What’s Wrong At UH? Where To Start?

Goodbye, Tom. Goodbye, Gib. Goodbye, Ben.

Who’s next?

Let’s get right to it: What’s wrong at University of Hawaii? Presidents, chancellors, coaches and athletic directors come and go, but they’re not talking of Michelangelo. No, they’re citing personal reasons. Or they’re fired, their contracts bought out. Or, horror of horrors, they feel the jerk of the golden parachute: a tenured full professorship at an administrator’s salary.


Image 1 of 2

UH Chancellor Robert Bley-Vroman spoke to the press after UH athletic director Ben Jay announced his resignation Dec. 9

What a comedown.

It can happen to the nicest people: Tom Apple, for example. Or Ben Jay. Can’t say that I lunched regularly with either of them, but neither have I heard an ill word about them.

It can happen to winners, like Gib Arnold, while losers, like Norm Chow, survive.

So what’s wrong up there at the university? For the most part, nothing. Professors teach, and members of the nation’s most-diverse student body learn. Doctors, lawyers, nurses, architects, social workers, teachers, scientists, musicians, engineers and many more graduate every semester.

And they take their places in the workforce, teaching our kids, treating our illnesses, cleaning our teeth, building our homes and office buildings and, yes, Gov. Ige and Rep. Takai, governing us.

But the old saw holds true: “Athletics are the front porch of the university. It’s not the most important room in the house, but it is the most visible.”

Indeed it is, particularly when that university offers the only Division I sports program in the state. That’s the burden of University of Hawaii-Manoa athletics: Division I football, basketball, baseball, volleyball and more, men’s and women’s, played at home, but across half an ocean and occasionally a continent as well.

Porches require upkeep. They are open to the elements, and so too are athletic programs. Few in the university’s professoriate receive a salary equal to that of Chow, not to mention the long-departed and vulgarly paid June Jones. Nor do their travel funds equal that of the principal recruiters for each of the university’s major sports.

Then there are the facilities: rent for Aloha Stadium, and upkeep of the Sheriff, Murakami Stadium and the women’s softball field. And more — much more.

Taken together, that front porch costs mountains of money, and people are watching how that money’s spent and what it buys. The residents of the other rooms in the house, specifically those who work on Manoa’s upper campus, pay particular attention.

Which brings me back to Tom, Gib and Ben. Manoa chancellor Tom Apple offered to cover millions of dollars of athletic department debt, largely built on several seasons of losing football. Somebody upside of the Quarry had to pay for that, and while academics seldom enjoy the celebrity of coaches or administrators, they do know when their sustenance is endangered.

Thus it was goodbye, Tom. And, as Star-Advertiser columnist Dave Reardon pointed out last week, Apple’s departure meant Jay would say goodbye as well.

No one knows as yet what Arnold and his assistant did to warrant his firing, but it appears to have been enough for the NCAA to do serious sullying on the university’s front porch.

So what’s wrong up there? Simple. It’s difficult to manage a modern university with a Division I athletic program anywhere. It’s easier at the University of Michigan, say, where a $9.7 billion endowment cushions the work of presidents and athletic directors.

The endowment of University of Hawaii is $179 million. While American university presidents last an average of eight-and-a-half years, University of Hawaii has had five presidents — and five athletic directors — since 1993. Enough said.