Priced Out of Admission? As University of Hawaii Tuition is on the Rise, Senators Question Administrators About Management and Spending

UH President M.R.C. Greenwood
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M.R.C. Greenwood

Hawaii’s only state taxpayer supported University, the University of Hawaii, increased tuition by 108 percent from 2006 to 2012, and over the next five years, tuition will rise again by 33 percent.

While many students are struggling to cover their tuition, books and fees, University President MRC Greenwood dismissed the price of admission, and deemed the increases “modest” at a Senate Ways and Means hearing on Thursday. Greenwood, who at times was contentious and argumentative with Senators, called the University “a good bargain.”


“When you say 108 percent (increase), it does sound very large. We actually look at the dollar amount because that is what people pay,” Greenwood said. “Please understand Senator, nobody likes to raise tuition. In order to be able to sustain the staff we have and get the courses we’ve got, we have no choice.”

Senators “begged to differ” noting local students have already endured tremendous hikes, with tuition for a general undergraduate student climbing from $4,522 in 2007 to $9,404 in 2012.

“I have a hard time with the word ‘modest’, when over 5 years, the tuition will increase by 33 percent. Is that modest?” asked Senate President Donna Mercado Kim.

“I think it is necessary,” Greenwood replied.

Sen. Donna Kim

“But that is not my question,” Kim countered. “You used ‘modest.’”

“I apologize if I used an adjective that was insensitive,” Greenwood said.

Sen. Sam Slom, R-Hawaii Kai, a graduate of the University, chided Greenwood and UH-Manoa Chancellor Tom Apple over their spending, and called on University administrators to be more careful with students’ money.

“What the Senate is particularly concerned about – we have so many expenditures that are not related to the classroom directly or involve high salaries, perks and special benefits and an awful lot of people – and the students are paying for that in their tuition. It is one thing to pay for resources, buildings and instructors but it is another thing to pay for this tremendous overhead,” Slom said.

For three-hours in a standing room only hearing, Senators grilled Greenwood and Apple over their fiscal allocations and management style.

Greenwood was proud of a 40-page insert the University produced and placed in Hawaii’s largest newspaper at a cost of at least $30,000 to promote its programs and successes. The university personnel packed the hearing room, but no one including the key coordinator of the piece, could tell Senators the total cost. Kim said she was told the cost was more like $70,000. Greenwood enthusiastically told Senators about a television advertising campaign and new magazine the University is launching. But Senators were critical, especially because enrollment has skyrocketed at the main campus and university affiliates.

Sens. Will Espero and Sam Slom

“If we are spending advertising money and we already have record enrollment, and the places are bursting at the seams, then the purpose of advertising is to attract more business or people or whatever, so I really don’t understand the focus of that,” Slom said.

“That is not the way it was seen, and I guess we have learned a lesson here,” Greenwood said after initially defending the promotional projects.

The University is home to the most well-compensated state employee – head football coach Norm Chow – whose contract has him making over $550,000 despite a dismal 3-9 record last year, with the possibility of up to another $500,000 in bonuses if the team gets better results.

The University also hired the former Ohio State University senior associate athletics director Ben Jay for $293,000 and as much as $127,000 in potential bonuses and perks if Jay performs to the University’s satisfaction.

Jay replaced Donovan who was moved “laterally” to a marketing position in Apple’s office after Greenwood removed him as Athletic director following the so-called “Wonder Blunder” scandal. The University Athletic Department, with the help of the late promoter Bob Peyton, contracted with EPIC Talent LLC in Miami, Florida, and another North Carolina concert promoter to bring Stevie Wonder to campus this Fall, and wired $200,000 to them before realizing the promoters had no authority to represent Wonder. The scandal was the subject of three senate investigative hearings chaired by Kim in the Fall of 2012. Donovan recently left the University for an athletic director position in California.

Sen. Will Espero, D-Ewa, was critical of the money spent on athletic department personnel and maintained there should be more equity in pay among faculty.

Ben Jay, Athletics Director, University of Hawaii

Espero also questioned why the University hired a search firm for $60,000 to find Jay, when there were more than 100 applicants who applied prior to the UH then hiring a search firm, and why he was hired from a University that had just emerged from a number of scandals related to its athletic department, including “tattoo gate”, which cost Ohio State some $8 million.

The Chicago Tribune reports the Buckeyes Football Coach Jim Tressel resigned after hiding eight years worth of NCAA violations from his bosses and attempting a cover-up. The Tribune reports players ignored the rules by “cashing in autographs and rings for free tattoos and discounted cars.”

Besides money spent on athletics, marketing, promotion, advertising and well paid administrators, public relations and legal staff, external and internal personnel, and outside legal and public relations contracts, Senators questioned the Greenwood, Apple and the Dean of the School of Ocean Sciences and Technology over $200,000 that had gone missing over 7 years, but was found after a new accounting system was installed.

