Sponsored by:

Comment, blog & share photos

Log in | Become a member
The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, July 16, 2002

New UH chancellor set to move in

By Beverly Creamer
Advertiser Education Writer

As his Aug. 1 starting date comes closer, newly appointed Manoa chancellor Peter Englert already is planning one of his first moves — into a student dormitory on campus.

The newly appointed chancellor for University of Hawai'i, Peter Englert , is an established nuclear chemist.

Deborah Booker • The Honolulu Advertiser

"I will be looking into improving student life on campus, and as part of this I will want to experience myself how this is, and I will be testing the system by taking residence in a student dorm for some time," Englert said yesterday at the end of a long day of meetings with deans.

"I've not told anybody," he said. "We've not even thought about how we will spend my first days or few weeks, but that's on the agenda."

Englert, who is in Honolulu for a week of intensive meetings before assuming the $254,000-a-year post, said he wants to see the dorm situation firsthand, "in order to be able to make judgments later on when it comes to student housing, campus life, food and services and other amenities that students have talked about and want to have looked at."

There has been growing concern about uncontrolled drinking, noise and occasional violence in dorms on campus, and UH President Evan Dobelle has established a no-tolerance policy for wrongdoers. But beyond that, Englert wants to understand from the inside out the kind of campus life the dorms offer and what their drawbacks may be.

The dorm and length of his stay have yet to be decided, he said.

Englert, 52, leaves his position as Pro Vice Chancellor of Victoria University of Wellington in New Zealand on July 31 and assumes his duties the next day as the first UH Manoa chancellor in 16 years. He has become familiar with the UH campus during time spent here last year establishing a cooperative exchange relationship between the two institutions, as well as on two quick visits after his appointment.

Tonight he'll have dinner with newly appointed Athletic Director Herman Frazier — a meeting he set up two weeks ago by cell phone as Frazier was "sitting on his suitcases waiting for a taxi" to the airport after the announcement of his appointment.

Frazier, who leaves the position of Athletic Director at Alabama-Birmingham to take the job at UH, also assumes his duties Aug. 1.

"I want to talk about athletics in general," said Englert, "his assessment of our programs, about developing new programs — and then toss some ideas around."

Englert comes to the University of Hawai'i as an internationally renowned scientist with a history of research on the Mars Observer project and the current Mars Odyssey project. As a nuclear chemist, he is part of the team analyzing with gamma-neutron spectrometery the distribution of elements in and below the surface of the Red Planet.

Later in August, the Mars team will meet at UH to complete analysis of some of the latest data, Englert said, and may have a new announcement to make about the potential for life on Mars.

"Wherever there is or was water, there could have been life," he said. "And also (the presence of water means) you could put human beings there."

UH is playing a growing role in the Mars project, with Jeff Taylor and newly hired Scott Anderson, both at the Hawai'i Institute of Geophysics and Planetology on campus, as new members of the team. That gives the University of Hawai'i a prestigious 10 percent of the international team, Englert said.

It also gives students growing opportunities to become involved in Mars research projects. The new UH strategic plan and revamped core curriculum emphasize undergraduate involvement in research projects. Englert applauds those measures and wants to push them further by having research faculty teach basic sciences.

He said universities should be able to offer some involvement with the research process "from the first moment a student sets foot on campus."

"And everyone tells me they are ready to do it."

But things will not change at the university without faculty involvement, Englert said. He sees himself as a facilitator to bring ideas together and move forward.

With a passionate sense that all students must be exposed to the research experience, Englert also speaks eloquently of the need to expand the reach of higher education into the Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander communities, as he has been doing at Victoria University with the Maori community. Native Hawaiians are vastly underrepresented in higher education in Hawai'i, he said, despite the advent of departments such as Hawaiian Studies.

In Wellington, he said, they established a student support system that involved older Maori student mentors looking after younger ones.

"We called it a family group," he said. "And slowly it became known that Victoria University was a good place to go because needs were being looked after."

The school has seen tremendous growth in the number of Maori students, plus growing numbers choosing the sciences, traditionally not appealing as fields of study.

Englert said he would hesitate to bring any new system to UH without first looking into the needs and consulting faculty.

For a scientist and administrator, Englert is deeply grounded in humanist ethics. His wedding band, for instance, has oak and lime leaves intertwined, a theme taken from a Greek myth about undying love.

And Englert has turned down a university plan to have his residence in the former Jean Charlot home, primarily because the bedrooms are far apart, which upset his two young sons.

"It's not our idea of family living," he said.

His family will not come to Hawai'i immediately, but join him at Christmas or at the end of the school year. Englert's wife, Susanna, is a software engineer looking into how to pursue her career in Hawai'i.

Reach Beverly Creamer at bcreamer@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-8013.