Lassner picked as UH president

HONOLULU – The University of Hawaii’s regents selected David Lassner as the institution’s next president Monday after lengthy debate about whether the board should delay selecting a candidate.

Lassner, who had been serving as interim president, and retired Lt. Gen. Frank Wiercinski were vying for the job that comes with a $375,000 annual salary.

The process has generated criticism from those who opposed Wiercinski’s military background and complaints that he doesn’t have the qualifications to lead a public education institution.

There were calls to reopen the search, but the board said doing so would harm the university. Eleven regents selected Lassner, two voted for Wiercinski, and two abstained from voting. The regents from Maui, Eugene Bal and Vice Chairwoman Saedene Ota, voted for Lassner.

Lassner was appointed as interim president in September after M.R.C. Greenwood said she would step down to deal with health problems and spend more time with family. Lassner was the university’s vice president for information technology and chief information officer.

Wiercinski retired after a 34-year Army career, including two years leading U.S. Army Pacific.

Before voting, regents spoke favorably about Lassner’s technology background, his approachability and his passion for the University of Hawaii. He earned a doctorate in communication and information sciences on the Manoa campus and has served since 1977.

“There’s a culture that we don’t hire our own people,” said regent Jeffrey Tangonan Acido, who represents students on the board. “Wouldn’t it be amazing to have a leader that comes and has graduated from our school?”

Regents also praised Wiercinski but said he would have a tough time winning over those in the university community who did not want a leader with a military background.

“He is a quick study,” said regent Tom Shigemoto, who voted for Wiercinski. “He will collaborate with many stakeholders at the university and has the respect of many government and community leaders.”

There also were complaints that Lassner was being considered for the permanent job after serving as interim president. Michael Lilly, a Honolulu attorney, said he knew a highly qualified candidate who took a position with the University of Texas instead of being considered for the interim president role “because she was told if she became interim president she would not be considered for the permanent position.”

Regent Benjamin Kudo made a motion to delay voting, in part because the selection process occurred at the end of the semester when many students and faculty were not around.

Regent Jeffrey Portnoy agreed, saying that as a recent addition to the board he had received very little information about the candidates who were considered, aside from the final three.

“I have to stay true to my beliefs,” Portnoy said. “I cannot vote for either candidate.”

But other board members said the university needed to move forward and couldn’t wait another year or two to name a president.

“There’s decisions that have to be made . . . there’s funds that have to be raised,” said John Holzman, chairman of the board of regents. “This university needs a leader, and we need one now.”

The board voted 12-3 to continue with the selection process.

At Lassner’s formal interview before the board last week, he discussed his ideas for the 10-campus system, including saving on energy costs by using university land for solar power. The university must “preserve, honor and promote” Native Hawaiian culture and sustainability, Lassner said.