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Chancellor’s Monthly Column, June 2020: Goals in the age of COVID and beyond

Goals in the age of COVID and beyond: Student-centeredness, stewardship, resiliency, resourcefulness.

Bonnie Irwin
Bonnie Irwin

Way back in March, I had planned a “State of the University” address to the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo campus. COVID came roaring in, plans were changed, but as I reflect on what I was going to say, I had four main goals to share with our campus and broader community:

  1. Becoming a truly student-centered campus
  2. Becoming better stewards of our region and our island
  3. Building a resilient campus community
  4. Becoming more creative and resourceful in addressing the first three things.

The COVID crisis has only heightened the need for all of these goals and has made the fourth one—creativity and resourcefulness—more urgent than ever. The state and thus the university have some serious budget issues to address, and none of us really know yet what the “new normal” will look like for our society. We have learned that we can be flexible, that we can make dramatic changes in the course of a week, and that we can support our students through it all.

As a state institution, we will always find ourselves stretched thin. Grant funding rises and falls. Determining the difference between what we need and what we want and making sure we always support what is essential will be a permanent part of our operation. But UH Hilo has proven time and time again that it can do more with less. We can be resilient when we need to be, but if we are resourceful, we can ease up from time to time. With whom can we partner in Hilo, across the island and state, and in the Pacific region? What are we doing that will attract more students, donors and partners?

Collaboration across the boundaries of divisions (academic, student affairs, administration) is key here. We have so many pockets of success, but if we are to truly succeed as an institution, we need to be intentional about how we partner, with whom we partner. And sometimes that even means saying “no” to a great opportunity because it may distract us from our core mission. Sometimes resourcefulness includes deciding what we are going to stop doing to make space for something more important. Being thoughtful about our choices and enthusiastic about our potential will help us navigate the future with confidence. Searches for permanent leadership in some of the units are underway and many are reaching completion; candidates remain excited to join our community and engage with us in the challenges ahead.

I look forward to working with these new members of our team as well as our veteran employees to make UH Hilo a stronger university. Our “strategic doing” committees are about to launch, and I am excited to see what ideas they develop for our future. While the formal teams are small, they will be reaching out to engage colleagues across campus and in the community. They will help us become not only an institution of learning, but also a learning institution; we need to assess our systems, our processes, and our decision making often to ensure we are on the right track and doing our best to succeed.

While the present has so many unknowns, I take comfort in the fact that the core mission of the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo—to challenge students to reach their highest level of academic achievement by inspiring learning, discovery and creativity inside and outside the classroom—remains strong and relevant, as does our kuleana to improve the quality of life of the people of Hawai‘i, the Pacific region, and the world.

Aloha,

Bonnie D. Irwin

Photo at top: A close-up of the wall wrap in Mookini Library’s lobby. The design, created by UH Hilo graphic designer Tanya Ibarra, shows UH Hilo’s Mission Statement overlaid on print of ‘ōhi‘a blossoms. Photo by Raiatea Arcuri.

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