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Catching up with the UH president

A year in review with David Lassner

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David Lassner

Under the new UH Mānoa reorganizational structure, David Lassner will continue as the UH system president.

From 7 a.m. to 9 p.m., David Lassner’s day is packed with meetings. But he finds a way to manage his schedule without breaking a sweat in his Sig Zane aloha shirt.

That’s normal for the University of Hawai‘i president.

“You never really know what a job is until you’re in the job,” he said.

Lassner has served as both UH  president and Mānoa chancellor for over three years. That came to an end when the provost position was approved by the Board of Regents in April. It was part of phase one of the UH Mānoa reorganization, which recombined the positions of system president and Mānoa chancellor and establishes a new provost position.

The UH Mānoa provost serves as a chief academic officer of the flagship campus and assists the president. Michael Bruno was appointed as UH Mānoa provost.

Lassner admitted the reorganization was difficult to get through because there were groups on campus that opposed the provost position in phase one. The Mānoa Faculty Senate requested that the Board of Regents wait until phase one was presented as a whole. 

 “Just getting to the point where something that big had enough support to pass, and I know there are people who did not think it was the right thing to do,” he said.

Academic Reorganizations 

Lassner said the next phase of the reorganization is an innovative approach to organizing the administration of a campus to focus on outcomes.

The university is also looking at academic reorganizations such as remerging the School of Travel Industry Management with Shidler College of Business. This is to further strengthen the capabilities of the TIM school. UH is also looking into merging the College of Languages, Linguistics and Literature, the College of Arts and Humanities and the School of Pacific and Asian Studies. This is to create a strong focus on liberal arts and the Asia-Pacific region. 

Phase two timeline

UH will start to work on phase two of the reorganization starting in the summer. 

“I think that will be much more impactful to the campus at large to the students and faculty. The phase one organization, frankly, which combined my two jobs into one and established the provost that really cemented much of the way we’ve been working the past two and a half years anyway,” he said.

Some highlights of the phase two timeline include five new teams looking at new areas for offices. The offices have a focus on educational excellence, student success, research scholarship and graduate studies, enrollment management and equity, and conflict and climate resolution. 

The teams will work over the summer to have an organization chart and proposal by the end of September. 

UH will use the fall for informal consulation, with the goal of creating formal proposals to go through formal consultation in spring of 2020. 

Budget scare

Despite these highlights, Lassner has been at the forefront of criticism along with his administrative team. 

In early April, the Senate budget proposal called for $30 million in cuts over the next two years, including the termination of 121 faculty positions and another 100 jobs across the university. Some faculty criticized Lassner’s response to the scare.

However, the cuts were reversed. “The way we approached it was to sit down with the architect of those cuts calmly and rationally, and discuss why that was not a good idea not just for the University of Hawai‘i but for the state of Hawai‘i,” he said.

Next steps with Maunakea

Lassner also tackled the divide with Maunakea, and has been searching for public feedback.

Protests and public hearings have continued this year when the Hawai‘i Supreme Court approved the $1.4 billion Thirty Meter Telescope. There has been a divide in what the definition is of a “sacred space.”

“I think we have a lot of work to do with Maunakea to bring the community as together as possible given that there are very fundamental disagreements about many things, and I think we can be great stewards of the mountain and embrace culture and education while supporting astronomy and telescopes and amazing discoveries that come out of that mountain and the great opportunities for the residents of Hawai‘i Island.”

Academic success at UH 

As the academic year comes to a close, Lassner, being “a data guy,” said he’s proud to know UH Mānoa increased its enrollment for the first time in eight years and is on track to do it again next year.

UH Mānoa’s four-year graduation rate doubled from 18% to 34% from 2010 to 2018, according to the UH Mānoa graduation analysis.

Lassner’s words of wisdom to the upcoming graduates is to “find your passions.”

 “If you get a degree in history, you’re not necessarily going to be a historian,” he said. “You’re going to find something to do where it’s not so much the history you learned but the intellectual skill, discipline and ammunition that are going to serve you well.  Find something you enjoy, keep doing it, stay agile and look for opportunities.”