TIM School-Shidler merger makes sense
While the University of Hawai'i Board of Regents enjoys more autonomy than a decade ago, all it takes is discussion of closing, merging, shrinking, moving or changing the name of a department to bring out the worst kind of legislative meddling.
And so the recommendation last fall by Mānoa Chancellor Virginia Hinshaw that the School of Travel Industry Management be folded into the Shidler College of Business was the subject of House Bill 2315, which claimed the proposed merger is "a matter of statewide concern."
Actually, it's a parochial concern of the small TIM School faculty and a few hundred alumni and students, some of whom are under the misimpression that the merger would dismantle the travel management program.
Until the measure was wisely deferred this week, legislators were on their way to creating a state law that required UH to maintain a separate and independent travel industry school with its own dean.
There are two issues here: whether the TIM School should be moved back into the business school, where it resided until achieving full autonomy and degree-granting power in 1991, and whether the Legislature has any business telling the university how to run its academic operation.
On the first point, the merger makes sense. At the same time the Shidler school has been gaining prestige and international acclaim for its top-flight faculty and rigorous, 21st-century management programs, the TIM School has been stuck in the 1990s.
The school has been run by an interim dean since Walter Jamieson quietly left the job in 2008, and his departure underscored disagreements over the department's direction.
In testimony to legislators, Keith Vieira, the top Hawai'i executive for Starwood Hotels and Resorts and someone who is actually in a position to judge the quality of industry graduates, put it as gently as he could that he doesn't think the TIM School is cutting it against tough Mainland and international competitors. He supports the merger.
"This is not to say the TIM School is not doing its job, but rather, to question whether it is doing the best job in the evolving environment of the tourism industry. We must recognize the need for our students to be more competitive," Vieira wrote.
Moving the travel industry operation into the Shidler school would save money, expose students to a broader menu of classes and enhance, not diminish, the value of their degree.
As for the legislative interference, it's the worst kind of obstructionism and clearly conflicts with the authority of the Board of Regents.
Now that the Legislature has withdrawn, the merger should proceed.