sharing these, we believe they can serve as starting points to meet this moment with the forethought and steadfast attention to public good that a crisis of this proportion deserves.

Defending The University As A Public Good

UH makes invaluable contributions to the quality of life in Hawaii by recovering, generating and disseminating knowledge about Hawaii; by preparing a skilled and educated workforce that can contribute to an urgently-needed diversified economy; by expanding the minds of citizens for a vibrant and compassionate democratic society. It is a public good whose contributions cannot and should not be evaluated by the flawed criteria of for-profit corporations accountable only to shareholders and private citizens. As a public good, UH is ultimately accountable to the people of Hawaii.

Seeking Alternatives To Layoffs And Personnel Savings

Layoffs of undergraduate and graduate student workers, lecturers, staff and faculty affect the public good adversely. Such layoffs diminish the state’s economy by the reduction of in-state consumption. Economists agree that putting less money in the pockets of workers harms rather than helps recovery.

The administration should not balance the budget through personnel cuts and savings that impact employee wages and benefits. Rather, in addressing budget shortfalls, the focus should be on exploring non-personnel cost-saving measures, reduction of administrative positions through consolidation of functions, and cuts to inflated administrative salaries (and here we note that between 2013-2019, administrative salaries at UH increased a staggering $11 million dollars, going from $25 to $36 million per year). Rainy day funds should be used boldly and swiftly. They are meant for a crisis such as this. At the local and state levels, defunding the police to refund the university and increasing taxes on the wealthy are also options to direct more general funds to the university and other state institutions vital to the social and economic health of Hawaii.

Protecting Collective Bargaining

In tackling the budget, the administration should regard the unions as partners rather than adversaries, and respect established processes of collective bargaining. We also recognize the need to defend those workers who have been denied the right to bargain collectively and whose vulnerability is heightened in an environment in which downsizing is the panacea. We are all working on the front lines to keep the economy going.

Consultation Before Program Or Department Cuts And Reorganization

The university should resist ill-advised, administration-driven cutting of programs/departments and reorganization of university units. It is easy to cut programs but hard to re-establish them. Any cuts or reorganizations should follow established procedures and be the result of wide and meaningful consultation. Such actions should defer to the expert knowledge of faculty, students and staff affected by the proposed actions. This is especially vital during times of crisis when short-term thinking is tempting.

Reinvigorating Faculty And Student Governance

The administration must stop disregarding and undermining time-tested hallowed systems of faculty and student governance within the public higher education system. It has routinely ignored and dismissed resolutions and recommendations of faculty senates. It must change this approach and commit to engaging faculty and students as partners again. The administration must do this not only for the well-being of the university, but also because it violates Chapter 89-1 of the Hawaii Public Employment Relations Act to bypass such consultation. The fiscal crisis requires all hands on deck. More than ever, the administration and BOR need the goodwill of all stakeholders in order to stave off lasting damage to Hawaii’s only public higher education system.

Making Decisions Regarding The Budget Transparently And For The Public Good

The administration should open the fiscal books and share budgetary information with all stakeholders at the university from students to faculty to staff. They should explain their proposed actions with regard to the budget in a clear and timely fashion through campus-wide meetings and, most importantly, incorporate the feedback they receive. Their actions with regard to the budget should reflect the public good and cannot come before wide and respectful — rather than pro forma — consultation.

We offer these six principles to guide us through the fiscal crisis created by the pandemic. At this time, the right response is to protect the core instructional and research mission of the university. We need to work together to look for new ways to recover instead of the old and failed responses to slash rather than grow.

As a public university, we have a special responsibility to contribute to a democratic and economically vibrant Hawaii. As faculty, staff and students, we are ready to work to protect our university and ensure its well-being during this challenging time and after.

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About the Authors

Monisha Das Gupta

Monisha Das Gupta is a professor of Ethnic Studies and Women's Studies at the University of Hawaii Manoa and has published extensively on immigrant-led social movements. She received the Chancellorʻs Citation for Meritorious Teaching.

Cynthia Franklin

Cynthia Franklin, a resident of Hawaii since 1994, is a professor of English at the Universuty of Hawaii Manoa and coedits the journal Biography. She has received two system-wide teaching awards — the Board of Regents and the Frances Davis Teaching in Excellence Awards — and authored two books and a number of edited collections and articles.


Latest Comments (0)

VERY GOOD, THOUGHTFUL ARTICLE... BUT, LACKING ONE OBVIOUS, LONG-OVERDUE SOLUTION - THE 'DEFUNDING" OF THE RIDICULOUS, COSTLY, NON-"EDUCATIONAL" ATHLETICS PROGRAM!!! - 'SPORTS' HAVE NO RELATIONSHIP TO THE VERY ESSENTIAL EDUCATIONAL MISSION OF OUR UH - AND, EVEN BEFORE CURRENT FINANCIAL CHAOS, ARE COSTING US ALMOST $35 MILLION YEARLY!!!  AND, LIKE A MAJORITY OF STATES, OUR "COACHES" ARE THE HIGHEST-PAID PUBLIC EMPLOYEES!!!  ALL THIS - IN THE FACE OF UNBEARABLE COSTS TO OUR STUDENTS! SHAMEFUL - & BORDERING ON INSANE...

KamakiUlana · 1 week ago

Dear Professors: you make a lot of excellent points that I fully agree with. Indeed, as you say, when crisis strikes, we should do our best "to protect the core educational mission of Hawaii’s only public university system," which is to prepare a "skilled and educated workforce that can contribute to an urgently-needed diversified economy". The key words here are "core", "skilled", and "economy". I would vigorously argue that a disturbingly great fraction of UH students are currently enrolled in degree programs that are not "core" in any sense of the word and confer few, if any, economically productive skills on their graduates. As we seek the best way for UH to navigate the crisis and emerge from it strong and invigorated, it is entirely appropriate to offer stronger protection from cuts to the departments and programs that train the future backbone of our economy.

Chiquita · 1 week ago

"defunding the police to refund the university" is not consistent with the overall message of the "defund the police" movement, which calls for money to be channeled into long-neglected social services and programs, rather than universities where professors' positions and salaries are protected by unions and tenure.This letter establishes a zero-sum dichotomy between UH professors and the police, which seems to be tone deaf at best.

stinky · 1 week ago

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