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Thursday, October 11, 2012

WHAT CAN THE UNIVERSITY OF HAWAII DO TO BECOME GREAT?

I have a simple solution for the University of Hawaii.  It's clear we are not doing well at all today, with the Stevie Wonder fiasco just the tip of the iceberg.  There are only two steps.  Step two is the crucial one, but that won't happen unless step one is compelling.

While it is not wise to alienate friends and colleagues, let me nevertheless quickly eliminate anything to do with outer space, for there is no hope for economic development and all we have today are a few telescopes on a high mountain that is nearing the limit of its capability.  Plus Florida has the obvious advantage on space exploits, physically and politically.  Scratch Asian languages and Oriental culture because  pure academic excellence is insufficient for grand greatness.  It nevertheless makes some sense to amalgamate the East-West Center and outstanding elements of these fields at Manoa to establish a steeple of excellence in Pacific-Asian Enlightenment, or whatever.

Okay, so what should be done?  First, we are located in the middle of the largest ocean.  Second, we have a cornucopia of natural resources and are ideally conformed to be the world headquarters to develop this assortment of clean energy and ocean enterprises.  Third, the world is perilously close to being hammered by Peak Oil and Global Heating.  The creation of a showcase School of Sustainability, combining the best elements of science, technology and supportive fields to become the leading international research, education and development institution on Saving and Enhancing Planet Earth and Humanity is worthy of consideration.  

When I first became director of the Hawaii Natural Energy Institute in the mid-80's, I proposed expanding our jurisdiction into the Pacific Institute for Oceanic, Natural Energy and Environmental Resources, or PIONEER.  There was so much apprehension and static that I backed off.  

Not long thereafter in 1988 I served on a committee given a mandate by President Al Simone to combine the best of what we had on campus into a School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology.  Simply, the three top research institutes (Hawaii Institute of Geophysics, Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology and Hawaii Natural Energy Institute), plus academic departments in Oceanography, Geology/Geophysics, Meteorology and Ocean Engineering, were integrated under one dean.  This consolidation worked wonderfully, and became the dominant research center for the university.  However, SOEST is too scientific, somewhat limited in scope and lacks the entrepreneurial spirit to take the system into true greatness.

Part One is to merge SOEST with the College of Engineering, College of Business, and elements of the the Departments of Biology and Chemistry, plus portions of the College of Agriculture and Human Resources, into a mega school with no departments and no research institutions.  Let me repeat this.  The new superstructure must be fashioned to stimulate multidisciplinary partnerships in academics and research, plus link with the community.    Michael Crow, president of Arizona State University expounded on something similar in the October issue of Scientific American.  Unfortunately, there is no chance for anything like this to happen in Hawaii unless.....

Part Two can trump academic and  community inertia.  This simplest of solutions will insure for the fruition of Part One.  The University needs to gain the confidence and financial support of at least one super billionaire, and a few of his rich friends.  This SB would indicate that he will provide several billion to the University only if it agrees to develop this School of Sustainability.  If, by some major miracle, this first wealthy individual can be so convinced, it should be easier to bring on board a second billionaire to transform our athletic programs, not unlike what happened to the University of Oregon (Phil Knight of Nike) and Oklahoma State University (T. Boone Pickens).  The third billionaire would be tapped to build up that Pacific-Asian program and related fields.

Indubitably, it helped that both individuals (Knight and Pickens) graduated from their designated university, and Hawaii doesn't have that connection.  However, there are perhaps a dozen really rich people who spend time in Hawaii. What greater legacy for them than to establish in this most beautiful of settings the premier institution for sustainability, Sear's Directors' Cup excellence in athletics and world class center for Pacific-Asian Affairs?  All this can be attained in your lifetime, leading towards a better Hawaii, world peace and a healthier Planet Earth.

There are 1226 billionaires having a net worth of $4.6 trillion.  (Today, there are 1640 billionaires at $6.6 trillion.)  With 425, the USA has the most.  China has 95 and Japan 30.  We only need three.

If I can convince only one progressive person associated with the University of Hawaii to start the process, even if this might be only to alert one influential person to just call a billionaire's friend, unimaginable things could happen.  I guess I should underscore that the strategy for success cannot just bulldoze state leaders and the faculty with the promise of billions.  While I'm saying this, forget building consensus and assuring for collegiality.  That takes too much time and ends up in something resembling mush.  Plan wisely, swiftly optimize and take decisive action.  The right incredible leader  with an amazing assemblage of partners will be required to pull off this miracle.  But it can be done.

I calculated there was a 10 trillion to one chance that I would become what I have became.  The odds must be a trillion times better for the University of Hawaii to become among the greatest ten in the world, for how difficult can it be to gain the support of only three inspired billionaires with vision?

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There is 115 MPH Typhoon Prapiroon loitering around far east of Taiwan, but there appears to be no danger to that country or Okinawa at this time.

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