Fix system for appointing UH regents

The discussion following yesterday’s post on Gov. Neil Abercrombie’s requests for the resignations of board and commission members took a turn to the selection process for University of Hawai’i regents, so let’s stick with that for another day.

The governor used to appoint regents of his or her choosing, subject to confirmation by the Senate — similar to the process recently enacted for appointing the Board of Education.

But in a move to handcuff former Republican Gov. Linda Lingle, the Legislature pushed through a constitutional amendment forcing the governor to pick regents from a list provided by a selection panel that can provide as few as two choices.

Then-UH President David McClain derided the selection panel as a “Noah’s Ark” of special interests, and the leading national organization for accrediting colleges and universities recommended strongly against the change as bad practice.

They were right and the system has been fraught with problems. In one instance, one of the two candidates provided Lingle by the selection panel withdrew and the Supreme Court ruled that she had no right to a replacement, leaving her with a single choice.

More recently, Abercrombie didn’t like the few candidates given him for two Big Island seats, but was turned down by the panel when he asked for more choices. He appointed from what he had and the Senate Education Committee rejected both nominees as ill qualified.

Defenders say the system prevents the concentration of too much power with the governor, but also complain about the sometimes low number and poor quality of applicants who send resumes to the selection panel.

We were far better off when the governor could go out and recruit qualified regents instead of being limited to the sometimes lackluster choices that the selection panel receives over the transom.

Our democratic tradition is an executive branch of government that appoints and a legislative branch that advises and consents, with ample checks and accountability on both sides.

These selection panels impose an advisory branch of government in between the governor and Legislature that only obscures the clean line of accountability that’s our best shot at keeping the system honest. Spreading the power around too thinly only guarantees that little gets done.

Lingle, Abercrombie and Senate Education Chairwoman Jill Tokuda all agree that the system for appointing UH regents is flawed and needs to be fixed.

The Legislature should attend to it next session.

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13 Comments on “Fix system for appointing UH regents”

  1. Doug Says:

    For now, with the process as it is, if the problem is poorly-qualified nominees, then why doesn’t the Governor recruit his own people and have them apply to the selection commission? Better than grousing about poorly-qualified nominees, isn’t it? …and it would not require a change in the law.

  2. Capitol -ist/WassupDoc Says:

    I agree. See my comments from yesterday – and as someone who has tracked the Regents for nearly 20 years now, their qualifications are high.

  3. el guapo Says:

    Pat Naughton is a former provost of Hawaii Community College. Trying to understand what makes him “ill qualified”, unless he is a tyrant like David McClain, who would fit the bill of “ill qualified”.

  4. atomicmonkey Says:

    Ooops. Hit the wrong button.

    I have one question. If we change the law and restore the Governor’s ability to choose his own U.H.regents do we have to change it back if a Republican gets elected?

  5. David Shapiro Says:

    If we expect the governor to recruit nominees to apply to the selection panel, it becomes essentially an advise and consent function. That’s the Senate’s job. Why in the world do we need two levels of advise and consent? It only inflates the bureaucracy, impedes actual work getting done and protects the status quo that is working out so well for us.

  6. Kolea Says:

    I’m in basic agreement with your view.

    Except (whadya expect?), two quibbles.

    I think you undermine the ability of folks, well some folks, to consider the merit of your view when you use gratuitous and incendiary terms like “handcuff” Lingle. That’s more than a bit unfair. There was a strong desire among many to make the university “more autonomous.” But a lot of people, often from different perspectives, were reluctant to allow this to happen. It required restraint from all sides to succeed.

    During the Lingle-Hirono campaign, then UH President Dobelle had publicly endorsed Hirono over Lingle. (“As a private individual,” of course!) Lingle was livid. Once she won, she was determined to fire him.

    She appointed one of her top political advisors, Kitty Lagareta and a handful of other donors/ supporters to the BOR. Lagareta, whatever her other skills and charms, can be very heavyhanded. Soon Dobelle was gone and econ professor and administrator, David McClain, was elevated to the post. Having seen his predecessor been drawn and quaretered in the town square, McClain quivered and shivered at the prospect of displeasing Lagareta. He was reduced to being a lapdog, a rather nervous one, during Lagareta’s reign.

