Lassner addresses University of Hawaii’s future and challenges

University of Hawaii president David Lassner

Newly appointed University of Hawaii president David Lassner says it’s time to get specific with plans and tactics when it comes to the university’s future.

David Lassner has moved up through the ranks, from a student in 1977 to professor. Now, he is president of the University of Hawaii.

So, KHON2 asked, why in the world would anyone want this job?

“I did not apply for the job and when I was nominated, I was asked by the search committee if I would accept the nomination. My whole career has been at UH and I have grown up in this institution and in Hawaii,” he said.

Because of his long tenure at UH, Lassner has what’s called institutional memory. He knows what has happened with the university and the presidents who preceded him.

“For me, I believe — and this is the criticism of somebody with institutional memory — that you’re locked into it. From my viewpoint, it doesn’t mean you don’t change things. It just means you know where the landmines are.”

There are plenty of landmines. Campus security has come into question lately, especially at Manoa.

“What goes on in the campuses is the responsibility of the chancellors, so in that kind of situation, my job is is to have a conversation with Chancellor Apple to say, ‘Are we on top of it? Are we making improvements?’ and I think they are.”

Another landmine is the price of college tuition. Lassner concedes it has gone up considerably.

“The reason it has gone up so much is that it started so low, historically low tuition through the ’90s and into the 21st century. That said, it can’t keep going up.”

One way to keep tuition from going up is online education. Coming from a technology background, Lassner points out there are 20,000 college students currently enrolled in online classes.

Lassner says a university president is only as good as his chancellors, deans and department heads.

“They have to be committed to the vision and what we’re going to do,” he said. “People have to be collaborative, there’s no hard problem that any one person or one unit can solve on their own… The role of the university is to advance the community, its intellectual capacity, its social health and its well being.”

Earlier Wednesday, Lassner sat down with KHON2’s Wake Up 2day for the first time since he was approved by the University of Hawaii Board of Regents in an 11-2 vote Monday.

A sub-committee of the Board will negotiate terms of the appointment, which will be focused around goals the board wants him to accomplish and annual evaluations based on those goals.

Lassner explained, “They’re not new goals. These are the things we’ve been working on under President (MRC) Greenwood and we’ve continued to work on and I think we’ve pushed forward over these last nine months and I expect to continue working on them. They’re not short-term goals and the regents have been clear, they want to see progress.”

The appointment is effective July 1.

Lassner’s contract will not include items such as a housing allowance or any special post or presidential “tenure appointment” in his discipline as has been included in previous presidential contracts.

“As long as I’m working forward positively with the Board of Regents, and right now we are, I think that’s fine,” he told KHON2. “I’m not doing this for the money.”

Meanwhile Lassner deferred plans for University of Hawaii at Manoa’s struggling athletics program to the leadership of UH-Manoa chancellor Tom Apple and athletics director Ben Jay.

However, he did offer the following thoughts: “My first choice would be that we identify the revenues that could enable us to keep a Division I program here. The community loves it and it’s great for our student athletes.”

Watch Lassner in an interview on Wake Up 2day below:

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