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Petition asks to halt plan to reorganize UH-Hilo’s largest academic college

Dozens of University of Hawaii at Hilo faculty are asking administrators to halt a plan to reorganize the campus’ largest academic college.

The 86 faculty submitted a petition to interim Chancellor Marcia Sakai last month calling 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.

The majority of petitioners work within the units involved. They said they will “not cooperate with any reorganization efforts” until the four conditions are met.

“There is increasing and heightened concern amongst the faculty and staff that the current plan to reorganize (the College of Arts and Sciences) is premature at best, and ill-conceived at worst, and that the consequences of this plan may have long-term negative effects not only on (the College of Arts and Sciences) but the whole university,” the petition reads.

The reorganization plan, approved earlier this year, would divide the College of Arts and Sciences into two separate colleges: the College of Natural and Health Sciences and the College of Humanities and Social Sciences. Under the current timeline, it would take effect July 1, with planning completed by Jan. 31.

Proponents of the plan say breaking apart the College of Arts and Sciences could help boost retention and combat lagging enrollment by removing some administrative layers and giving each college more autonomy. The College of Arts and Sciences contains more than 60 degrees and programs that range widely in subject matter.

The plan was drafted while former Chancellor Donald Straney was at the helm. Straney studied several recommendations by a faculty task force formed to study the idea.

Chris Frueh, a psychology faculty member who chaired the faculty task force, said he originally was in favor of reorganizing but now is against the current plan because he doesn’t think it was “carefully thought out or understood,” including its proposal to combine the Social Sciences and Humanities divisions.

Frueh said additional copies of the petition were distributed, including to the vice chancellor of academic affairs, UH President David Lassner and the Board of Regents.

He said it also doesn’t reflect any of the task force’s proposals, and “where we’ve landed is out of left field.” The campus originally was looking to reorganize multiple colleges, but the administration at the time downsized the proposal partly because it would be less disruptive and easier to implement.

“I think the people who signed this petition are pretty worried,” Frueh said. “They just see this is not going to go well for Social Sciences or Humanities, and it’s not a strategic organization. There’s no explanation for how this will save money.”

Doug Mikkelson, a petitioner who chairs the History Department, said “reorganization was to be a faculty-driven process,” but that “has never really been the case.”

“Administration has been listening to faculty about their views on reorganization and proceeding to go forward with what they want,” Mikkelson said. “I don’t feel there’s truly been a listening effort going on.

“The signatories are bringing together people who have a range of views on reorganization,” he continued. “Some people feel any reorganization at this time is not a good idea. Some people feel it would be a good idea but they feel this particular process is not going to lead to a good reorganization … but everyone agrees that these four conditions really need to be in place before any reorganization plan is put into effect.”

Department chairs received an email from Sakai shortly after submitting the petition, Mikkelson said, which said she planned to have meetings with faculty to get input.

Those meetings “are still ongoing,” Sakai told the Tribune-Herald in an email last week. She said “genesis (of the meetings) is in the petition … but not entirely so.”

“In the role of interim chancellor, I felt it necessary to do some fact finding for myself,” Sakai said in the email. “I can be in touch when the process is completed.”

Sakai did not say whether the administration is considering halting or delaying reorganization.

This fall, enrollment declined at UH-Hilo for the fifth consecutive year. As a result, the campus saw a $1.2 million decrease in tuition revenue to its Academic Affairs unit. It’s also currently under the leadership of at least three interim administrators, which the petition refers to as an “interim epidemic.”

A new chancellor is slated to be chosen by next year. Sakai was appointed Aug. 1 on a one-year assignment.

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

 

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