By Malia Zimmerman | Hawaii Reporter
HONOLULU – After a number of high-profile battles with key Hawaii lawmakers in 2012 and 2013, University of Hawaii President M.R.C. Greenwood announced this week she will step down.
Greenwood said she will retire in September, before her $475,000-plus annual contract with the university expires in 2015.
Greenwood, 70, said in a statement Monday afternoon that she is stepping down for “personal, health-related, and family oriented” reasons.
After some unpaid personal leave, Greenwood said she plans to return to the university as tenured faculty, though she looking forward to “retirement to once again be ‘grandma’ and to write, teach and do some policy work.”
Board of Regents Chair Eric Martinson, an ally of Greenwood’s, said the university’s reputation “has advanced nationally and internationally” because of her.
While Greenwood has her allies like Martinson, she has powerful critics, including those who want to make sure the university regents select a new president who is more suited to the University of Hawaii.
Controversy in California
Greenwood joined the University of Hawaii in 2009. After two of the three finalists dropped out, Greenwood was said to be the only choice unless board members voted to renew the search.
Former regents told Watchdog.org that the board was split on Greenwood’s appointment but agreed to come out publicly united. Despite numerous requests to the university for minutes of that meeting, Watchdog.org has not been able to obtain them.
Greenwood had ethical challenges while working in the University of California’s system as a provost — ethical challenges so serious that they led to her early resignation.
Through a Freedom of Information Act request to the state of California, Watchdog obtained the documents that detailed the investigation into Greenwood for “possible improper hiring practices and conflict of interest concerns.”
University of California President Robert C. Dynes said after the university launched the investigation with the help of the General Counsel and University Auditor’s Offices, Greenwood resigned.
The investigation focused on two hirings, including one involving Lynda Goff, who was hired by Greenwood first as a faculty associate and then as director of the Science and Math Initiative. Greenwood and Goff were partners in a real estate venture.
“It appears that Provost Greenwood may have been involved in Dr. Goff’s hiring to a greater extent than was appropriate, given that her business investment with Dr. Goff had not been properly and fully resolved in accordance with conflict of interest requirements,” Dynes said.
Greenwood’s son, James Greenwood, also was hired as a paid senior intern on the UC Merced campus. Investigators questioned whether Vice President for Student Affairs Winston Doby acted improperly when helping her son secure the position.
Controversy follows Greenwood to Hawaii
Controversy surrounding Greenwood’s leadership continued in Hawaii. Lawmakers and some former regents have been critical of Greenwood for her poor fiscal management, spending, frequent travels out of state, and her relationship with lawmakers.
Data obtained from the University of Hawaii showed Greenwood was traveling off island or out of state for nearly a year of the four years she spent on the job. Between June 2009 and February 2013, Greenwood was out of state for 238 days and traveling between islands for 68 days. She also took 42 days of vacation. The travel cost the University of Hawaii Foundation $133,000.
Allegations of corruption surrounding the University of Hawaii’s billion-dollar construction and procurement program have surfaced. Brian Minaai, a university administrator in charge of procurement, was put on paid leave after one prominent contractor called him “a nightmare” and accusing him of “blatant mismanagement.” School officials announced they asked the state attorney general to investigate the charges, including claims that Minaai directed contracts to personal and political friends.
Under Greenwood’s tenure, student tuition increased at a record pace — more than 100 percent in 5 years — and is set to rise another 29 percent, but lawmakers said the money appeared to be going to a bloated administration, not students and classrooms.
The Hawaii State Senate convened an investigation into Greenwood’s management and fiscal practices after the university lost $200,000 in a scam that involved con artists from Florida and North Carolina who claimed they could host a fundraising concert with Stevie Wonder on campus.
After the real agents for Wonder contacted the university, the administration announced the concert was canceled because Wonder was not available. During the Senate’s investigation, Greenwood admitted the university had been scammed and the fiasco became known around town as the “Wonder Blunder.”
Senate President Donna Mercado Kim introduced seven bills during the 2013 legislative session to reign in Greenwood’s spending and autonomy.
Rep. K. Mark Takai, a graduate of the university, was critical of Greenwood’s unwillingness to appear before lawmakers at hearings involving the university. He also introduced resolutions and bills to reduce excess spending at the university.
Relations between Greenwood, the regents and the Senate were so stressed in the fall of 2012, Greenwood sent the regents a letter demanding $2 million to leave the university ahead of her contract expiring. She withdrew the letter after Hawaii’s senior senator, U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye, stepped in on her behalf. Inouye has since passed away.
Greenwood and her partner also were criticized for taking a $60,000 housing allowance instead of living in the president’s home.
They also were under fire after donating $50,000 to the new cancer research center in Kaka’ako, not for the donation, but for having their names prominently displayed in large gold letters at the entrance of the center when other donors who had contributed considerably more received no such recognition.
Moving forward, go local
While Kim issued a statement saying she believes Greenwood’s resignation is best for the university, Takai said he is looking forward to what’s next at his alma mater.
Takai said he hopes regents will consider local candidates for the job of president, rather than hiring a national search firm that cost the university hundreds of thousands of dollars.
“I think we in Hawaii tend to sell ourselves short. We need to step up and support people from Hawaii because I think understanding who we are and understanding the university history is critical for the next president,” Takai said.
For the past decade, Takai has also been pushing for the offices of the president and the Manoa campus chancellor to consolidate as they once were. He said if the president of the university also serves as the chancellor for the main campus, the university will save $6 million a year.
“Bottom line, we have to find someone who loves Hawaii and cares about our people. That is going to be critical as we move forward,” Takai said.