Letter to the Editor – 8/7/13

Fujio Matsuda responds

First, I want to thank Bob Jones for his kind remarks about my tenure as UH system president from 1974 to ’84.

I must say, UH’s performance during this period was the result of team effort. We had excellent faculty and deans of academic colleges and directors of research institutes, led by capable campus chancellors.

In addition, I was blessed with very able system vice presidents, academic and administrative, and excellent, dedicated staff. And, of course, most of the programs we inherited were of long standing; people we did not know started and built them.

We had our share of problems, but working together with the Board of Regents, we were able to overcome most of them, not all by any means.

Those were turbulent times; the faculty union was just certified, and we experienced the first faculty strike in UH history.

We also experienced fiscal austerity and budget restrictions.

But many good things also happened.

Mr. Jones’ analysis of how universities function was on the button. A president seldom can take credit for the academic and research excellence and performance of a university.

I do, however, differ slightly with his analysis. I believe the faculty and the deans and research directors, who provide the leadership to assemble the faculty of their respective colleges and research institutes, are the key to the excellence of a university.

Chancellors and presidents, even more so, are far removed from the classrooms and laboratories, where the real work of a university is accomplished. While each (chancellor and president) may be accomplished in his/her own specialty, that is only a small slice of the university’s wide spectrum of programs.

But it is absolutely crucial that they fully understand and have experienced the complexities and difficulties of research and teaching firsthand, so that they may assist, facilitate and champion the efforts of the faculty and deans/directors. They are not rubber stamps; they must be critical judges of quality in personnel and programs, based on their experience, often at other institutions.

Serving as a university official also is a matter of the heart, not just of the mind. You must believe in the cause.

For a state university, the cause is the people of that state and the institutions that serve them. But UH also is part of the national and international academic community. We share the universal cause of all universities, the pursuit of knowledge and truth.

Hawaii is a unique state – in history, demographics and sociology, geography, problems, opportunities and aspirations. Likewise, UH is unique in many ways among U.S. universities.

The next UH president does not need to be from Hawaii, but needs to be Hawaiian at heart. The terms “aloha” and “ohana” encapsulate the idea of “Hawaiian at heart.” Those words are Hawaiian, but the underlying values are universal.

I agree with Mr. Jones’ comments about intercollegiate sports for UH. I support intramural sports for the health and social benefits each student can gain, but intercollegiate sports as national entertainment and spectacle are not one of the stated missions of our university.

If it is a profitable “business,” one might argue its justification, but if it diverts badly needed resources from education and research, its priority needs to be reconsidered.

Incidentally, my years in government service as director of transportation started as a two-year public service detour on my academic career path that turned out to be 10 years. It had something to do with giving back on behalf of my immigrant family, and obligation to my boss and mentor, Jack Burns, who reached out to UH to ask me to serve, even though we had not met before then.

I learned much about government and people from Gov. Burns, one of the greatest men in terms of resolve, integrity and vision I have ever met.

Fujio Matsuda