Newly Appointed University of Hawaii Chancellor Apologizes to Faculty for Lack of Communication

Tom Apple, UH Manoa Chancellor
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Tom Apple, UH Manoa Chancellor

University of Hawaii Manoa Chancellor Tom Apple has only been on the job two months, but he’s already apologizing to the faculty and staff for his lack of communication.

In his email sent September 12, Apple addresses the University of Hawaii failed Stevie Wonder fundraising concert that was cancelled on July 10 because the singer was not available, and in fact, was not told about the concert.


University officials eventually admitted the institution was scammed out of a $200,000 deposit issued to people who were not actually representing Wonder. School officials called in the FBI and launched its own internal investigation. But in the meantime, the University did not communicate with the media, the public or its own staff.

On July 11, UH Athletics Department Director Jim Donovan and department official Rich Sheriff were placed on indefinite paid leaves of absence pending completion of investigations and Apple cleared the pair of any wrongdoing a month later, bringing them back to campus on August 13.

But that only sparked more controversy.

When Apple announced Donovan would make a “lateral” transfer from Athletics Department to a newly created marketing position where he would be paid $200,000 plus a year for yet to be determined duties, the student association and the public were outraged over the additional money being poured on the problem.

The Board of Regents held their own meeting on August 22, and the state Senate launched an investigation that begins with hearings on September 24.

Throughout all the weeks of “Wonder Blunder” drama, Apple never communicated with the professors and staff about the events that were drawing so much news.

Today, he issued a letter apologizing to the faculty that said in part:

“You have not heard anything from me directly regarding what took place since the Stevie Wonder concert was cancelled.  With all of the controversy swirling about right now, that is something I would like to remedy.

The members of our UH Manoa community are justifiably distressed by what they have seen and heard regarding the failed concert and the search for a new Athletics Director. Partial facts, rumors and personal allegiances have all had a part in raising the temperature of the discussion.

It is important that all of us who care deeply about the University and its people have facts to deal with before making our conclusions.  

That is the purpose of this email.
 I begin by saying that, while I inherited the failed concert situation, I have made my share of missteps in communication since arriving.  

My public outreach was less than satisfying for all concerned, because I was not able to provide a lot of details, either because the investigation was ongoing or because of legal restrictions.

People had a right to know that at the time. With respect to the failures of checks and balances, and general judgment that should have prevented the loss of $200,000: I have instituted measures to prevent this from happening again. In addition, the Board of Regents has formed a group to ensure that our policies and procedures are both sound and efficient.


I have heard from many of you who have said that Jim Donovan should be returned to the position of Athletics Director.  

While it is true that the decision had already been made not to extend his contract, I was the one who requested that Dr. Rockne Freitas step in as interim Athletics Director and that Jim be reassigned.

My decision to do this was based on many conversations with people within and outside the Athletics program. While I did and still do praise Jim’s commitment to UH and his many talents, I concluded that it was in the best interest of the Athletics program and our students to reassign him. I stand by that decision.

The timing of Jim’s reassignment made a difficult situation more complicated and confusing and I regret that. I very much appreciate the support of my decision by the University President and members of the Board of Regents.

I approached campus and community leaders and asked them to serve on a Search Advisory Committee to find candidates for the position of Athletics Director.  Accepting the challenge in the current climate was something each member had to consider carefully. Their commitment to the University should be applauded.

As you are probably aware, a few days after formation of the Committee, a letter signed by nearly every coach in the Athletics Department was sent to me, indicating their support for Dr. Freitas’ leadership.  

In the letter, they requested that he be appointed permanent AD. This event was followed by reactions on multiple sides of the issue. However the Search Advisory Committee weighs the contents of the coaches’ letter, what they decide the role of the three coaches named to the Committee should be, and whatever names they recommend for the position of Athletics Director, there will be some who will disagree with the Committee’s recommendation.

I ask that the Committee members be given the space to do what has been asked of them. The Search Advisory Committee will publish updates periodically to keep us all informed, but their deliberations should be respected as confidential.

It is clear from all that has happened that there are many who are intensely interested in and care about our University. We have had our challenges, and we have taken action to rise to meet them.  

Please don’t allow what has happened to distract or discourage you.  

Now is a time for the entire community to come together and support one another.  We are all in the same canoe. We can only move forward if we are all paddling in the same direction.

Athletics is very important to the UH community, but it is only a part of what we do.  We must not lose sight of the preeminence of our academic mission, our students, faculty and staff.  They all need and deserve our support and attention.

This is a place where students’ lives are transformed. Our research has tremendous impact and helps those in our community and around the world. This week, the news included reports of our John A. Burns School of Medicine faculty, staff and students helping the homeless in our community, and about our UH Cancer Center discovering critical new information about fatal cancers.

The greatness of our University ties into the greatness of our State.

What we do here affects everyone. Wisdom, common sense, integrity and openness of spirit are cherished values here in our islands. Let’s show the world what working with aloha really means.