- Associated Press - Tuesday, May 27, 2014

HONOLULU (AP) - The two men vying to become the next University of Hawaii president interviewed for the job Tuesday, amid criticism over one of the finalists’ qualifications and the search process.

The university’s Board of Regents interviewed the finalists, retired Lt. Gen. Frank Wiercinski and interim President David Lassner, during a meeting that was open to the public.

Regent Jeffrey Portnoy addressed the concerns immediately with his first questions to Wiercinski about the differences between leading a military organization and leading a university.

“As a lieutenant and a captain leading soldiers on the ground … you’re right, it’s very different. Orders are mandatory. We give orders so that people don’t get hurt,” Wiercinski said. But at the senior-officer level leading a complex organization, he said, skills are required that are also necessary to run a university including crisis management, budgeting and human resources.

Wiercinski retired after a 34-year Army career, including two years leading U.S. Army Pacific. Some oppose his military background, and some say he doesn’t have the qualifications necessary to lead a public education institution.

There have been calls to re-open the search, but the board said doing so would harm the university.

Before the interviews, the board heard public testimony, which included a mix of support and opposition for Wiercinski and for re-opening the search. Law professor Williamson Chang said he’s concerned about Wiercinski’s lack of a doctorate degree. Edwin Gayagas, president of the university’s Army ROTC Alumni Association, spoke in support of Wiercinski, saying he’s “immersed in local culture.”

The university’s leadership often doesn’t “reflect the makeup of our society,” said Vilsoni Hereniko, a professor in the Academy for Creative Media. “I would love to see diversity in the candidates.”

Lassner took over as interim president after M.R.C. Greenwood said she would step down to deal with health problems and spend more time with family. Before the appointment Lassner was vice president for information technology and chief information officer.

Lassner’s interview also touched on the controversy when he noted he was an “unconventional choice” because he’s not seen as an academic.

“In contrast now, I’m perceived as the traditional candidate,” he said, drawing chuckles from the audience.

He discussed his ideas for the university, 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.

Wiercinski said the university needs to drive Hawaii’s economic future, make education affordable without compromising quality and improve low morale.

The board is expected to make a decision on June 2.


Follow Jennifer Sinco Kelleher at https://www.twitter.com/JenHapa .

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