BY JIM DOOLEY – The future of M.R.C. Greenwood as president of the University of Hawaii grew murkier this week after public release of a $2 million demand letter her lawyer sent to UH regents last month but “withdrew” last week.
U.S. Senator Daniel Inouye’s office said on Wednesday that release of the letter and its contents, first reported Tuesday by Hawaii News Now, “was obviously intended to ignite emotions and tempers” before Thursday’s regents meeting on Maui.
The regents are scheduled to continue closed-door discussions of Greenwood’s employment contract at Thursday’s regents meeting, first begun after receipt of her letter.
“It is most unfortunate that this demand letter, written when emotions were running high, would be leaked to the press a week after it was withdrawn, just as practical discussions were beginning relating to the future of the University of Hawaii,” Inouye spokesman Peter Boylan said today.
The 10-page letter was sent to regents in October by Greenwood’s lawyer, Jerry Hiatt, and was withdrawn by Greenwood and Hiatt last week.
Hiatt declined to comment on the letter and said Greenwood is committed to carrying on in her job at UH.
The letter he wrote on her behalf asserted that Greenwood had been defamed and subjected to improper political pressure by Gov. Neil Abercrombie and state legislative leaders after she removed popular UH Athletics Director Jim Donovan from office.
Greenwood told the regents in the letter that she would step down if she was paid $2 million in damages.
Greenwood said in the letter that Abercrombie warned her in a meeting in his office that she and the University would suffer personal and economic consequences if Donovan wasn’t given his job back.
Greenwood told senators in a September 24 hearing that Abercrombie advised her in that meeting that state Senate President Shan Tsutsui and House Speaker Calvin Say wanted Donovan back in his old job.
Abercrombie denied in September and again this week that he pressured Greenwood.
He said in a September 24 written statement that during the meeting with Greenwood, “I stated very clearly….that my sole concern was for fairness and even-handedness.”
His chief of staff, Bruce Coppa, told senators at the hearing that Abercrombie exerted no pressure on Greenwood but “did ask the president to consider all the options that were out there.”
Greenwood said in the public hearing that “Abercrombie didn’t tell me to do something” but instead “told me the circumstances of the political environment.”
But in her letter, she included the governor as one of the parties that she said brought inappropriate pressure on her — in violation of state constitutional language guaranteeing the university freedom from such influences.
And the letter added new details, alleging that the governor and Coppa pressed her further on the Donovan issue in the days after that first meeting in the governor’s office.
Coppa sent her an email and Abercrombie left a voicemail message that Greenwood said were part of the campaign to reinstate Donovan, the letter said.
After the letter became public, Abercrombie again denied pressuring Greenwood.
“The Governor has always acted in the best interest of the state and the university,” his spokeswoman, Louise Kim McCoy said in a written statement.
“The Governor did not put any pressure on President Greenwood. In fact, when President Greenwood asked the Governor for advice on how to handle the situation at UH, the Governor suggested options to President Greenwood in response to her request,” said Kim McCoy.
As of yesterday, a majority of regents reportedly had been leaning toward a continuation of Greenwood’s presidency, two sources told Hawaii Reporter. Her $427,512-per-year contract expires in mid- 2015.
But public exposure of her letter, which impugned the integrity of the most powerful figures in state government and sought $2 million from the university, may change the calculus of the decision, said the sources.
And the irony of Greenwood drawing support from Inouye while complaining about unwarranted political pressure from state elected officials is not lost on members of the board of regents, one of the sources said.
Inouye wrote a letter of support for Greenwood to the regents before they met last week to again discuss her future at the university.