The faculty of the University of Hawaii engineering school issued a public rebuke of their dean last month with a vote of no confidence in his leadership.

At a meeting of the College of Engineering Faculty Senate on Jan. 14, faculty members passed a no confidence resolution, citing “serious concerns” about the administration of finances and personnel in the college over the past two years under Dean Brennon Morioka. The vote was 39 to six with nine people abstaining or not voting.

The resolution stated that faculty members had previously communicated their concerns to both the College of Engineering administration and the upper administration of the university but that a “lack of timely progress” on the issues had created “a general sense of discontent and anger among many faculty members.”

University of Hawaii at Manoa first day for fall 2020 semester with limited in person classes during the COVID-19 pandemic. August 24, 2020
University engineering school faculty have issued a vote of no confidence in the school’s dean. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2020

In an interview on Monday, Morioka – who was a general manager for the Hawaiian Electric Co. prior to being named dean of the College of Engineering in 2019, acknowledged the faculty’s concerns but said he had inherited problems in the college’s business office that had lingered for years before he joined the university.

Morika said he believes that the no confidence vote “doesn’t touch upon some of the real issues” and that there is a need for better communication within the college.

“We all need to communicate a little better, and we need to figure out how to communicate on a path forward with the faculty,” Morioka said. “But those lines of communication have always been open.”

Late last year, the Faculty Executive Committee of the engineering college conducted a survey to gauge the faculty’s assessment of management of the college. A cover note to the survey stated that the College of Engineering Faculty Senate had received complaints from faculty regarding a wide range of leadership issues.

According to the cover note, the college’s Senate Executive Committee determined it was “imperative” that those concerns be documented and presented to high-level UH administrators, “so that proper actions can be taken in response.”

Since 2019, Brennon Morioka has served as dean at University of Hawaii at Manoa’s College of Engineering. Courtesy: University of Hawaii

Of the college’s 54 faculty members, 41 responded to the survey.

The results of the survey, released in January, showed that 34 out of 40 respondents, or 85%, indicated that Morioka “has not demonstrated satisfactory understanding of academic and research requirements needed for effective leadership” of the college.

The survey also found that 30 out of 41 respondents, more than 73%, indicated they “are not comfortable with expressing their opinions” to Morioka. More than 81%, 31 of 38 respondents, indicated they do not support continued employment of the dean.

The executive committee reported that there is a general consensus among faculty that there are “many serious problems” in the college, including “concerns about a hostile work environment.”

The executive committee also reported that a “small number” of respondents believe that the current problems in the college are “the fault of the previous interim dean.”

Joseph Brown, president of the Engineering Faculty Senate, said he and other faculty leaders presented the findings of the survey to UH Manoa Provost Michael Bruno in mid-January. Brown said he and his colleagues do not feel that the administration has done enough in response.

Bruno said he has met with faculty members five times in the last several weeks and that he will be meeting with them again in the coming weeks for further discussion.

“I understand the frustration coming from the faculty,” Bruno said. “I understand the need to act as quickly as we can.”

Bruno said there had been problems with oversight of fiscal matters that began before Morioka was hired.

Faculty representatives said that if they have not received a response from Bruno by the end of the spring semester in May, they could take the complaints to the university’s Office of Human Resources.

The engineering faculty also presented the no confidence resolution and the findings of the survey to the Manoa Faculty Senate last month. The senate has not yet taken action.

Morioka previously served as director for the state’s Department of Transportation under former governor Linda Lingle. He also worked for 4-1/2 years as deputy director at the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation, focusing much of his time there on the utility relocation issues that persist at the transit project to this day.

Morioka then left HART in 2017 to join Hawaiian Electric, where as general manager for “electrification of transportation” he helped push for more charging stations and infrastructure that might support more electric vehicle-use.

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