The Hawaiian legislature has taken the unusual step of dismissing a full professor at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa as part of the legislative budget process.
It’s not uncommon for a lawmaker to cut vacancies at various agencies, but the professor affected by the Hawaii lawmaker’s decision is still in the position and has been with the university since 1999.
“The faculty member affected was the director of the UH Cancer Center (one of only 71one [National Cancer Institute]-Designated Cancer Centers in the US) from 1999 to 2008 and has brought the University of Hawaii over $ 50 million in external funding to support education and research over the past 22 years, ”a cancer center spokesman said via email . “He was the founder and director of a large, multi-million dollar collaborative grant for 17 years through August 2020, and has authored hundreds of publications over the years, including three peer-reviewed publications in 2020.”
The university and faculty union did not name the affected employee, but Hawaii News Now, which first reported the news, says it was Carl-Wilhelm Vogel, a full-time researcher. According to legal documents, Vogel makes $ 343,800 a year. He did not respond to a request for comment.
Senator Donna Kim, chair of the college’s college committee, said the effort to fill the university’s post was part of cost-cutting measures. The provision is included in the university’s main budget.
“We need to control costs and make sure our students in Hawaii can afford higher education,” she said.
Two years ago, Kim asked the university for a list of professors who do not teach courses and who do not bring in any extramural funds. At the time, she proposed that the entire list of about 100 professors should be crossed off, but that didn’t materialize. That year, Vogel’s position was the only one proposed to be cut. There are no courses at the cancer center where he works. She said she had no names associated with position numbers, but was told that the position holder had no office hours and was barely on campus.
“The majority of our researchers bring in extra-university funds, they do valuable research, they work with doctoral students,” she said. “I don’t think that with one term you can have a job and not do anything.”
The University of Hawaii Professional Assembly, a UH faculty union, is fighting the dismissal and has petitioned the Hawaii Labor Relations Board.
“We think lawmakers are essentially trying to act as an employer and discipline or fire a person when they shouldn’t have that kind of authority,” said Christian Fern, the union’s executive director. “This is not just an issue for that one faculty member, but a problem for all faculty members, as well as any state or county employee, to think that a legislature can go in there and make a decision.”
Part of the union’s petition argues that the dismissal was primarily the work of a senator.
“The alleged deletion of Item # 86231 is a direct and personal attack on the incumbent by a Senator who abused her position to include this item in the final budget worksheet of the conference committee. She knew the position was occupied, knew who she was attacking, traced the incumbent back to a specific position number and has now escalated her multi-year campaign to remove the incumbent from UH employment by introducing a line in the budget ” the petition says. “Ignoring over 60 vacancies that may have been vacated to give the state a much greater financial advantage, the Senator focused on removing the incumbent position; illustrates the lack of economic motives and the presence of jealous motives. The attempt to dismiss the incumbent from position # 86231 is a unique part of her broader strategy to undermine the authority of the regents, the president and the UHPA, including through law regulating the employment of researchers and their wages. “
Kim said she spoke to the university and wants them to make cost-saving decisions like these for themselves so that lawmakers don’t have to.
“If you don’t agree with that [the union], they say you have an agenda or are trying to reach out to people, ”she said. “I keep telling the university that we want you to be the ones overseeing this and making sure your faculty is delivering the instruction our students need.”
Daniel Meisenzahl, spokesman for the university, said the university is examining all options in order to best respond.
“That is unprecedented. The University of Hawaii continues to work with the legislature, faculty union and the governor to better understand how this happened and to prevent it from happening in the future, “he said. “Unfortunately for us this is only part of a larger topic.”
The same draft budget also cut funding for the university by $ 47.9 million for the coming fiscal year and $ 42.3 million for the following year. The Mānoa campus was hardest hit, with almost 14 percent of the current budget cuts for the 2022 financial year.
According to a press release from the UH Economic Research Organization, the university’s research spending in fiscal year 2020 was approximately $ 477 million, generating $ 735 million in total business revenue, $ 237 million in employee revenue, and $ 42 million in tax revenue State while they supported an estimated $ 5,400 jobs.
“UH Mānoa ranks 48th among US public universities in terms of non-university research spending ($ 317 million) and 37th among US public universities in terms of research spending (US $ 317 million) according to the latest figures from the National Science Foundation Federal research expenditure, “said Meisenzahl via email. “With these funds, UH Mānoa maintains a dynamic and active research program.”
Aside from the union’s petition to the Hawaii Working Committee, Governor David Ige has until June 21st to sign or veto the draft budget.