McClain's challenge is guiding growth
By Loren Moreno
Advertiser Staff Writer
By Loren Moreno
On the verge of its biggest expansion in more than a decade and with enrollment setting records, the University of Hawai'i has chosen to stick with its current leader for at least the next three years.
David McClain, who has served as acting or interim president since July 2004, was appointed the permanent president of the 10-campus UH system by the university's Board of Regents at a special meeting yesterday. The regents approved McClain's three-year contract at an annual salary of $360,000.
"We gave a lot of consideration to the momentum we've gained over the last two years in addressing a lot of very tough issues — tuition, certain facility issues, a number of academic issues regarding some of our campuses on (accreditation) warning," said Kitty Lagareta, chairwoman of the UH Board of Regents.
"We felt we didn't want to stop the momentum."
McClain faces a number of challenges:
At the regents meeting yesterday, McClain acknowledged the challenges and reiterated the successes of his nearly two years as acting and interim president.
"We've stepped up to address an enrollment surge and a booming economy's work force needs, and we've launched several public-private partnerships to leverage our scarce resources in the construction of new facilities. But there's still more — much more — to be done," McClain told the regents.
Many within the university community believe McClain has demonstrated an ability to lead the university and lead it well.
"We share a vision," said Lagareta about the board and McClain. "I think we have found a working relationship in terms of moving our strategic plan — and the initiatives in it — forward under David McClain's leadership."
Issues such as tuition increases, new dorms, programs on the verge of losing accreditation and getting plans for a West O'ahu campus moving have all been addressed by McClain, she said.
"We have found that David's leadership on these tough issues has been invaluable to all of us making the right decision for our futures," she said.
Others applauded McClain's leadership style.
"He's a professor of economics, and the people in business, they have to have results. They can't have dreams and promises," said Walter Char, professor emeritus at the university's John A. Burns School of Medicine.
"Someone like McClain knows the Islands, knows the school," said Char, who worked as a professor at UH for nearly 40 years.
But McClain's appointment has also generated controversy,
Former Gov. Ben Cayetano said whoever is appointed president should serve for a "longer period of time."
"The president of the university should bring to the job certain aspects that appeal to top-notch faculty or prospective donors," said Cayetano. "If President McClain is only going to be there for three years, I don't know if he can do that. If he's going to be president he should commit for a longer period of time."
But Ralph Wolff, chairman of the Western Association of Schools and Colleges — the university's accrediting body — said there is no rule for how long a president should serve. He said the average tenure is about five to six years.
He said the bigger issue is that McClain has finally shaken the word "interim" from his title.
"It's very important that the university, in responding to the ongoing issues ... know that the person who is projecting the vision holds the trust and the leadership mantle instilled by the board," said Wolff by phone from California.
"Settling the issue of the president allows for the direction to be cast and to move forward."
Much of the controversy surrounding McClain's appointment stems from the regents' decision to suspend a proposed national search for a new president and hire McClain instead.
Some legislators, students and faculty said that McClain should have been appointed president only if he was the best candidate following a national search.
McClain officially took over as interim president following the ouster of Evan Dobelle, and just days before the disastrous Manoa flood in October 2004.
McClain recently brought the university a step closer to approving a U.S. Navy-affiliated research center.
He will oversee construction of nearly $70 million in new dorms on the Manoa campus and the building of a new 122-acre campus in Kapolei. In Kaka'ako, the new home of the Cancer Research Center and Phase II of the medical school are being planned. And on the Big Island, new community college campuses are planned for Hilo and Kona at a cost of about $100 million.
All these projects were made possible by partnerships with private companies, which McClain championed, Lagareta said.
In the past, the university relied almost solely on money from the state Legislature. That often meant waiting years for large projects to be funded.
Sam Shomaker, interim dean of the medical school, said he appreciates the leadership and support McClain has given the school.
"The school of medicine is different from traditional academic units, largely because of the relationship we have with hospitals and the clinical pieces of what we do," said Shomaker. "It is not something that is learned about without some time and effort and President McClain has certainly gone out of his way to educate himself."
Gene Awakuni, chancellor of UH-West O'ahu, was also enthusiastic. "McClain has been a staunch supporter of UH-West O'ahu and has been a real champion for the development and establishment of the new campus in Kapolei," Awakuni said.
In his statement to the regents, McClain said he hoped to also accomplish a goal he has as the leader of the state's higher education system — to improve the student experience by ensuring they can graduate in a timely way.
"We at the University of Hawai'i must focus our limited resources more sharply so that the 50,000 students who pass through our doors taking courses for credit can reach their degree goal," McClain said.
Reach Loren Moreno at email@example.com.