Is now the right time to build UH-West Oahu?
UH-West Oahu: It’s the wrong time and the wrong place. This semester, as usual, I was bombarded by dozens of e-mails from students trying to get into my courses. They were searching for courses that carry hard-to-find general education focus credits that are essential to graduating. In fact, it is becoming harder to graduate from Manoa because of the shortage of courses students need. This speaks to our underfunding as an institution and lack of sufficient resources.
Throughout the three decades I have been a member of the Manoa faculty (even during boom years), UH’s flagship campus has never been adequately financed. Our infrastructure is in shocking disrepair, with a backlog of work now amounting to more than $100 million. Since faculty salaries are substandard in comparison with our benchmark universities elsewhere, recruitment and retention are very difficult. And on the Manoa chancellor’s current agenda is a money-saving project to reduce faculty by attrition.
So the Manoa campus (as are other existing state campuses) is crying out for more funding. The response of the state — to build a full-scale, comprehensive institution of 8,000 students some 15 miles or so from Manoa — is astonishing, especially given the most severe economic crisis in memory. Right now, hiring throughout the university system is frozen, departments are making major cuts and employees are being asked to take reduced pay. How can we justify new investment in buildings when the UH cannot maintain the inventory of buildings already in existence? How can we justify hiring new faculty at West Oahu when not enough faculty are available at Manoa to serve students?
I have done invited lectures at West Oahu and greatly respect the faculty and students there. But we must not allow a project driven by special Kapolei business interests to strip valuable resources from a deeply underfinanced university system. Keep West Oahu a small college and limit its enrollment to what it is currently — under 1,200.
The question that West Oahu communities have asked for more than 30 years, when the issue of whether to build a University of Hawaii-West Oahu campus is raised, has been: “Isn’t it time to invest in our future?” Has our position changed? No, it’s only been reinforced with a critical yes!
We knew then how important it was for our keiki to set goals past high school, have access to “their” place of higher learning, without traveling for hours each day, and have their chance to explore how to attain their goals. Today, our time to invest is overdue. Our future is today. Our children’s education is vital. It is said that the cornerstone of a thriving society and economy is a well-educated public.
Some have argued the prohibitive cost to build a university and lack of enrollment are reasons the campus should not be built. These assumptions are wrong. City and state governments agree it is time to build the campus. The university’s administrators have come “out of the box” with affordable ideas and partnerships with area developers to share infrastructure costs. Our designated “New City” of Kapolei is the fastest growing area in our state and now has thousands of families with limited access to a public university, as documented, confirmed and projected in the UH’s own Second Decade Project, which demonstrates a growing demand for a West Oahu campus, well into this century.
Today, investing in UH-West Oahu is more than building a new university, it is a way to stimulate our economy by building infrastructure to improve traffic, creating new businesses and helping existing ones thrive, and putting our people to work so they can put food on their tables. This is how all of us can improve our quality of life, for generations to come.
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