    If the appointment and behavior of Dobelle demonstrated less than ideal “autonomy” for the UH, Lagareta’s rule drove the point home with a vengeance.

    The Constitutional Amendment, crafted by the Lege and approved by voters, establishing the nominating committee for regents, may have been a crude correction, but a correction was definitely needed to limit the ability of a governor of either party from unilaterally seizing control of the university.

    While my thinking processes may not be typical for a reader, even the active Democrats among them, it shows how needlessly provocative language can trigger the partisan reflex and complicate what would (ideally) be a straight-forward and reasonable joint exercise in social policy. You may have provoked a different, but also unhelpful response from Republican readers. And to readers lacking direct knowledge of the period in UH and legislative history, you simplicity reinforced a familiar theme in your writing: our legislative process screws up everything it touches. Again, you seem to mistake cynicism and resignation for wisdom. I suggest skepticism is a bit wiser than cynicism, and certainly more helpful when you are trying to encourage more active public involvement in passing meaningful legislation. But you are a few years older than I am.

    So in my version of events, the Lege “over-corrected” a very real problem of abuse of executive authority. Both sides were gripped by partisan considerations, so how do we NOW, refine the appointment process to minimize partisanship while institutionalized a system of shared responsibility for picking the governing board of the university?

    Second, smaller quibble: there are “Democratic traditions,” but in this case, I think you mean “democratic” with a small “d.”

    (This last quibble coming from a guy whose fingers stumble across the keyboard and whose shortcircuiting, misfiring brain tosses onto the page two or three homophones per comment. Please forgive me my foibles as I forgive yours.)

  7. David Shapiro Says:

    Kolea, and I agree with you except for a couple of quibbles. I believe the term “handcuff” originated in informal talks among legislators … at least that’s where I first heard it. No question that Lingle’s people had it in for Dobelle, but the tipping point was when the Democrats turned on him via a screed in the Star-Bulletin penned by Donna Kim, Mark Takai and Amy Agbayani.

    I think the view of Kitty Lagareta as regent-zilla and David McClain as her lapdog is a bit overblown. I had issues with some of the things Kitty did, but she’s an accomplished businesswoman, a respected and engaged community leader and tireless worker for charitable causes who was eminently qualified to serve on the board of regents by any reasonable standard. McClain kept UH afloat during turbulent times and I’ve yet to see how the new regime is an improvement.

  8. hugh clark Says:

    In reviewing my 45 years here, I must say I have never found regents satisfactory, whatever the authority — Burns, Ben, George and Lyndy. They all made it political. Lost opportuniities abound at places like UH-Hilo because it had so little or no sway at the regent level. A Con-Con some day might straighten it out. I remain dismayed.

    Even a committed regent could not learn much about UHH in a once-a-year visitation schedule and enduring a planned dog-and-pony show orchestratd by whatever te

  9. Capitol -ist/WassupDoc Says:

    Don’t forget that the Regents Candidate Advisory Council selected Kitty as one of three nominees for a particular seat – in her case a re-appointment.. Lingle selected her, but she was not confirmed. I attended the hearing, and it was not at all fun & games.

    The core problem I have with both the unscreened appointed Board of Education and going back to the old way of picking REgents is that eight or ten years from now, the appointees are going to be political hacks.

    Again, I urge those of you who want to take on a leadership role at UH, the next round of applications will start up well before Labor Day. The entire process is sunshined so attend the RCAC meetings & speak up.

    And, yes, encourage qualified people to apply – especially from the Neighbor Islands.

    Re Dobelle’s endorsement actions: I was at a meeting at Dole Cannery when he made his announcement. Although I certainly understand why he did so, my first thought was that this had to be the stupidest thing any high-ranking state official could have done.

  10. David Shapiro Says:

    Cap, funny how the other side’s loudmouths are “political hacks” and your side’s loudmouths are progressives.

  11. cloudia Says:

    I’m sorta tired of the same old names that keep popping up!
    “We’ll find something for ya” seems to be the State motto.

  12. Richard Gozinya Says:

    Just appoint Don Horner and be done with it.

  13. Capitol -ist/WassupDoc Says:


    Maybe if a few political progressives were actually appointed to these positions, I might be able to agree with you; however, we tend to stand at the back of the room and not not sit at the table making decisions.


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