By Malia Zimmerman – Less than 18 hours after University of Hawaii President MRC Greenwood announced she plans to retire several months before her lucrative $475,000-a-year contract expires in 2015, the controversial academic has gone silent – at least for now.
Lynne Waters, spokesperson for Greenwood, issued a statement Tuesday morning: “President Greenwood feels she has said all she wishes to say on the subject of her pending retirement in the print interview given yesterday, the news release and the letter to the UH ohana, and has answered most of the relevant questions. … There will likely be no media availability today or tomorrow due to her existing heavy schedule.”
On Monday afternoon, Greenwood, 70, said in a written statement that she is stepping down for “personal, health-related, and family oriented” reasons. After an unspecified amount of unpaid personal leave, Greenwood said she plans to return to the University as tenured faculty, but in the meantime, is looking forward to “retirement to once again be ‘grandma’ and to write, teach and do some policy work.”
Greenwood detailed a number of accomplishments: “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.”
Board of Regents Chair Eric Martinson, who has been an ally to Greenwood, said her accomplishments have been “outstanding” and he claimed the university’s reputation “has advanced nationally and internationally” because of Greenwood.
Martinson also listed numerous University projects that Greenwood helped establish including the UH Hilo Hawaiian Language building, the UH Cancer Center, Windward Community College’s learning center, UH West Oahu campus, the UH Maui College campus center, and the new information technology building under construction at UH Manoa.
While Greenwood has her allies like Martinson, she has powerful critics, including those who want to make sure the University regents select a new president who is less controversial and more suited to the University of Hawaii.
Controversy in California
Greenwood joined the University of Hawaii in 2009 after regents hired a search firm to recruit possible candidates from the mainland. There were three finalists, but two dropped out, leaving just Greenwood for the Board’s consideration unless its members voted to renew the search.
Former regents told Hawaii Reporter that the board was split down the middle on Greenwood’s appointment but agreed to come out publicly united. Despite numerous requests to the University for minutes of that regent meeting, Hawaii Reporter has not been able to obtain them.
While Greenwood had numerous academic credentials, she also had ethical challenges while working in the University of California’s system as a provost – ethical challenges so serious that they led to her early resignation.
Through a Freedom of Information Act request to the state of California, Hawaii Reporter obtained the documents that detailed the University’s investigation into Greenwood for “possible improper hiring practices and conflict of interest concerns.” (See the documents here: https://www.universityofcalifornia.edu/news/greenwood/welcome.html/)
University of California President Robert C. Dynes said after the University launched the investigation with the help of the General Counsel and University Auditor’s Offices, Greenwood resigned.
The investigation focused on two hirings, including one involving Professor Lynda Goff, who was hired by Greenwood first as a Faculty Associate and then as Director of the Science & Math Initiative. Greenwood and Goff were in a real estate venture together, and Dynes said “it appears that Provost Greenwood may have been involved in Dr. Goff’s hiring to a greater extent than was appropriate, given that her business investment with Dr. Goff had not been properly and fully resolved in accordance with conflict of interest requirements.”
Greenwood’s son, James Greenwood, was also hired as a paid Senior Intern on the UC Merced campus. Investigators questioned whether Vice President for Student Affairs Winston Doby acted improperly when helping her son secure the position.
Controversy Follows Greenwood to Hawaii
Controversy surrounding Greenwood’s leadership continued in Hawaii. 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.
Data obtained from the University of Hawaii by Hawaii Reporter showed Greenwood was traveling off island or out of state for nearly an entire year of the four years she spent on the job. Between June 2009 and February 2013, Greenwood was out of state for 238 days and traveling between islands for 68 days. She also took 42 days of vacation. The travel cost the University of Hawaii Foundation $133,000. The University maintains traveling is an important part of her role as president of the University.
There have been allegations of corruption surrounding the University of Hawaii’s billion-dollar construction and procurement program. Brian Minaai, a university administrator in charge of procurement, was put on paid leave after one prominent contractor called him “a nightmare” guilty at least of “blatant mismanagement.” School officials announced they asked the state attorney general to investigate the charges, including claims that Minaai directed contracts to personal and political friends.
Under Greenwood’s tenure, student tuition increased at a record pace – more than 100 percent in 5 years – and is set to rise another 29 percent, but lawmakers said the money appeared to be going to a bloated administration, not students and classrooms.
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 and the fiasco became known around town as the “Wonder Blunder.”
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. He also introduced resolutions and bills to reduce excess spending at the University.
Relations between Greenwood, the regents and the Senate 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 Kaka’ako – 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.
Moving Forward, Go Local
While Senate President Donna Mercado Kim issued a statement saying she believes Greenwood’s resignation is best for the University, Rep. K. Mark Takai said he is looking forward to what’s next at his alma mater.
Takai hopes regents will consider local candidates for the job of University president, rather than hiring a national search firm that may cost the University hundreds of thousands of dollars. Search firms potentially bring in more money from mainland candidates because they are typically paid more because those candidates command higher salaries, Takai said, creating a bias toward mainland candidates over local ones.
“I think we in Hawaii tend to sell ourselves short. We need to step up and support people from Hawaii because I think understanding who we are and understanding the university history is critical for the next president,” Takai said.
For the last decade, Takai has also been pushing for the offices of the president and the Manoa campus chancellor to consolidate as they once were. He said if the president of the University also serves as the chancellor for the main University campus, the University will save $6 million a year.
“Bottom line, we have to find someone who loves Hawaii and cares about our people. That is going to be critical as we move forward,” Takai said.