Campus Center file photo.jpg

The University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa released a draft on Friday of the proposed cuts and merges to over two dozen programs from 15 schools.

UH Provost Michael Bruno said in a news release that, “The COVID-19 pandemic has now confronted the State and UH with the most dire fiscal crisis in our history. … Although the precise extent and nature of the cuts to our State allocation remain unclear, it is certain that these cuts will be significantly larger than those we experienced during the Great Recession.”

This is part of the university’s phase two plan to address the financial crisis by listing cost saving measures, according to the language of the news release. 

In a Sept. 3 Board of Regents (BOR) meeting, Kalbert Young, Vice President for Budget and Finance said that UH is facing a projected $95 million budget deficit. 

“We are looking at a total UH system, so across all campuses including community college, about 95 million [dollars]...of that about 65 million is in state general funds, another 30 million is cast in tuition and tuition related fees reduction,” Young said in an interview on Sept. 11. 

Young went on to explain that although some campuses have seen an increase in enrollment, it is a misconception that an increase in student body means an increase in revenue; one of the reasons being that UH as a whole has the highest resident enrollment rate in the country. The majority of tuition revenue lost is due to a decrease in non-resident students. 

“Resident enrollment is actually up, but non-resident enrollment is down. That includes international students, obviously because of the current situation, international students are down. U.S. mainland students, also down, probably associated with the issue of getting here, but also graduate students. Because most graduate students by and large, most of that revenue in the graduate area comes from non-residents so non-residents students...their tuition is one of the largest,” Young said. 

Young emphasized that the recently announced budget cuts are simply a proposal, however campuses have been partaking in conversations to restructure departments for a few years now.

“There is nothing [in this proposal] that is concrete plans that are being worked towards. My understanding is that there has been a  number of discussions in each of the campuses of the last several months, but they go back years of ideas of possible areas of opportunities for restructuring mostly to achieve the objective of efficiency,” Young said. 

It was the on-set of COVID-19 that has caused an urgency for these plans to be put in motion sooner. 

“It has taken on a new light because of the budget issues, so now it looks like there is a lot more attention trying to explore these ideas to see if they are valid or worthwhile,” Young said. 

The implementation of budget cuts will be evolving as plans are concretized throughout the next year and will depend on the response from faculty, staff and students. The hope is that a plan for the new balanced budget will be proposed in the next fiscal school year which is July 1. The question right now is what to do with the remaining fiscal school year. 

“The Board of Regents is going to have to deliberate...there is already increased expectation and anxiety from the board for quicker process, but the president expects that the process has to engage pretty far down meaning student organization groups, faculty, staff, faculty governance groups so there is a pretty extensive amount of stakeholder meetings plans or opportunity for discussion so that adds a lot of time,” Young said. 

UH administration will have to further refine the proposed plans for the BOR Budget and Finance meeting that is set for October 3.

“We are probably going to have to have all of the stakeholder meetings and identify particular program areas that we are going to focus on resizing probably in the earlier part of the next calendar year so January, February and it looks like we are still within that window for being on time for that,” Young said.

Young explained that the decision for which degrees will be dissolved and which will be merged has more to do with organizational efficiency and how relevant the program is in Hawaii and less with concerns to revenue.

“You don’t get to $100 million trimming on the edges. Just because you eliminate a program does not mean you eliminate faculty because we teach across different degrees so again eliminating programs does not mean saving money...we are going to be going through and trying to weigh what is important for UH and for the state of Hawaiʻi,” Young said. 

The term “stop-out” was used to describe the cuts to some programs. Stop-out means that current students enrolled in the degree will graduate, however admission to the program will be terminated. 

Young said that these stop-outs will not be in immediate effect and could even take a few years with consideration for the students in the program. 

Under the School of Social Sciences, admissions to the Journalism bachelor’s degree program would be terminated.

When Ann Auman, journalism professor and undergrad journalism chair, heard the news, she said, “This is not a good time to eliminate the program.”

“This sends the wrong message to the public – that journalism isn’t important. But journalism has a history and important role in our democracy,” she said in an email.

