Senate President: ‘Bloated’ Bureaucracy at University of Hawaii is Making Tuition Unaffordable

Senate President Donna Mercado Kim and Senator Will Espero question UH officials about expenditures (photo by Mel Ah Ching)
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Senate President Donna Mercado Kim and Senator Will Espero question UH officials about expenditures (photo by Mel Ah Ching)

By Malia Zimmerman – Michael Dahilig may be one of the state University’s most loyal sports fans.

Dahilig, who up until recently served on the University of Hawaii Board of Regents, took some $12,509 in athletic tickets, airfare, hotel and gifts during his 6-year stint, State Ethics Commission records show.


That included a trip to the Sugar Bowl in Louisiana in 2008 with the University covering his airfare, hotel, Sugar Bowl tickets and other gifts.

Senators questioned University administrators and regents about the athletic tickets that went to Dahilig in a Friday Senate Ways and Means hearing focused on weeding out “bloat” at the University.

“When you see four tickets, in one case 32 tickets, seven tickets, 50 tickets – then it really raises the red flag,” said Senate President Donna Mercado Kim about Dahilig’s actions.

Dahilig, who is the director of planning for the County of Kauai and an attorney with the Kauai county attorney’s office, is currently a candidate the Regent’s executive administrator position, a job that reported pays $150,000 annually.

In an email to Hawaii Reporter, Dahilig said:  “When I was Student Regent and up until the Sugar Bowl in 2008, there was no board policy prescribing the distribution of tickets other than a requirement that they be disclosed through an ethics disclosure. Previous practice was the board office received a block of tickets from athletics for all sports then they were distributed ay the request of a regent. After the State Ethics Commission required a policy be put in place after Sugar Bowl by the board, I have complied with that board policy concerning tickets offered to regents.

UH Athletic Tickets obtained by Mike Dahilig between 2006 and 2012

“Athletics is part of the university just like theatre, lectures and symposiums. Regents should have an understanding of all facets of the university, and athletics, hence the regents policy on athletic tickets to seek that balance. I believe the university practice has been vetted and confirmed by the Ethics commission and I abide by their determination on what is ethical or not ethical practice. The aggregate amount reflects my long tenure on the board and if analyzed per annum, does not deviate from what regents have received if they have elected to use their tickets.”

Dahilig has his supporters. UH Executive Vice President Linda Johnsrud defended Dahilig after the Senate hearing, maintaining $12,509 is not substantial, particularly over 6 years.

But Senators told Hawaii Reporter after the hearing that the athletic tickets, travel and hotel are just some of several expenditures that add up to waste and abuse of government resources at the state’s only University. Other concerns center around high salaries and lucrative contracts that have been outsourced.

“As far as I’m concerned based on a comparison of salaries, we do have bloat,” Senate President Donna Mercado Kim said. “I’m very concerned about that because it raises the cost of tuition and college costs around the country, it’s just getting out of hand and people can’t afford to sent their kids to school.”

UH Executive Vice President Linda Johnsrud

The University has 13,000 employees, including 7,600 full time staff, including 72 people who make $200,000 a year and above.

As the total personnel budget has risen to $500 million, the tuition has more than doubled rising 141 percent in a decade.

The University, which reached a record enrollment Fall at 60,630 with students paying about $10,000 a year for undergraduate tuition.  The tuition will climb another 33 percent in the next five years.

The institution’s top-paid administrators are the highest paid employees on the state’s payroll.

UH President MRC Greenwood makes $475,000 a year plus a $60,000 annual housing allowance and other perks and travel; UH-Manoa Chancellor Tom Apple is paid $440,000 a year; and Athletic Director Ben Jay makes $293,000 a year and up to $127,000 in bonuses.

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 employees 6 staff attorneys and several public relations personnel who make over $100,000 annually, which is in addition to contracting with private attorneys and public relations companies outside of the institution.

Some of the personnel have been awarded more than they are entitled in benefits and perks, Senators learned during the Friday hearing.

Michael A. Dahilig took $12,509 worth of UH athletic tickets, airfare and hotel in 6 years when he was a regent.

For example, when UH-Manoa Chancellor Virginia Henshaw stepped down last year, she requested and was granted a 10-month professional improvement paid leave, instead of the five months she was entitled to.

Her replacement, Tom Apple, was granted a 5-year contract, even though the standard contract is three years.

UH’s Johnsrud defended the University’s budget and maintained there is no waste or bloat.

“If you want to be the first to reduce the salaries, you’ll only hurt the university,” Johnsrud said. “We want to provide Hawaii with the very best service we can in all of these areas and we’re going to have to pay to get it.”

Although the University is autonomous, it does come to the legislature for funding.

Senators have been more carefully examining management and fiscal decisions at the University since this summer, when UH President MRC Greenwood admitted the University lost $200,000 to scam artists who promised to throw a Stevie Wonder fundraising concert on the Manoa campus, but had no authority to do so.

FBI agents have arrested and charged two individuals with defrauding the University in what has become known as the “Wonder Blunder.”

The Senate President’s Committee on Accountability held three hearings in the Fall and subsequently issued a list of 18 recommendations for regents and administrators. But so far, the University leadership has just reviewed – and not implemented – the recommendations, further irking the Senators.

Senators told Hawaii Reporter they are concerned about the “cavalier attitude” and liberties some top UH administrators with taxpayer funds and student tuition.

Chancellor Apple’s comments made to students and faculty at an October meeting only heightened the Senators’ fears, because Apple dismissed the $200,000 lost to scammers and proclaimed “its time to get this behind us.”

Senate President Donna Mercado Kim speaks to reporters after a UH Hearing (photo by Mel Ah Ching)

Apple said: “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.”

After the hearing, Kim said: “It bothered me when she (UH’s Linda Johnsrud) said we don’t have bloat at the University of Hawaii – that the salaries are not bloated – because I believe the salaries are bloated.”

Just 11 years ago, the UH president made $187,000 and he was both the president and the chancellor. Today, there is a president being paid $475,000 and a chancellor is being paid $425,000 – and that does not include the perks, Kim noted.





  1. The Federal student aid and tuition grant programs are really the driving force of increasing the tuition at these universities – it's just like the home photovotaic systems, when the government subsidizes the costs go up.

  2. "As the total personnel budget has risen to $500 million, the tuition has more than doubled rising 141 percent in a decade."

    This ties the increase in personnel budget to the reason for the tuition increase. One could just as easily say the electricity budget has risen, or the price of gas, or medical costs, or etc., etc….

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