The University of Hawai‘i is in line to receive a $275 million budget increase from state lawmakers. The catch? Legislators also want to cut dozens of positions. Most of those positions are unfilled, but three current employees would lose their jobs, including the communications director for the University of Hawai‘i system.
One university official has publicly described the move as punitive.
“This approach of singling out specific UH employees for termination has been attempted in prior Senate-proposed budgets, but given the magnitude of the Senate add-ons, it makes little financial sense to reduce approximately $2.4 million of funding for positions while also adding more than $274 million to the operating budget,” Kalbert Young, UH vice president for budget and finance and chief financial officer, wrote in a budget update on the university website. “Since the position cuts are not for financial reasons, this action can appear to be targeted and punitive in purpose. It is another area that we will be working to address before the session ends.”
The budget also includes a $100,000 pay cut for the chancellor of UH West Oʻah.
Though Young did not specify why the Legislature might target UH with punitive actions, the university system has had a long and contentious relationship with Democratic state senator Donna Mercado Kim, who has clashed with college officials for more than a decade. Kim, who chairs the higher education committee, tried unsuccessfully to overhaul tenure in the university system earlier this year.
Despite the targeted job cuts, 128 new jobs are included in the budget, including positions that the UH system has not asked for, such as security guards, janitors and other personnel. The budget also includes funding for research on prison reform, cultural heritage and other topics that the UH system has not requested, according to reporting compiled by Hawai‘i Free Press.
Kim told Hawaii News Now that the university “should operate in the best interests of the students” rather than the convenience of faculty. She added that the Finance and Ways and Means Committees still have to agree to the bill. A final version of the budget is due April 29.