University of Hawaii President Evan Dobelle was fired late yesterday by the UH Board of Regents in a unanimous decision that followed 12 hours of discussion as part of Dobelle’s three-year evaluation. “Sadly, we have come to the realization that the President no longer has our trust and there is no longer a unity of purpose between the Board and the President or a clear recognition of his integrity, character and commitment,” said board chairperson Patricia Lee. “Clearly, this is the most difficult decision ever to be made by the Regents.” DISCUSS
“I’m amazed and astonished,” Dobelle said in a telephone interview with KHNL. “To leave town and to have people do things in secret I find to be amazing.”
Dobelle was on the Mainland on vacation, touring colleges with his son Harry, when the regents’ decision was announced. He told KHNL that he learned about it from the newspaper websites he visited from his hotel this morning.
Although rumors of Dobelle’s possible dismissal were reported by the Star-Bulletin on Sunday anonymously quoting “several regents” the move still took many by surprise.
The only explanation offered by the regents is that Dobelle was terminated “for cause,” a technical term tied to his UH contract. The criteria for such a termination are very strict: a felony conviction, a medical finding of mental instability, or conduct that demonstrates “moral turpitude,” something that would subject the university to disrespect, contempt or ridicule.
If Dobelle was not terminated for cause, he would be eligible for a $2.2 million severance package.
University officials would not elaborate, referring inquiries to Board of Regents legal counsel Walter Kirimitsu.
However, Lee cited the need for unity between the president and the regents, and also the need for a “clear recognition of the President’s integrity, character, and institutional commitment to this university.” Dobelle’s termination would suggest the regents’ finding that one or both conditions did not exist.
Many have suggested that Dobelle’s ouster was politically motivated. A number of Dobelle’s initiatives have drawn fire, in particular his public endorsement of then Democratic gubernatorial candidate Mazie Hirono over Republican Linda Lingle the week before the 2002 election. And while Dobelle told KHNL he prefered not to speculate on whether politics trumped performance in his evaluation, “that has been the overwhelming judgment of the people who have been calling all day long.”
In accordance with BOR policy, UH Vice President for Academic Affairs David McClain was named acting president, effective immediately.