A proposal from the leader of the University of Hawaii Board of Regents to cut costs in the public higher education system is already getting pushback from students, teachers, workers and the faculty union.
Board Chair Benjamin Kudo is expected Thursday to ask his fellow regents, who oversee UH, for their support in getting the administration to use “whatever available means it has to reduce the operating costs and expenses of the University.”
That’s a line from a board resolution put forward by Kudo, who has also penned a letter asking Gov. David Ige to halt faculty pay raises. The board is expected to vote on both at Thursday’s regents meeting.
Kudo was unavailable to talk about the proposals Wednesday.
There’s no firm plan on what kinds of cuts, if any, are coming to the 10-campus university system. Kudo’s resolution before the board does not lay out any specifics.
But the resolution does lay out some options. It says the university could consider freezing or reducing pay, implementing furloughs or cutting positions. The resolution also asks for a halt on out-of-state travel and new equipment purchases unless UH President David Lassner grants an exemption.
The resolution calls for a short-term financial plan that lays out what the university will do to address any funding shortfalls within the next year. If the resolution wins approval by the 11-member board, UH officials would need to have a plan ready by August.
The resolution also asks for the university to put together a long-term plan on how it will help the state recover from the coronavirus pandemic.
“The long-term plan will re-envision how the University will achieve its diverse statewide mission while achieving greater focus, effectiveness, and efficiencies in operations and in the use of its facilities,” Kudo’s resolution says.
The resolution comes at a time when UH faces a dismal budget outlook. State support, which accounts for almost half the budget, seems steady for now. The other half from tuition is dependent on enrollment, which is expected to fall this coming school year because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
As UH and the state face a growing budget crisis, UH faculty and administrative staff are among thousands of public workers set to get slight increases that won approval in the Legislature in June. Kudo’s letter to Ige asks that those be halted.
“Common sense has caused us to pause and reflect on the current course. We ask ourselves, does it make sense to give a pay increase one day and reduce pay or terminate employees the next? We think not,” the letter says.
Students, office staff and others submitted 293 pages of written testimony to the board ahead of Thursday’s meeting. Much of the testimony is in opposition to the resolution, specifically the sections that deal with cutting costs.
The testimony also contains a letter with over 400 signatures from faculty, students and staff opposing the resolution.
The resolution and letter to Ige calling for a freeze on roughly 2% pay increases are also getting pushback from the University of Hawaii Professional Assembly and the Hawaii Government Employees Association.
UHPA represents faculty at UH while HGEA represents thousands of public workers, including administrative, professional and technical employees of UH. Members of both unions would benefit from over $150 million worth of pay raises that state lawmakers passed while scrambling to find money to plug a growing budget hole.
UHPA Executive Director Christian Fern blasts Kudo in a post on the union’s website. Fern writes that the union and UH administrators have already worked together to take classes online and graduate students in the spring semester.
“Chair Kudo and the Board of Regents were noticeably absent in contributing solutions,” Fern says.
Like resolutions introduced in the Legislature or county councils, Board of Regents resolutions don’t carry the force of law but do indicate what the board members want administrators to do.
Ige has previously indicated that pay cuts or furloughs may be inevitable. The state faces a projected budget deficit of over $2.5 billion in the next two years.
Blaze Lovell is a reporter for Civil Beat and a graduate of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. He was born and raised on Oahu. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter at @blaze_lovell