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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted at 12:10 p.m., Wednesday, April 18, 2001

University strike over; some classes resume today

By Brandon Masuoka
and Jennifer Hiller
Advertiser Staff Writers

Hours after a settlement, University of Hawai'i faculty and students returned to campuses today with high hopes of completing the semester and little lingering bitterness about the 13-day strike.

"It's a great day," said Glenn Man, chair of the UH-Manoa English department. "We're really happy. Everyone I talked to is happy to come to work."

Some 45,000 students and 3,200 faculty members are returning to school after a settlement last night between the state and the University of Hawai'i Professional Assembly that gave faculty a 10 percent raise over two years.

"I believe our members will ratify by a fairly large margin," said UHPA associate executive director John Radcliffe. "Next week we'll meet with everyone and go over it. It's a good settlement. It hit all the bases.

"The relations between UHPA and the governor will improve dramatically. Any ill will between us and the governor is over with. That's behind us. The governor has made it clear he wants to work with us for the betterment of the university. I've worked with the governor before and I know his word is good."

Some classes open

Although classes officially resume tomorrow, some students and faculty returned to campus today. Some professors held class, while others went to their offices to catch up on work.

"I don't blame my teachers for striking," said nursing sophomore Maureen Velasco, 20. "They deserve to be paid more. Their jobs are important to the future."

Graduate student Zoe Norcross, 27, said she particularly liked the provision giving instructors merit raises for outstanding achievement. "It encourages the faculty to continue to strive for better performance," said Norcross, who is studying geology and geophysics.

To finish the semester on May 13 as scheduled, students — at least at the Manoa campus — will have to attend weekend classes.

Some students grumbled about the change. But others, such as senior Todd Inouye, 23, said he would "sacrifice" his days off for his education.

"It's my sacrifice for the faculty," said Inouye, who is studying psychology. " It makes sense to me. It's give and take. Students had their break with the strike. That was their weekend."

Added Velasco: "I think it's junk to come to school on the weekend. It's just not normal. But it's the sacrifice I'm going to make for school, for my grades."

Faculty member Bob Duesterhaus, who works at the Office of Student Affairs, said he felt sorry for students who were caught in the middle of the strike. He said he wasn't bitter at the state and hoped other faculty would feel the same.

"We just did what we needed to do," he said. "No one wanted to hurt the students."

Man said he believes students will be motivated to attend school on weekends to graduate on time, and added that he was pleased Gov. Ben Cayetano settled the strike before the semester was lost.

"To his credit, the governor wanted the semester to end on time," Man said. "He had enough foresight."

Contract issues settled

The settlement addresses the workload at community colleges and a pay raise for lecturers — the most emotional and contentious issues in negotiations — and represents a middle ground. Before the strike, the union had asked for a 13 percent package and the state had offered 11 percent.

Cayetano called the contract, developed after a 12-hour negotiating session yesterday, a "win for the faculty, the university, and a win for the state as well."

The 13-day walkout was the longest in the university's history. Although professors still need to vote to ratify the final contract, the UH is poised to resume its regular class schedule for the first time since faculty members walked off the job April 5.

Students are encouraged to go to classes today, but the full schedule will officially resume tomorrow, to give everyone time to hear about the settlement. The agreement will send professors and students scrambling to salvage the school year, and brings a close to what is regarded as the most tumultuous and difficult semester the troubled university has endured.

Administration officials are still finalizing a calendar of weekend classes.

Strike historic

Faculty demanding better wages and working conditions hit the picket lines for only the second time in the history of the statewide system. UHPA members last struck Nov. 21-22, 1983. But that strike was weak by comparison. In the earlier walkout, the union announced the two-day strike would demonstrate its unhappiness with the tortured pace of negotiations. About 30 percent of faculty members crossed the picket lines. The faculty union, along with other public employee unions, secured a 5 percent pay increase and a better benefits package in 1984.

This time, participation remained at 86 percent systemwide as of yesterday. At the community colleges, participation was so high that the campuses remained virtually closed, and even some non-UHPA faculty members refused to teach. At the flagship Manoa campus, turnout at the picket lines started at 90 percent and dipped to 81 percent yesterday.

The walkout coincided with an ongoing strike by Hawai'i's 13,000 public school teachers, and marked the first time in U.S. history that labor unions have shut down an entire public education system.

Semester saved

An end to the strike diverts a potential disaster for the university semester, which many people predicted could not be salvaged if the strike lasted through Friday. Although the administration never released its "drop dead" dates, most professors talked about the middle or end of the week as the time beyond which they would have to give students incompletes for the semester.

When the strike started, many students and faculty members thought it would last only a few days and do little to disrupt their schedules. "We never dreamed it would last so long," said Mary Tiles, a member of the UHPA bargaining team. "The state just had no intention of settling."

A meeting yesterday morning among Cayetano, UHPA President Alex Malahoff, UHPA associate executive director John Radcliffe, U.S. Rep. Neil Abercrombie, state chief negotiator Davis Yogi and state budget director Neal Miyahira was the first sign a settlement was imminent.

Members of the UHPA bargaining team spent the early evening calling their 24-member executive board to arrange a conference call to ask for a voice vote on the potential contract.

The faculty strike represented the the latest blow for the struggling university system, which was hit hard by the state's financial crisis of the mid-1990s. Full-time UH faculty members earn from $30,000 to $147,000, although most fall toward the bottom of that scale. And most Hawai'i faculty members earn less than their colleagues nationwide.

Prominent faculty members have been recruited by other universities; the 10-campus system faces a maintenance backlog of nearly $170 million; and Manoa received a bruising accreditation report in 1999. While it renewed the school's accreditation, the team blasted communications, planning, administration and governance at the university.

Weekend classes are necessary because the Manoa campus would otherwise have to explain to the accrediting agency why it could not complete 15 weeks of instruction, the standard set by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges for a college semester. The strike started during the 12th week of school, and eight days of instruction were lost.

Staff writers Curtis Lum and Kevin Dayton contributed to this report.