UH Needs Audit, Not PR Campaign

A UH-Manoa advertisement | Image from Bob Jones

A recent Star-Advertiser editorial called for “repairing the reputation” of the University of Hawaii. The writer said the main problem is that UH may not deserve the autonomy it seeks.

Good point.

I’m just not persuaded that the way to fix that is by spending $4 million a year on public relations projects and paying the chief PR person a $143,000 salary.

I’d start by turning the state auditor loose to look at every one of UH’s financial books.

I’d rethink the athletic program that’s created an $11 million debt the department cannot repay.

I’d ask if all this energy on being a top-flight research institution has sapped the undergraduate programs.

If UH were tested, where would it fall in the Academically Adrift research book’s finding that almost half of American undergraduate students show no significant gains in intellectual and practical skills in their first two years of college?

In a treatise titled A Commitment To Liberal Education, former UH social sciences dean Richard Dubanoski writes:

“At the University of Hawaii, surveys of graduating students and alumni indicate dissatisfaction with their education. They call for more intellectually challenging classes, improvement of teaching methods, better advising and more practical experience. In a national survey that compared students of UHM with those of our peer institutions, there were a number of areas in which our university performed at a lower level than our comparison groups; e.g., emphasizing studying and academic work, participating in co-curricular activities, contributing to classroom discussions, and providing substantial support for academic success.”

My continuing concern is that money and effort seem to pour into image-building and the graduate programs much better than into the undergraduate experience.

Civil Beat researched and reported that “the creation of a seven-person media production team in 2012 marks the most significant transformation that UH system communications has seen in years. The team, led by former broadcast news reporter Dan Meisenzahl, produces multimedia news content for UH websites and the university’s sports channel.”

But … the cost of establishing that team isn’t broken out in the UH communications budget. Some of that “new content” ends up aired on local TV newscasts as if it were the station’s own news effort rather than a PR handout.

There’s a viable argument that PR programs do help build reputations under attack because of missteps, of which the UH has had too many.

I’d feel better if we had that major audit and an independent committee looking into UH management, athletic programs and the undergraduate experience. Are all those high top-side salaries necessary?

Should the UH have less autonomy and more and better oversight?