Group: University of Hawaii fiscal woes hurting students, faculty


LEAD: Imua Manoa, a new group of faculty, staff and students at University of Hawaii, are demanding better leadership

By Malia Zimmerman |

HONOLULU — Students and faculty at the University of Hawaii are joining forces to try to force solutions to the system’s spiraling financial crisis.

The University of Hawaii hiked tuition by 108 percent from 2006 to 2012, and will increase tuition another 33 percent between 2013 and 2017.

Annual tuition for a general undergraduate student will climb from $4,522 in 2007 to $11,376 in the 2016-2017 school year.

A newly formed group of students, faculty and staff, I Mua Mānoa, said students are not getting the value they deserve at the University’s flagship campus, the University of Hawaii-Manoa. Imua is the Hawaiian word for “going forward.”

Part of the problem is the university is in the midst of a budget crisis, the group’s members said, and as a result, faculty and staff are being laid off.

“We cannot give the attention we were giving up until now, and I think they (the students) deserve much better than what they are getting now,” said Monique Chyba, a full professor of mathematics at the University of Hawaii-Manoa campus.

Fewer instructors, Chyba said, mean larger classes — some have 120 students, and even that could grow.

Interim Chancellor Robert Bley-Vroman lays the problem squarely at the feet of Hawaii’s lawmakers. The Hawaii Legislature allocates about $1 billion a year to the semi-autonomous university, but more is needed, Bley-Vroman said.

Bley-Vroman took the position just a few weeks ago after Chancellor Tom Apple was fired.

“The big picture is the overall funding has declined. Tuition is increasing. We work with far fewer resources than we used to, and that impacts everyone,” Bley-Vroman said.

While additional tuition hikes are not out of the question, many faculty, staff and students say another tuition increase is unwarranted.

Marguerite Butler, associate professor of biology, said students aren’t seeing a solid return on their tuition investment.

“The students are not seeing any benefit from the extra money that they are paying. We feel that is wrong,” Butler said. “To make it even worse, the quality of their instruction is going down because you have to serve more people with the same resources, the product will be worse.”

Students say they’re frustrated not just by tuition costs, but also because they cannot get the classes they need to graduate, which means they spend more time at the university and pay more for their degree.

The University of Hawaii-Manoa has about 20,000 students, including 14,500 undergraduates. The statewide student enrollment at the university’s 10 campuses is about 60,000.

Imua Hawaii say they want a strong leader to bring the university out of the budget crisis without hurting students and faculty and the university’s research mission, but they don’t know if Bley-Vroman is the right man for the job.

“We asked him how are we going to fix this budgetary crisis and he seemed unaware of the crisis. That is really what disturbed me more than anything,” Butler said. “He is the chancellor. Why is he not talking with each and every one of his deans to see if there is a crisis? He should know, but he doesn’t seem to know.”