BY JIM DOOLEY – Presidents of public universities with top-tier intercollegiate football programs must walk a “very difficult and treacherous pathway,” University of Hawaii President M.R.C. Greenwood said as she walked that pathway at a state Senate investigative committee hearing yesterday.
“Football gets to be very much more important than any other kind of program in many universities. You get a lot of external influences,” Greenwood said.
She told senators said that after she removed UH Athletic Director Jim Donovan in July, she received “advice” from the governor and “pressure” from the state Senate President and Speaker of the House of Representatives to put Donovan back in the job.
“I don’t get that when we’re trying to select a new Dean of Natural Sciences,” Greenwood told senators in a remarkable six-hour public hearing on recent contoversies at the UH Manoa campus.
The committee heard from Gov. Neil Abercrombie’s chief of staff, Bruce Coppa, who said Abercrombie exerted no pressure on Greenwood but “did ask the president to consider all the options that were out there.”
Abercrombie said later in a press release that when he met with Greenwood about Donovan, “I stated very clearly….that my sole concern was for fairness and even-handedness.”
Greenwood supported the governor’s version of events, saying that Abercrombie didn’t tell me to do something.”
Instead, she said, the governor “told me the circumstances of the political environment.”
Committee chair Sen. Donna Kim and deputy chair Sen. Jill Tokuda accused Greenwood of overstepping her authority as president and inserting herself in matters that should have been handled by subordinates.
Greenwood said she only did so at the instruction of the Board of Regents, but acknowledged that she made mistakes in the aftermath of a bungled and cancelled Athletics Department fundraiser in August.
Sen. Sam Slom, another member of the committee, said there is widespread concern in the community about the ability of Greenwood and her administrators to correct their mistakes.
The hearing also featured an appearance by Donovan, who explained to the senators that after he was bounced from the AD job, he reluctantly accepted another high-level, $200,000-per-year Manoa post because he didn’t want to sue the university.
He agreed not to sue UH when he accepted the new job inside Manoa Chancellor Tom Apple’s office.
The University also agreed to pay Donovan’s $30,000 legal fees.
Donovan also asserted in his testimony that when Howard Karr was chairman of the UH Board of Regents, Karr meddled in internal Athletics Department personnel decisions by telling Donovan which coaches he felt should be hired or dismissed.
Karr is now chairman of a UH committee that is searching for a new Athletics Director.
Current Regents chairman Eric Martinson was questioned about Donovan’s claims about Karr.
“Does it bother you that these things are happening?” Kim asked.
“Sure,” said Martinson
“But you know they’re happening, right?” Kim asked.
“Yes,” he said. “It bothers me.”
When Kim and Sen. Ron Kouchi asked why the regents hadn’t formally approved the legal settlement with Donovan, Martinson said University lawyers told them it wasn’t necessary.
The threshold for such approval is $600,000 and the attorneys said Donovan’s three-year, $201,000-per-year salary wasn’t legally part of the settlement. Only the $30,000 legal fee payment was counted in the settlement amount, he said.
The hearing was called to examine what happened after the University lost a $200,000 deposit it paid for entertainer Stevie Wonder to appear at an August 18 concert meant to raise money for the cash-strapped Athletics Department.
Few new details of that botched event, now widely referred to as the “Wonder Blunder,” emerged at the hearing.
Private attorney Dennis Chong Kee, whose firm was hired under a $50,000 contract to research the events leading up to the cancelled concert, said he believes the University was the victim of a “scam” perpetrated by promoters of the event.
But the public version of his firm’s report still has numerous holes in it because the names of all non-University employees and the companies involved in the Wonder concert promotion have been whited-out.
Chong Kee wouldn’t even say exactly how much money his firm will ask to be paid for its work.
He said he hasn’t completed his billings yet.
Asked by Kim if the total will be more or less than $50,000, Chong Kee said, “It might be more.”
Robert Katz, another attorney with a different University contract, said the names were removed from the report to avoid interfering with a law enforcement investigation of the concert investigation, and to prevent invasions of privacy.
Under questioning from Sen. Les Ihara, Katz said he hadn’t checked with the state Office of Information Practices about whether all the redactions in the report met the requirements of the state Open Records Law.
Katz said his firm also has a public relations subcontract with another firm, Hoakea Communications, but all the work isn’t expected to cost more than $25,000.
Greenwood also revealed that yet another private attorney, former Hawaii Attorney General Mark Bennett, was hired to negotiate the University’s settlement with Donovan. Bennett was also retained because of his experience with dealing with the FBI, she said.
She did not say how much Bennett was paid.
Greenwood said the FBI was asked to investigate the concert promoters, including local businessman Bob Peyton and a Florida company that received the $200,000 deposit
“I can’t say a lot about that investigation,” she said.
“I do know more but at this point I can’t disclose it,” she added.
Donovan told the senators that he was interviewed by an FBI agent about the concert promotion. He said the agent apologized to him at length for having to question him.
Donovan also said his involvement in the concert arrangements was limited and he still does not know if the money was lost because of fraud or a because it was a business deal gone bad.
During the course of the hearing, Kim asked Greenwood if she or her representatives had asked members of the business community to try to “delay or cancel” the senate briefing.
Greenwood said that had probably happened.
She also admitted that in remarks at a recent business luncheon, she referred to the Legislature as a “minority shareholder” in the University, but said she was only trying to explain to the executives that the structure of the University is different from the corporations where they work.
Greenwood said she regretted that her decision to place Donovan on paid leave and then to remove him as Athletic Director may have damaged his reputation, but added that she acted properly under the circumstances.
Several times she returned to the theme of the headaches that division one football programs create at public universities.
Such programs create political pressures for university administrators, and she felt them after she removed Donovan, Greenwood said.
“In fact, I was told that I would be (put) in front of a legislative committee, and here I am,” Greenwood told the senators.
The committee’s work is not done. Another briefing is scheduled October 2.
Copies of the fact finder’s report and related material can be found here.