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‘Phased’ UH-Hilo reorganization plan moving forward

The University of Hawaii at Hilo will move forward with a “phased” plan to reorganize its largest academic college, interim Chancellor Marcia Sakai said Friday.

In an email to faculty and staff, Sakai said the plan will begin with the formation of the College of Natural and Health Sciences on July 1, 2018. Her email didn’t specify what else the phased plan will entail but said she would share more details “as the process unfolds.”

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UH-Hilo’s plan to reorganize was approved earlier this year. It calls for dividing the widely varying College of Arts and Sciences into two separate colleges: the College of Natural and Health Sciences and the College of Humanities and Social Sciences. The goal is to help boost student retention and combat declining enrollment by removing some administrative layers and giving each college more autonomy.

The entire plan was slated to take effect July 1, 2018, with planning completed by Jan. 31, 2018.

At least 86 faculty, many working in the units involved, opposed the idea and timeline citing concerns that the final plan didn’t have enough input from faculty and had become an “administration-driven effort.”

They signed and presented a petition to Sakai last month asking for reorganization efforts to “cease immediately” until four conditions are met: a new strategic plan is in place, a permanent chancellor and vice chancellor for academic affairs are brought on board, a detailed cost-benefit analysis of reorganization is provided and a chosen model is deemed “acceptable” by a supermajority of faculty.

They said they would “not cooperate with any reorganization efforts” until conditions were met.

After receiving the petition, Sakai scheduled several meetings with faculty, spurring some to be hopeful that administration was considering postponing or halting reorganization efforts.

Sakai’s email Friday said she “met with President David Lassner to discuss what I had learned” from the meetings with faculty, and Lassner “agrees with and supports my recommendation to proceed with a phased reorganization plan.”

The email did not specify whether the second portion of UH-Hilo’s reorganization plan, creating the College of Humanities and Social Sciences, also will happen July 1.

Doug Mikkelson, a petitioner who chairs the History Department, said in an email Friday the idea of “phased reorganization” remains “unclear.” He said whether Sakai “plans to proceed with the same plan despite this strong opposition, or intends to modify it based on the discussions she held, remains to be seen.”

“We will seek more information from the Chancellor, in the hope that she will work with us in the spirit of collegiality and transparency,” Mikkelson said.

“Based on what we learn, the petition signatories will determine what our next step will be.”

UH-Hilo spokesman Jerry Chang said in an email Friday that Sakai “will communicate with faculty in January” additional information about the phased plan.

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Sakai’s full message can be found on her blog online at https://hilo.hawaii.edu/blog/chancellor/

Email Kirsten Johnson at kjohnson@hawaiitribune-herald.com.