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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, February 7, 2010

Reading, writing, recovery

By M.R.C. Greenwood

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser
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Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

University of Hawai‘i students move on to careers in critical areas such as health care, teaching and engineering.

Advertiser library photo

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Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

During her State of the University address on Wednesday, UH President M.R.C. Greenwood laid out plans to renovate the school’s aging infrastructure and research facilities.

BRUCE ASATO | The Honolulu Advertiser

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In these difficult economic times, it's vital to recognize the importance of the state's sole public university as part of the solution to the fiscal challenges ahead. Not only does the University of Hawai'i bring in literally hundreds of millions of dollars in external research and training revenue — more than $414 million this past year, creating jobs and bringing money into our state — but we also contribute educational capital to the mix. Indeed, by 2015, 44 percent of all jobs in Hawai'i will require some form of higher education and/or training — many requiring a baccalaureate degree or higher. Clearly a strong public higher education system is crucial to a successful Hawai'i in this competitive global economy.

The university's focus must be centered on three major objectives: increasing the number of educated citizens in Hawai'i; contributing to the work force and the economy; and advancing the University of Hawai'i's reputation for excellence and its ability to build the state's capacity. These objectives are the right fit for Hawai'i as we position ourselves as competitors on a global stage.


We've already created a path to achieving these objectives. In line with the Obama administration's goal of bringing the United States back to its position as a global leader in the number of citizens with college degrees, UH is creating the Hawai'i Graduation Initiative, with the goal of increasing the number of college graduates locally by 25 percent by 2015. We want more local students to attend and graduate from the University of Hawai'i, and we will work on bringing more underrepresented groups into our system, particularly Native Hawaiian students and those from underserved areas.

That means breaking down traditional barriers, including cost. And as education costs rise across the nation, we've opted to quadruple the amount of available financial aid. Our partnership with the state Department of Education and the Hawai'i P-20 initiative will maximize the portal to higher education, helping us reach out to potential students. We're starting that outreach at the intermediate school level so that students and parents know early on how to best prepare to successfully meet the rigors of higher education.


In terms of our contribution to the work force and the economy, we've just enrolled the largest number of students in the university's history this year at 58,000. Be assured these graduates are entering some critical work force areas, including the nursing, teaching, hospitality and engineering fields.

The university system not only generates revenue, it also promotes spin-offs and is engaged in important research and invention disclosures. Particularly in this economic climate, we need to be more innovative in the area of technology transfer and stay competitive in our federal research and training enterprise.

During the last fiscal year, UH faculty brought in more than $400 million in extramural funding — research and training contracts and grants from federal agencies, other institutions and private organizations. That's more than $1 million a day in revenue that supports employment for Hawai'i's citizens and purchase of goods and services from Hawai'i businesses. At this rate, UH is on target to produce a billion dollars for the state by 2020.


This makes our third objective — advancing our reputation as a 21st-century university built on excellence — fundamental to our success. In a climate of cutbacks, it's crucial not to forget to invest in our future so that we are well-positioned to thrive once the dark fiscal clouds dissipate — and they will.

That's at the heart of our Project Renovate to Innovate initiative, unveiled Wednesday during my State of the University speech before the state Legislature. This plan addresses decades of neglect of our aging infrastructure, which not only hampers our ability to achieve, but also poses health and safety risks for our students, faculty and staff.

Among the projects on our lengthy list in dire need of repair are some of our research facilities, including: UH-Mānoa's St. John Plant Science laboratory, a 39-year-old lab that houses our botany department and is in need of $13.1 million in repairs; Mānoa's Marine Science Building, home of our prized oceanography department, requiring $12.5 million in various backlog work; and our Hawai'i Institute of Geophysics facility, which houses parts of our School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology, and is in need of $7.3 million in maintenance and repair work.

Our needs are great. We currently have a $368 million deferred maintenance backlog — the lion's share of that at our flagship Mānoa campus. Poor facilities hamper our ability to attract and retain top-notch faculty and high-caliber students; these are the people who will create innovations and technologies that fuel new industries and existing businesses and improve the quality of life for all of us in Hawai'i.

It's a big problem — and it's time to make it right. We're seeking an emergency partnership with the state that focuses on general obligation bond support for our shovel-ready projects, and we're willing to stretch our limited resources to pay a share of the interest to get the job done.

Investing in our campuses through repairs, maintenance and construction creates a "triple bottom line" effect: It generates jobs for Hawai'i's construction workers and others; it allows our faculty and staff to compete for additional funding and pursue activities and discoveries that benefit the community; and it maximizes the external funds that we are awarded for research and training.


Hawai'i deserves a 21st-century public university with superior facilities to attract and retain the best faculty and to serve as an incubator for important research projects while providing an excellent educational experience for our students. This will not only take creative public-private partnerships, but also the support of all of our stakeholders — our faculty, staff, students, lawmakers and more.

In a fiercely competitive global economic climate in which innovation and higher education hold the key to success, a strong and forward-looking public higher education system is clearly the best investment in our future — and Hawai'i and its students deserve the very best.