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Robert Jones Gives Views in Hawaii


From the Honolulu Advertiser

University of Hawaii presidential candidate Jones gives his views

By Loren Moreno
Advertiser Education Writer

Robert J. Jones, senior vice president for system administration for the University of Minnesota and a top contender to become the University of Hawai'i's new president, admits he'll have plenty to learn about the state's unique cultural and political landscape should he be hired.

But Jones says he's already gained an understanding of some of the challenges that UH faces as a statewide system of seven community colleges and three universities.

"Higher education needs to start thinking differently about its future. Hawai'i is no different than Minnesota, where we've seen our state contribution to higher education dwindle," Jones said.

"It's not going to get any better anytime soon. Part of what the president of this system has to start to deal with is, 'What is the financial future of the University of Hawai'i system? What is that going to look like?' " Jones said.

After a nationwide search effort that began last fall and examined more than 600 potentially qualified higher education officials, Jones has emerged as one of the top two contenders to become the permanent president of UH's 10-campus system. The position will be vacated by current UH President David McClain on July 30.

M.R.C. Greenwood, the longtime chancellor of the University of California-Santa Cruz who later resigned amid controversy as provost of the UC system, is the other candidate being considered for the job.

Minnesota career

Jones, whose 18-year career in university administration has been spent in Minnesota, fielded questions from faculty and students at UH-Manoa yesterday during a town-hall style forum. It was the first in a series of four open forums to be conducted at UH campuses on Kaua'i, Maui and the Big Island.

UH-Manoa Chancellor Virginia Hinshaw began the questioning by asking Jones to discuss his views on campus autonomy and how he viewed the role of a system administration.

Jones said he largely believes that the role of the system office is to support the various campuses in their missions. But he also said he would work to "eliminate redundancies" in jobs or functions being handled on the system and campus levels.

He said he'd work to "leverage resources in the system office to make the work and initiatives of the campus ... be achieved in a more significant fashion."

Maenette Benham, dean of the School of Hawaiian Knowledge, asked Jones how he would help to increase access to higher education for Native Hawaiian students.

"Your record of diversity is stellar," Benham said.

Prefacing his statement by pointing out that he still has a lot to learn about Native Hawaiian issues, Jones said his approach would likely be similar to initiatives to increase access to college education for minorities and economically disadvantage students.

"The reality is that higher education has for much too long acted as if the issue of underpreparation and lack of readiness to be successful in college is somehow not our problem," Jones said.

Instead, he said the university system should partner with the K-12 school system to change the perception among certain groups of students that a college education is not accessible.

Jill Nunokawa, civil rights officer in the UH-Manoa Chancellor's Office, asked Jones about his hiring practices and the criteria he would use to hire members of his administration.

Alluding to former UH President Evan Dobelle, and his hiring of former associates to high-paying positions in the president's office, Nunokawa said, "we've had a history of people coming in with their own people."

Jones said he is committed to hiring the "best and brightest."

"If you're going to be successful in this work, you have to hire folks who are very bright and not be threatened," Jones said.

UH presidential selection chairwoman Donna Tanoue said the committee is soliciting campus input on both candidates until May 18. The next scheduled Board of Regents meeting is May 29, which is the soonest a recommendation could be made to board members.

The general tenor of comments on the presidential search seems to be unhappiness that yet another pair of outsiders has been selected as finalists. This after previous presidents who have been outsiders have crashed and burned. And people are understandably disturbed by the fact that one of the candidates, not Dr. Jones, has some significant baggage.

The right outsider can, however, make quite a difference. I hope we keep this in mind as we look for our next president here at Minnesota.

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