Over the past several years, I have had the distinct privilege to work and get acquainted with University of Hawaii Athletics Director Jim Donovan. I know Jim to be an honest, dedicated and caring person. I've seen him interact with UH sports fans, and more importantly, listen to them give him "sports advice." The patience that he displays gives the impression that the person he is conversing with is the most important fan to the university. Government needs more people like Jim, who are not too busy for the people that we serve.
In the wake of the news of a falsified Stevie Wonder fundraising concert on Oahu, I am disappointed with the university's treatment of Jim and his associate Rich Sherriff. I find it hard to believe that Mr. Donovan and Mr. Sherriff were the only two top administrators working on an event of this magnitude. Is this part of the university's standard operating procedures in these situations? If so, the university should clearly articulate that to the public and media so we are not left to wonder.
While it is too early to speculate as to the level of culpability, if any, on Jim's part in the loss of university funds, I hope that the administration will be extremely thoughtful regarding Jim's current and future tenure. I would urge the UH administration to not prematurely or unfairly judge Jim as a result of this incident. It is important that a proper investigation of the events is conducted and careful attention is paid to whether applicable procedures were appropriately followed. Even after all that has concluded, ultimately, the man should be judged based on the totality of his work and accomplishments while serving as the AD.
Not too long ago, the university suffered great financial distress and public embarrassment at the hands of Jim's predecessor. In contrast, during Jim's tenure, his achievements have been long and his commitment has been vigorous. Simply put, Jim inherited a mess and now has the athletics program headed in the right direction. In his six short years, Jim has worked closely with the Legislature and the private sector to secure substantial funding for athletic facilities throughout the university; negotiated transition of UH football to the MWC when the WAC began to crumble; secured a partnership with ESPN for the Diamond Head Classic basketball tournament; and been involved in the hiring of numerous head coaches, bringing increased exposure, success and revenues to the university. If you ask Jim, he won't take credit for any of these accomplishments, but rather say, "there were many people who helped make it possible." How encouraging that he sees the importance of teamwork outside of sports, too.
However, what I am most appreciative about is that when Jim first became the AD in 2007, he met with legislators and wanted our mana'o. In our first meeting, I asked about the possibility of having UH teams play on Maui, to which he responded, "That's a great idea, let me see what I can do." Jim understood that often Neighbor Island residents couldn't afford to fly to Oahu to see their favorite team and that kids on Oahu had opportunities that didn't exist here. Most conversations end there, but this one didn't, and since then we've had UH football, men's basketball, men's and wahine volleyball, and wahine softball teams all visit the Valley Isle.
Given all of the positive work that Jim has done and the many things he has been able to accomplish, it is my hope that, absent a finding that he was somehow complicit in the fraudulent transaction, he will be restored to his position and we will continue to build on the good things that we have started.
* Shan S. Tsutsui is state Senate president, currently representing Central Maui.