M.R.C. Greenwood

After a number of high profile battles with key Hawaii lawmakers in 2012 and 2013, University of Hawaii President M.R.C. Greenwood announced Tuesday she will retire in September, before her $475,000-plus annual contract with the University expires in 2015.

Her reasons for stepping down are “personal, health-related, and family oriented.” In a letter to faculty, Greenwood said she is looking forward to “once again .. being a ‘grandma’.”

Greenwood, who joined the University in 2009 after being asked to leave the University of California’s system where she was a provost, will take unpaid leave and later return to the University of Hawaii as a faculty member, to “write, teach and do some policy work.”

Lawmakers and some former regents have been critical of Greenwood for her poor fiscal management, spending, frequent travels out of state, and not being upfront with lawmakers.

Under her tenure, student tuition has increased at a record pace – more than 100 percent in 5 years – and is set to rise another 29 percent.

The Hawaii Senate convened an investigation into Greenwood’s management and fiscal practices after the University lost $200,000 in a scam that involved con artists from Florida and North Carolina who claimed they could host a fundraising concert with Stevie Wonder on campus.

After the real agents for Wonder contacted the University, the administration announced the concert was cancelled because Wonder was not available. During the Senate’s investigative hearings, Greenwood admitted the University had been scammed.

Senate President Donna Mercado Kim introduced seven bills during the 2013 legislative session to reign in Greenwood’s spending and autonomy.

Rep. K. Mark Takai, another graduate of the University, was critical of Greenwood’s unwillingness to appear before lawmakers at hearings involving the University.

Relations were so stressed in the fall of 2012, Greenwood sent the regents a letter demanding $2 million to leave the University ahead of her contract expiring. She withdrew the letter after U.S. Senator Daniel Inouye stepped in on her behalf.  Inouye has since passed away.

Greenwood and her partner were also criticized for taking a $60,000 housing allowance instead of living in the University’s home that has always accommodated the president. They also were under fire after donating $50,000 to the new cancer research center in Kakaako – not for the donation, but for having their names prominently displayed in large gold letters at the entrance of the center, when other donors who had contributed considerably more received no such recognition.

President MRC Greenwood and her partner donated $50,000 to the University to support the Cancer Research Center

But Greenwood didn’t mention any of the controversy in her departure statement and offered a different view of her record at the University over the last four years – one of success.

“This university has accomplished an amazing amount in a rather short and extremely challenging time. As the economy shows signs of improvement, I am proud of how well we’ve coped with the greatest recession in modern memory and serious state spending restrictions. Through the support and hard work of our faculty, staff and friends we’ve been able to accommodate the largest student enrollment in history, streamlined course availability and transfers, incurred no lost days of instruction, and maintained a very robust research portfolio,” Greenwood said.

According to a University press release, Greenwood will remain busy as “an internationally known researcher and scientist, a policy leader in higher education, and the incoming President of the Association of Public Land Grant Universities (APLU).”

Gov. Neil Abercrombie, a University graduate, said Tuesday he has been “impressed with her commitment and her desire to give her very best effort on behalf of the University of Hawaii.”

“She brought a wealth of experience and determination to put that to work for the university. I personally wish her every good fortune in the years to come,” Abercrombie said.

Board of Regents Chair Eric Martinson said the Board of Regents will discuss her replacement in the coming months.

Martinson, who backed Greenwood during the Senate’s investigative hearings, said her accomplishments “have been outstanding.”

“The university’s reputation has advanced nationally and internationally, the strategic goals set by the Board of Regents have advanced, and she helped navigate the university through one of our nation’s and state’s most severe recessions,” Martinson said. “She’s been instrumental in putting the university on the path to increased cooperation with the business community and has helped build recognition of the importance of the university for the economic engine it represents for Hawai‘i.”