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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Friday, January 31, 2003

UH-state relationship must be on firm footing

It's difficult not to sense an air of coolness between Gov. Linda Lingle and University of Hawai'i President Evan Dobelle.

After all, Dobelle endorsed her opponent in the governor's race, and Lingle made no secret of the fact that she was annoyed.

And then just this week, Lingle took time out to suggest Dobelle was being less than "professional" because he pushed for faculty salary increases without saying, precisely, where the money is coming from.

But fortunately for UH — and for the entire state, for that matter — the two have not let their personal interaction get in the way of what is important for our university.

Lingle this week had positive and creative things to say about the need to continue down the road toward total autonomy for the university. UH gained a measure of control over its own affairs under a recent constitutional amendment, but it still is subject to considerable strings and restraints from the state.

Lingle is talking about further changes that would leave the university almost entirely autonomous, virtually another branch of government similar to the Judiciary.

Cynics might suggest this is simply an effort to cut UH loose and let it twist slowly in the wind. But that doesn't appear to be the case.

In addition to increasing autonomy, Lingle said she is determined to reverse a sad trend that has seen general fund support for UH decline sharply over the past several years.

That's important. Because no matter how well UH does in raising outside funds, grants and tuition from its students, it will always require a degree of state support. The more stable that support is, the better university officials can plan.

The reductions in state funding may have had some tonic effect, because they have forced UH to look much more closely at its own resources. The result has been a much more vigorous program of fund-raising for its endowment and programs.

If that more active program of fund-raising can be sustained, and if state support steadies and perhaps even improves as the economy improves, UH could be on the road to greatness.

Some lawmakers worry that the general fund should not be used to support UH when it does, after all, have other sources of income. That is shortsighted thinking, however, because a vibrant, competitive university is a value for all of the state, not just those who work or study there.