HONOLULU — The University of Hawaii Board of Regents on Tuesday again defended its search process that resulted in the two finalists vying to lead the university amid a new call — this time from state Senate President Donna Mercado Kim — to reopen the search.
"The board believes that to open the selection process at the 11th hour would do significant damage to the university," the board said in a statement Tuesday.
Following a nearly yearlong search, a regents presidential selection committee identified its top picks: David Lassner, UH's longtime information technology executive, who is serving as interim president, and Frank Wiercinski, who retired last year at the rank of lieutenant general after 34 years of service in the Army.
But the regents have come under fire for the picks.
Some object to Wiercinski's exclusively military background, calling him unqualified to lead an institution of higher learning. Others found it troubling that the search committee named Lassner a finalist when it initially said any interim president would not be eligible for the permanent job.
Others have criticized the search committee for not meeting its goal of producing "no less than five and no more than six" top candidates.
Kim (D, Kalihi Valley-Moanalua-Halawa) launched an online petition Tuesday afternoon, calling on the regents to reopen the search. It had close to 100 signatures by Tuesday night.
"I speak out not in favor of any candidate, but in the best interest of the students and the university. This is such an important decision. Finding the best candidates far outweighs the regents' excuses why they are only left with two candidates," Kim said in a mass email linking to the petition.
She was unavailable for comment late Tuesday, according to a Senate spokeswoman.
In its final report to the regents, the search committee said it received 60 applications and 20 nominations and concluded that Lassner and Wiercinski are highly qualified to lead the 10-campus system.
The report notes the committee considered reopening the search when its shortlist of finalists dropped from six to three. (Two finalists withdrew prior to an interview; the other dropped out over privacy concerns. Another finalist withdrew upon learning that an internal candidate was being considered.)
But the committee decided against it because its shortlist of finalists "appeared to be significantly more aligned with the committee's criteria than the others" and it believed "a renewed public effort at that late date was unlikely to garner equal or better candidates," the report said.
At a regents meeting last week, a group of UH-Manoa graduate students complained that the search process was flawed and needed to be redone, while another group of students and faculty asked the board to reject Wiercinski's nomination, presenting a petition with some 600 signatures opposed to the former military officer.