He has run the University of Hawaii since 2013, an institution he first began working at in 1977.

The head of Hawaii’s premier institution of higher learning is stepping down at the end of next year.

University of Hawaii President David Lassner informed the UH Board of Regents in an email Tuesday that he will leave his post at the end of 2024.

“My decision is both personal and professional,” Lassner wrote. “I have worked at UH since 1977 and I never had any aspiration or expectation to serve as President. But when called on, I was willing to be considered to assume what I truly believe to be one of the most important roles in Hawaii, leading the institution that is most critical to the future of our people and our islands.”

“Today, your university is academically, financially, culturally and organizationally strong,” he said. He didn’t elaborate on his reason for leaving.

Lassner was appointed interim president in 2013 and officially was elevated to the role in June 2014.

University of Hawaii President David Lassner says he’s leaving the institution “academically, financially, culturally and organizationally strong.” (David Croxford/Civil Beat/2013)

Lassner, 69, is also a member of the university’s cooperating graduate faculty and has taught both online and in-person at UH Manoa in computer science, communications, business and education.

Lassner remarked in his email to the regents that his more than 10 years in office is the longest tenure since Gregg Sinclair, who served from 1942 to 1955. Several of Lassner’s predecessors had rocky stints, notably Evan Dobelle, who was fired by the regents in 2004 but later reached a mediated settlement with UH to resign.

Lassner’s note in his email that the job of UH president today “is often described as the hardest job in the state.” His tenure was also marked by protests over a new telescope on Mauna Kea and negotiations with the Legislature over management of the mountain.

He has led the university and 10-campus UH system through the Covid-19 pandemic and has frequently clashed with members of the Hawaii State Senate, who have long criticized how UH operates. In February, several called on Lassner to resign, calls that the president flatly rejected.

“It is an intense job, one I approach every day with energy and enthusiasm to pursue continuous improvement,” Lassner said in his email. “But I am ready to planfully pass the torch to the next leader while I am able, active and healthy.”

Lassner began working at UH in entry-level roles in information technology in 1977. He later became UH’s first chief information officer and then its first vice president for IT. 

He earned an A.B. in economics summa cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa followed by a Master of Science in computer science supported by a University Fellowship at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign.

He earned a doctorate in communication and information sciences at UH.

The board of regents is expected to conduct a search for a new president. Lassner said in his email that he had planned to make his retirement announcement early next year, but said, “I looked back at our history and realized that UH’s last presidential search took over a year to come to a decision.”

“I have always been clear that when either the BOR or I decide it is time for me to step down, I want that to happen without acrimony, drama or lawyers,” he added.

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