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UH-Hilo dropping thorny part of reorganization plan

  • HOLLYN JOHNSON/Tribune-Herald Interim Chancellor Marcia Sakai speaks about the reorganization of the College of Arts and Sciences on Friday at the University of Hawaii at Hilo.

The University of Hawaii at Hilo plans to forgo a more contentious part of its reorganization plan and instead rehash the topic at an undetermined time in the future.

Interim Chancellor Marcia Sakai said Friday the first half of UH-Hilo’s plan to reorganize the College of Arts and Sciences, the largest academic college on campus, will proceed as initially planned. It calls to create the College of Natural and Health Sciences by July 1, comprised of the current Division of Natural Sciences, School of Nursing and Department of Kinesiology and Exercise Sciences.

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Sakai said she’s dropping the other half of the reorganization plan which called to create a College of Humanities and Social Sciences by combining the current Social Sciences and Humanities divisions.

Sakai said she met with faculty in those divisions and determined they were not ready. They will instead remain “status quo” as the College of Arts and Sciences.

The majority of faculty in those divisions had opposed the idea. They presented Sakai with a petition earlier this academic year asking for reorganization efforts to “cease immediately.”

“We’ve spent a lot of energy (on the topic) and the result is that some people are not ready,” Sakai told about 50 faculty Friday who attended a meeting she’d scheduled to provide a reorganization update. “Maybe the form we’re looking at now is not the right one, but I think at this point in time we need to focus our attention on the main work of what we do and that is teaching and learning and research and developing directions for the various programs.”

UH-Hilo’s College of Arts and Sciences contains dozens of degrees which vary widely in subject matter. Administrators hope reorganization — essentially reconfiguring its academic units — will help boost student retention and combat declining enrollment by removing some administrative layers and giving each college more autonomy.

A reorganization plan was approved last school year but petitioners argued efforts should halt until four conditions were met: a new campus 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 super majority of faculty.

Sakai addressed the petition Friday noting she thinks waiting for a new strategic plan and for a permanent chancellor are points that are “arguable.” She said the plan taking effect July 1 is “cost neutral.”

A handful of faculty asked questions Friday, including Doug Mikkelson, a petitioner who chairs the history department. He asked if the new plan is simply a way of “implementing the original plan by delayed tactic” which would “bring us back to what people object to.”

“I want to reiterate there’s strong opposition to the idea of having a College of Humanities and Social Sciences,” Mikkelson told Sakai. “If that’s eventually what the powers at be will have happen, I don’t think the opposition will fall away … So I think it’s important that you continue to listen to faculty and listen to what they’re saying and morale will greatly improve if there’s a sense of, when we make these contributions and take a strong stand, it’s being taken very seriously.”

Sakai contended that wasn’t the case. She said there’s no timeline as to when the matter will be discussed again though she thinks “at some point we’re going to have to revisit this.”

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“Whatever the constellation of units will look like, I’m not able to tell you right now,” she said. “But I don’t have a plan to create a College of Social Sciences and Humanities as a de facto result of this.”

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