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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.


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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Chancellor’s message on racial and social injustice

At UH Hilo, we will continue to live up to our responsibility as one of the most diverse universities in the nation by making that designation mean something, as we continue to spread aloha into our community and beyond. We will continue to combat systemic racism.

Dear UH Hilo ‘Ohana,

UH Hilo seal, red lettering University of Hawaii and the state motto.I have been struggling to find the right words to say that might bring solace to our campus in the wake of the murder of George Floyd last week at the hands of police officers who are trained to serve and protect. This event is both angering and heart-wrenching, and the fact that this is not an isolated incident, but one in a series of attacks on black and brown bodies, makes it all the more maddening. Since the very earliest days of the United States, race and racism have often overpowered justice. Ninety-nine years ago today, the city of Tulsa, Oklahoma, burned in one of the deadliest racial incidents in American history. And still, in the twenty-first century, racial justice still eludes us.

To the African American members of our ‘ohana, we see you. We can only imagine your grief and anger, but we hear you. On our campus, you are loved and valued. At the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo, we will continue to live up to our responsibility as one of the most diverse universities in the nation by making that designation mean something, as we continue to spread aloha into our community and beyond. We will continue to combat systemic racism.

Our students, faculty, and staff will value one another and the contributions made by each member of our university community. We will respect the right of each member of our community to live and work in an environment free from violence and hatred. We will honor the dignity of every member of our campus family. And we will continue to instill these values in our students and community. Discrimination has no place on our campus, and we will be guided by aloha and a commitment to equity in all we do.

Stay safe and well,

Bonnie D. Irwin

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Messages from the Chancellor on Fall reopening preparations

Countdown to Fall 2020: 85 days remaining until fall semester begins

June 1, 2020

Bonnie Irwin
Bonnie Irwin

Aloha Kākou,

Welcome to the first of our weekly fall 2020 preparation updates!

With overwhelming gratitude, I am proud of how our university has come together over the last several weeks to protect our students and employees, as well as to flatten the curve for the benefit of those with whom we work and live. To create safety in this pandemic, our students uprooted themselves while our faculty and staff worked many long hours. The personal adjustments you have each made have not been easy, and I thank you all.

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Chancellor Bonnie Irwin: Restructuring management of Maunakea will provide greater accountability, transparency

(This editorial by University of Hawai‘i at Hilo Chancellor Bonnie D. Irwin was published by the Hawaii Tribune-Herald and West Hawaii Today newspapers on May 20, 2020.)

Bonnie Irwin
Bonnie Irwin

Stewardship and telescope operations resumed on University of Hawai‘i managed lands on Maunakea after suspension of all activities for nearly two months because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The university is pleased that Gov. David Ige identified Maunakea as part of the state’s list of low-risk organizations that are safe to reopen. This allows the university to ramp up its stewardship initiatives and for UH observatories, along with the rest of the Maunakea Observatories, to gradually restart astronomical observations.

UH and the Maunakea Observatories will continue to follow all health guidelines from state and local officials, as the safety of all employees remains a top priority. The resumption of operations is being done in phases and, for now, includes minimizing activity and restricting summit work to limited observing and essential telescope operations including critical maintenance of instrumentation and observatory facilities.

Though operations on Maunakea had effectively ceased because of the health crisis, UH’s work to improve its stewardship of the mauna continued. In April, UH Executive Director of Maunakea Stewardship Greg Chun presented the UH Board of Regents a plan for a new internal management structure that provides greater accountability and transparency. The regents are expected to vote on the new internal management structure during their May 21 meeting.

In addition to calling for the internal management restructuring plan, a Board of Regents resolution adopted in November 2019 also called upon UH administration to consider and analyze overarching governance models for Maunakea that the state might choose to advance in the future. In April, Chun presented for discussion four alternative models: (1) creation of a new stewardship authority attached to a state agency; (2) Board of Land and Natural Resources and Department of Land and Natural Resources resuming management and stewardship of Maunakea; (3) issuance of the master lease to an entirely new third party, directly responsible for all aspects of managing and stewarding the mountain and astronomy support; and (4) establishing a collaborative stewardship model involving all stakeholders in which UH would hold a master lease only for what is referred to as the astronomy precinct and Hale Pohaku.

Chun highlighted examples on which these models were patterned and shared the considerations that might drive a decision in the future by state policymakers as to a preferred model.

The university also announced in February that the decommissioning of the first two telescopes is tentatively scheduled to be completed by 2023.

UH is also working on the implementation of the administrative rules signed by Gov. Ige in January and approved by the Board of Regents in November 2019. With the rules, the university will be able to address excessive traffic, establish guidelines for commercial tour operations and better protect natural and cultural resources.

Finally, significant progress is being made on utilizing the expertise of the UH Hilo ‘Imiloa Astronomy Center to enhance and improve the educational and cultural programming at the Maunakea Visitor Information Station and Hale Pohaku, the mid-level facility on Maunakea.

These initiatives are just the beginning of the myriad improvements to our stewardship we have in motion. We look forward to building on those efforts in collaboration with the community and our stakeholders to create a sustainable world-class research enterprise and knowledge industry of which the state can be proud.

Bonnie D. Irwin
Chancellor, University of Hawai‘i at Hilo

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