In an email from the program, the department ensured that students will still receive their degrees. 

“This is a proposal, and we are responding as we think this would hurt enrollment and be a disaster for us,” the department said in an email.

“Faculty were not consulted about the proposal, which is required by our UHPA contract,” the email continued. “Our administration needs the facultyʻs help in addressing budget cuts, and we want to help, but they didnʻt ask. It was all done behind closed doors.”

The draft’s vague language alarmed some faculty and staff members, while others didn't know it was published. 

Ethnic Studies Associate Professor Ty Tengan said it was concerning when he read the recommendations. The draft said that Ethnic Studies and Women’s Studies should consider partnering with the Interdisciplinary Studies bachelor’s degree program to “increase enrollment.”

However, in the draft’s summary recommendations, if the enrollment doesn’t increase then it would have to consider gutting the program. 

“I think the bottom point for us is that any restructuring of our program with or under Interdisciplinary Studies would result in the loss of autonomy, a decrease in majors and no cost savings,” Tengen said. “It is also out of step with the broader racial reckoning happening nationally and globally, as well as a turn away from Hawai‘i’s Native Hawaiian and local communities that fought to establish our department 50 years ago.”

Sarah Michal Hamid, UH Women’s Studies and Sustainability Studies undergraduate student, was also worried about her degree program.

“The proposals that UH made, which strip the Women’s Studies and Ethnic Studies of their departmental autonomy, completely emulate the way that UH treats marginalized communities, especially during COVID,” Hamid said. “In the midst of the pandemic, which we know is impacting women, LGBTQ+, Kānaka, disabled folks and BIPOC the most, UH limiting the Women Studies and Ethnic Studies programs is limiting access to educational opportunities that allow us to support our communities.”

Some of the cuts proposed to certain programs are due to stagnant or declining enrollment.

Under the William Richardson School of Law, admissions to the Master of Law (LLM) and Doctor of Juridical Science (SJD) would be terminated.

According to the draft, “there are 328 students enrolled in the JD, eight in LLM (Down from 13 in 2014) and five in the SJD.”

“The LLM program was approved in 2006 and granted established status in 2011,” the draft continued. “It is unlikely that the enrollment in this program will increase.”

The College of Arts, Languages and Letters had the highest proposed cuts to their programs.  

In the Department of American Studies, the master’s degree program, which currently have six students enrolled, would have to eliminate admission.

Admission to the bachelor’s program in Phillipine Language and Culture would also be terminated. However, the draft said it may consider offering a Philippine Studies Major equivalent through Interdisciplinary Studies instead. 

The bachelor’s degree in German and Russian was also on the list of the draft’s recommendation to terminate their admission. 

“Their (German) degree has been on the ‘small programs’ list every year, unable to meet the threshold of an average of 10 graduate per (3-year average),” according to the draft.

Under the Department of Philosophy & Religion, the bachelor’s degree program in Religion would have to terminate admissions and consider retaining a minor.

Theatre and Dance programs will also end admissions to all of their degree programs. The Dance program was also on the “small programs list”

Other programs like microbiology and nursing may also face cuts.

For more information on the programs affected, click the links below:

College of Arts, Languages and Letters

College of Education

College of Engineering

College of Natural Sciences

College of Social Sciences

College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources

Hawaiʻinuiākea School of Hawaiian Knowledge

Institute for Astronomy

John A. Burns School of Medicine

Myron B. Thompson School of Social Work

School of Architecture

School of Nursing and Dental Hygiene

School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology

Shidler College of Business

The William S. Richardson School of Law

Senior Staff Writer

Cassie Ordonio double majors in Journalism and Pacific Islands Studies. The former Bay Area native is a transfer student from City College of San Francisco where she previously served as Editor in Chief at The Guardsman.


Esther Kim is the Editor in Chief of Ka Leo. While she is a Bachelor's of Social Work student, she has a passion for writing and wants to use journalism in conjunction with social work to progress conversations surrounding social justice and equity.