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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, May 22, 2007

UH needs to ask for assistance

By Ferd Lewis
Advertiser Columnist

For 4 hours and 9 minutes of a contentious inquisition at the state capitol, University of Hawai'i officials answered a barrage of often pointed and sometimes intricate questions from lawmakers yesterday.

Athletic director Herman Frazier, under unrelenting questioning from Rep. K. Mark Takai, bit his lip occasionally and Manoa chancellor Denise Konan mostly reined in her pique.

Yet, when it was time for UH to finally ask a question itself the big one some of us were waiting for curiously nobody did.

After lawmakers asked UH to tell them what the purse-controlling legislature could do for the state's only Division I-A athletic program, none of the assembled officials stood up and asked for a thing, much less unfurled a wish list.

In the end, after all the often contradictory budget numbers and mind-numbing recitations on campus protocol and parking operations, this would be the most bewildering item of all.

We were told how athletics gets but $1.5 million in general funds less than one percent of the campus' allotment of state money. We were told how "athletics is the face (of) UH" most visible to the public and of the bounty of other schools.

There were revelations of mold that has largely shut down the mauka training room and how bedraggled Cooke Field is "a lawsuit waiting to happen."

Lawmakers made clear a willingness to listen and to help. Time and again Takai and others asked, "How do we help you?" As Rep. Jerry Chang, chairman of the House Higher Education Committee, put it, "we're here because we care."

Here, in one room were two of the most powerful committees publicly reaching out, if not beseeching UH, to make a wish with the state watching. It was tantamount to a fat pitch down the middle with the base loaded. Somebody, anybody, should have stepped up and hit it out of the park. Instead, nobody even bothered to take a whack at it.

Maybe, in what was at times a sweltering, crammed to overflowing, meeting room, the UH delegation was simply exhausted. Perhaps, with all their focus devoted to fending off Takai's thrusts, they didn't appreciate the opening or were too defiant to grasp it.

In the end, Frazier would say, "I think they (legislators) now have a different understanding about me. I think they understand I don't shoot from the hip. As they asked us questions, I knew the answers."

Unfortunately, when the time came, nobody in the UH contingent seemed to know the right questions.

Reach Ferd Lewis at flewis@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-8044.