Senators also wanted to know why more effort wasn’t being put into boosting the number of core classes students need to graduate. In 2009, the University could not accommodate 20,000 student requests for classes and in 2012, that number was reduced to 3,000. While university officials were happy with their progress, Senators noted students are still complaining they cannot get the classes they need to graduate and are therefore seeing their graduate date unnecessarily delayed.

Norm Chow (University of Hawaii photo)

Senators at the hearing were displeased when on several occasions, Greenwood and Apple could not answer – or did not answer – questions about finances and management.

“It is very frustrating when we get the same excuses time and time again,” Slom said. “All of us cheer the things that are happening (at the UH), but we are concerned when we ask about the costs of things and we don’t get answers. We ask again and again and again. The University is a business, a very large business, and people should be responsible and accountable and know what the costs are for a particular program or particular activity. And it should not be a great mystery to find out when we ask questions about personnel, and about salaries, and about all of these additional payments. ..the University has been too caviler about trying to dodge specific financial questions.”

Kim’s Senate Committee on Accountability held three hearings in recent months to look into the “Wonder Blunder” and other fiscal and management problems at the University, and issued a list of 18 specific recommendations to implement. Greenwood had no update on the UH administration’s progress, but referred to a task force report completed by the UH Regents that had not been received by the Senate.

Senators were also critical of Apple’s comments made to students and faculty at a meeting in the midst of the Senate investigative hearings, where he dismissed the $200,000 lost to scammers and proclaimed “its time to get this behind us.”

Apple said at the October meeting: “I just want to give people a perspective. And by the way, $200,000 is not a trivial amount of money. But we are a $1 billion – Manoa, just Manoa, not the University – we are a $1 billion operation. I have people who report to me who handle $180 million a year. And they say, ‘You know what, if somebody looked you’d probably find just through the handling of that much money if you went and looked at every individual thing you could probably find that much in terms of just losses here and there through kinds of processes.’” He also compared the $200,000 defrauded from the University as “the equivalent of an academic bake sale” … that’s gone “awry.”

Tom Apple, UH Manoa Chancellor

Slom and Kim queried Apple about his comments until Greenwood, in an unorthodox manner, interrupted the hearing announcing they would no longer comment.

“Ok enough of this. I am sorry, but I don’t believe this conversation is getting us where we need to go,” Greenwood proclaimed.

Kim, obviously surprised Greenwood tried to put an end to her line of questioning, said: “Well I am sorry. I beg to differ, Madame President, because I think these kinds of statements and these kinds of responses are what get us into trouble. And the students are being misled, and being told certain things by our administrators. I think we need to get straight answers. We cannot just brush it over any more,” Kim said.

The relationship between Greenwood and key Senators had grown so contentious after the Wonder Blunder, that Greenwood demanded the University Board of Regents pay her $2 million to resign. U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye told Regents he was supporting Greenwood, a clear sign they should back down from any thoughts of firing Greenwood or asking her to resign. Greenwood eventually withdrew the demand letter.

After the hearing, Kim said in response to a Hawaii Reporter inquiry: “I felt that UH came to the Senate’s Ways and Means committee ill prepared to answer questions regarding recent expenditures, cost allocations, etc. It appeared that the President had her entire support staff with her, and still they did not provide complete answers.  Typical of UH, we were given partial answers which would have sufficed to anyone who had not researched the questions beforehand.

“When asked about the status of the 18 recommendations made by the Committee on Accountability, the President only referred to the Regents task force and did not bother to address any of the outstanding items.  When pressed for an update, the President basically punted.  If the President and Chancellor would like to put the “Wonder Blunder” behind them, they should provide the Senate with all of the information requested of them from the hearings and the Committee’s report.

“Given the amount of salary the President, Chancellor and some of the top administrators, I was very disappointed with their responses and attitude.”





  1. i think the federal gov't. student loan program allows for tuition hikes.these generous gov't. backed loans are guaranteed to all students.and of course the UH faculty and admin. personnel see this cash cow and raise tuitions knowing full well that many students will seek these loans.the gov't. loans allow for more students to attend UH.more students mean more revenue for UH.but the cosequences,especially for the students are terrible.high crushing debt that these students will have to pay back.and many students shouldn't be enrolled in a college at all.once again gov't. interference,this time in education is causing this vicious cycle of high tuition,high unrealistic enrollments and a burden of debt to students.

  2. He also compared the $200,000 defrauded from the University as “the equivalent of an academic bake sale” … that’s gone "awry.” These academic bureaucrats are sooo out of touch. If Greenwood and Apple were required to repay this money out of pocket (held accountable, in other words), I'm sure they would consider it different than a bake sale. These people are way overpaid and over-compensated with zero accountability.

  3. This entire matter is way too much. There seriously needs to be some housecleaning and I applaud Senator Kim for her due diligence as well as Senator Slom. Where is the money going? My daughter moved all the way to Washington state because of the lack of quality education vs a money pit here in Hawaii. We need to get a grip on this or our children who seek higher education will not be able to afford to do so. Lets do it now.

  4. This is bad! Tuition should not be a problem for young people seeking a better education. It's unfair! They should do everything in their power to make education accessible for everyone.

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