BY MALIA ZIMMERMAN – HONOLULU – University of Hawaii President M.R.C. Greenwood and her $475,000 annual salary — with $60,000 annual housing allowance and other perks — will leave campus Aug. 31, but plenty of others will keep getting fat paychecks.
UH Manoa Chancellor Tom Apple earns $439,000 a year, plus benefits, while head football coach Norm Chow is paid $550,000 a year — more if he meets performance benchmarks. Jerris Hedges, dean of the school of medicine, makes $479,000 annually.
The more than $50 million in salaries and other benefits paid to around 350 non-academic staff have caught the attention of prominent legislators who say they’re concerned Hawaii’s only state university is becoming too administratively top heavy.
Even though the Legislature granted UH a great deal of autonomy in 1999, lawmakers, who allocate funding and confirm Board of Regents candidates, have ordered regents to begin reviewing and approving all new staff salaried positions for anyone making more than Hawaii Gov. Neil Abercrombie.
Most positions that exceed the governor’s $143,748 salary have been approved by university administrators in the past without regents’ knowledge.
Regents have debated the proviso over the last two board meetings to determine if they will follow legislators’ demands. If they don’t, the university could lose state funding.
Newly elected Board of Regent Chairman John Holtzman acknowledged the public and Legislature’s frustration with high salaries and perks awarded to university staff and a need for more accountability at UH, which spends $1 billion annually on operations.
Greenwood, who has clashed with lawmakers over the past year because of financial and management problems on her watch, told regents Tuesday they could ignore the Legislature’s proviso and make their own policy to review and approve all new salaried staff making more than $150,000, instead of the governor’s $143,748 salary. Greenwood maintained that if the governor’s salary increases, it could create administrative problems for the regents.
The tension between lawmakers and university regents and administrators increased dramatically last summer after the so-called “Wonder Blunder.”
School officials wired $200,000 to Epic Talent LLC in Miami on June 19 as a down payment for a Stevie Wonder fundraising concert for the athletic department, but without due diligence.
After Stevie Wonder’s actual agent contacted the university on July 9, officials learned Epic Talent did not represent Wonder, and had no authority to book a concert on his behalf.
University officials acknowledged publicly they may have been scammed and refunded 6,000 tickets already sold on July 10.
The entire fiasco — and other blunders to follow — cost UH about $1.2 million in lawyers, consultants, investigators and lost funds.
Lawmakers held three investigative hearings in the fall of 2012 to look into the issue. During those hearings, senators said they uncovered more serious management and fiscal problems at the university, many of which had been brought to the attention of the Senate by university donors, contractors, students, alumni and the public.
Tension between senators and the university heightened when UH officials wouldn’t provide answers to lawmakers. That only worsened when just after the conclusion of the hearings, Apple called the Wonder Blunder “the equivalent of an academic bake sale … that’s gone awry.”
“I just want to give people a perspective. And by the way, $200,000 is not a trivial amount of money,” Apple said. “But we are a $1 billion – Manoa, just Manoa, not the University – we are a $1 billion operation,” Apple said.
The Board of Regents subsequently paid a consultant $50,000 to help its internal task force determine ways to improve university oversight and management procedures. UH also hired KMH for $224,000 to find ways to improve financial and management oversight on the institution’s 10 campuses. The report has not yet been released.
Meanwhile, students complain they cannot get the classes they need to graduate on time, yet they’re paying more for education.
Tuition at UH increased by 108 percent from 2006 to 2012, but Greenwood described them as “modest” and said a degree is still a “good bargain.” The hikes will continue: tuition will rise by 33 percent over the next five years.
In February, Dennis Mitsunaga, a prominent engineer and construction contractor, submitted a letter to lawmakers documenting how UH is wasting millions of dollars on poorly-managed construction projects.
Mitsunaga, who has worked on dozens of government projects in Hawaii, told lawmakers that associate vice president Brian Minaai, who headed the office of capital improvement, had been handing out university construction contracts to industry friends.
Minaai is on six-months paid leave as the state attorney general investigates the allegations.
And speaking of fat salaries: Minaai makes $213,768 annually, and so far, he’s earned more than $100,000 by not going to work.
University officials will not comment on the investigation.
These problems and others that surfaced led Senate President Donna Mercado Kim to introduce seven bills during the 2013 legislative session to lessen the University’s autonomy while increasing accountability.
While not all those bills passed, the Legislature issued the 18 provisos that outline ways UH regents and administrators must rectify the problems.