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Retired general is finalist for U. of Hawaii presidency

HONOLULU — The University of Hawaii is deciding between two men to be the next president of the 10-campus system: UH's longtime information technology executive, who has been serving as interim president since last fall, and the retired commanding general of the U.S. Army Pacific.

The Board of Regents' presidential selection committee, which first began meeting in June, recommended the finalists — David Lassner and retired Lt. Gen. Francis Wiercinski — to the full board at a special meeting Thursday morning.

Neither of the candidates attended the meeting on the UH-Manoa campus. The special meeting was called ahead of the regents' May 15 monthly meeting, where a hiring decision was expected.

Several students and a new regent who has yet to join the board urged the board Thursday to hold off on hiring a new president until after the semester to give student and faculty groups more time to research the finalists and engage in meaningful dialogue.

"The board must never allow the faculty and students to be disenfranchised in providing input in any critical UH decision," said Stanford Yuen, who will start an appointed term on the Board of Regents in July and said he was testifying as an individual.

Yuen, an engineering consultant and former special assistant to the Navy, said the two-week window between Thursday's announcement of the candidates and the regents' May 15 meeting is too short, especially with campuses busy with finals.

"With the acting president in place, there is really no reason for the board to rush to make a decision by May 15," he said, adding that the process shouldn't be cut short due to self-imposed deadline. 

Yuen noted that the search committee didn't fulfill its original plan to provide a shortlist of five or six candidates.

The search group had said it would provide a shortlist of five to six candidates to the board, but UH said some candidates chose to withdraw from the process because finalists would be made public and invited to make campus visits.

Four university students also asked the board to delay a hiring.

"Right now I don't think a lot of the student body ... are aware of what's upcoming from the Board of Regents," said UH-Manoa senior Claire Yakabe. "Their focus right now is on finals."

But Maenette Ah Nee-Benham, dean of the Hawaiinuiakea School of Hawaiian Knowledge at Manoa and a non-voting member of the presidential selection committee, urged the regents to move forward.

"I have to honor the comments made by the students and by soon-to-be-regent Yuen, about time, but I would also like to urge you to move forward because we are in deep need of having leadership to help us take us into this 21st century and meet this transformational opportunity that we have right now," she said.

Lassner, who since 2007 has served as UH's vice president for information technology and chief information officer, is considered a strong candidate within the university community because of his seniority and ability to get along with others.

He has worked at UH since 1977 in various technical and management roles that culminated with his creating and leading the university's first system-wide IT support organization.

He was tapped to serve as interim president last summer and assumed the post in September, after former President M.R.C. Greenwood announced she was retiring to spend more time with family and deal with health problems, leaving nearly two years left on her contract.

Greenwood's departure came about a year after UH became embroiled in the so-called "Wonder blunder," a botched Stevie Wonder concert that tarnished public confidence in the university.

Lassner is credited with helping smooth over relations with lawmakers, who took UH to task over the concert fiasco.

For example, he helped UH secure big-ticket items in its budget request at the Legislature this year, including controversial construction projects and more than $30 million for faculty pay increases and salary restorations.

A native of Connecticut, Lassner received his doctorate in communication and information sciences from UH-Manoa. He holds a bachelor's degree in economics and a master's degree in computer science from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

With the interim appointment, Lassner received about a 30 percent salary boost to $325,008 a year — less than the $475,000 salary Greenwood was paid at her hiring in 2009.

Wiercinski is seen as an unconventional candidate, given his purely military background. 

But some regents during the search process expressed a desire to consider candidates outside academia, including business and military executives. The search group also sought a leader with close ties to Hawaii.

Wiercinski retired in June following 34 years of service in the Army, including eight years of commanding in the Pacific. A native of Pennsylvania, Wiercinski graduated from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.

The regents' presidential selection committee voted in late January to conduct the search itself, without the help of an outside consultant or executive search firm. UH the following month began advertising for the position in local and national publications.
 

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