By Brian Wild, News Writer
The UH Hilo Faculty Congress, composed of a wide array of both veteran and junior instructors from various departments, convened for the first time this semester. The meeting, which lasted nearly two hours, comprised of different reports from each committee and department. Other school officials were present, with Vice Chancellors Dr. Matt Platz (Academic Affairs) and Dr. Luoluo Hong (Student Affairs) both lending their voices to the discussion on behalf of the administration.
The Congress, chaired by Dr. Mike Shintaku (CAFNRM), focused its discussion primarily on issues concerning the upcoming budget for UH Hilo. Vice Chancellor Platz reported to those in attendance that while revenues for the university had gone up, overall expenses had increased even more rapidly. Though he assured the faculty that their paychecks would not be in immediate danger, Dr. Platz made no mistake in communicating his intended message: sacrifices will need to be made somewhere. Due to the impending cutbacks (in part due to what Dr. Platz outlined as a drop of in-state student enrollment brought on by subpar high school performance in Hawai‘i), the Congress all seemed to agree with the idea that UH Hilo should and must find other sources of revenue and cost-saving measures from all avenues possible.
One such option was brought up by Dr. Cam Muir (CAS) in a detailed and compelling presentation to his colleagues. Dr. Muir highlighted the significant toll that rising energy costs have had on the university in recent years. He noted that our school does not even adequately monitor the energy it is currently using, much less use it in a responsible manner. Dr. Muir encouraged the administration to extend collaborations with Cornell University’s College of Engineering; paving the way for a potential long-term partnership between our two institutions. The ultimate goal being that we find more alternatives to energy usage, which would greatly benefit our school on both environmental and financial grounds.
A second point of concern that was elaborated upon by Vice Chancellor Platz and the faculty was the need for improving retention rates. While students from O‘ahu and the mainland have seen their population increase at Hilo, many other indicators are seen as the root causes for students dropping out of college, such as lagging scores and participation, thus a growing trend in apathy. Dr. Platz recommended that the faculty pursue a more proactive form of academic advising; that is, taking extra time to reach out to students whose grades appear to be on shaky ground and helping them before it’s too late. After all, more students attending classes means more revenue, not to mention a quality education.
Another topic of discussion among the faculty was a desire to expand certain educational programs here at the university which, at first might sound counter-intuitive during a budget crisis, but nevertheless seemed to garner the widespread support of those attending the meeting. Areas for possible expansion included UH Hilo’s Anthropology program, with special intent for inclusion of Native Hawaiian scholars, as well as adding a master’s program for Engineering with the hopes of enticing prospective engineers to come and stay in Hilo rather than pursue education at Mānoa or elsewhere.
As the lone student in the room during Congress’s deliberations (UHHSA’s student representative was absent), I will say that it’s only reasonable that we as students should expect nothing less than the very best from our school’s leaders. It is clear that the amount of cordiality between our faculty members and the constructive dialogue which arose from this meeting affirms confidence and hope in our university system. It is in these types of public gatherings that students, teachers, administrators, and everyone in between can come to contribute their skills and ideas to help make public education in Hawai‘i better for all.