Not A Great Start For Lassner

I’m not qualified to judge whether Tom Apple was or was not an effective chancellor at University of Hawaii at Manoa.

I am qualified as a knowledgeable observer of UH politics and internal squabbles over the years to judge the handling of Apple’s dismissal to be a bungling of the highest magnitude, another stain on an institution already heavily stained, an act of instability and not a good start for new president David Lassner.


Image 1 of 2

UH System President David Lassner | AP photos

We again look like a banana republic.

It may be that Lassner felt a need to immediately put his leadership imprimatur out there for all the deans and department chairs to see and heed. In ancient times, when I became news director at KGMB, my first act was to fire one of the top news-room managers and two cameramen. But it was quick and quiet; no internal rebellion, not a whisper in the newspapers.

The Apple Affair has become a fox hunt for the news media. I cannot imagine any outside person of high qualifications being willing to step up and become the next fox.

What troubles me (from poring over Apple’s defense of himself) is my nagging feeling that much of this was about the unhappiness of a few Big Money contributors to UH Cancer Center when Apple tried to get rid of center director Michele Carbone. Apple makes that accusation himself in this letter:

“Your negative comments in my evaluation about interactions with community stakeholders thus do appear to refer to those few powerful people who support the Director of the Cancer Center, whom I tried to remove with your initial consent.

“Dr. Carbone has driven away two of our top researchers (Goodman and Kolonel), alienated two other top researchers (Le Marc-hand and Wilkens), and angered, alienated and persecuted several others. In addition to this thoroughly embarrassing and truly awful history, Dr. Carbone now requires one full-time $300,000 ‘assistant’ (Blanchette) and another $300,000 advisor (Hinshaw) to oversee his conduct.

“Had you not abruptly and unwisely reversed your earlier position on this issue, we would not now still have dysfunctional, erratic and incredibly expensive leadership at the Cancer Center.”

Those are very powerful accusations against Lassner. They suggest that he bowed to pressure from wealthy community philanthropists who have given heavily to the Cancer Center, and are close friends with and stalwart supporters of director Carbone.

That’s an issue never to be resolved. I don’t expect Lassner to say, “OK, you got me. They told me to either fire you or we lose their money. I chose the money.”

And maybe Apple’s whole approach to managing the campus just did not meet Lassner’s expectations.

It’s how this has played out that disappoints and makes me again wish we had done an appropriate presidential search instead of the down-and-dirty one that brought an IT whiz-kid into the Bachman Hall chair with no big-world politics experience.

Bungling of the highest magnitude.

It seems to be what we do best in state government.