What does the University of Hawai‘i Foundation do

Published on May 13, 2016.

Noelle Fujii, Editor-in-Chief

Victor Ong, News Editor 

When you receive a scholarship from the university, it most likely was coordinated by the University of Hawai‘i Foundation (UHF), which is charged with overseeing all private gifts.

The Board of Regents (BOR) has a contract with the 61-year-old foundation to be the sole provider of fundraising and alumni services, and a board of trustees oversees the nonprofit. According to Margot Schrire, UHF director of communications, this is a best practice model among large public universities and university systems.

Giving gifts

In Fiscal Year (FY) 2015, the foundation raised nearly $130 million, with most gifts being designated towards student aid.

Donors can give to existing funds or create new ones, and all gifts are used according to donors’ wishes. Almost all gifts are restricted by donors for specific purposes.

“UHF has processes and policies in place to ensure that expenditures from donor funds are consistent with the donor’s intent, are properly documented and are approved,” Schrire said in an email. “That gives donors peace of mind as they know that their gifts are being used wisely and as intended.”

A five percent administrative fee is taken from all gifts. This helps UHF with having expertise on staff and infrastructure to invest and manage funds raised, in addition to disbursing the funds according to donors’ wishes, Schrire said.

“In today’s market most public and private financial service entities and foundations, especially those without a large endowment, charge a service fee to assist with administrative costs such as audits, financial and investment management, software and system security programs, etc.,” she said. “UHF disburses more than $40 million a year to UH as designated to support students, programs, faculty and research. Most of our donors know that it takes money, time, and qualified professionals to raise and manage private funds for the benefit of UH.”

In 2015, UH Foundation raised nearly $130 million, with most of the money going towards student aid. (Noelle Fujii/Ka Leo)

Why not UHF?

Disability Studies instructor Brian Kajiyama’s Heart of a Warrior Scholarship was set up in 2015 by former football coach Jeff Reinebold under the June Jones Foundation and is completely independent from the university, though the recipient has to commit to attend UH Mānoa.

“I think we chose not to go through the university to have more freedom,” he said.

Since the scholarship has his name on it, Kajiyama wanted to be involved with the selection of the recipient, to whom he would be a mentor.

According to UHF’s website, scholarship donors can specify base criteria to be used when selecting the recipient, and university representatives from the appropriate departments will use that criteria.

Central Union Church also administers scholarships to local students pursuing higher education or other specialized training after high school. Ruth Stepulis, Central Union Church Women’s League president, said the church chose not to administer its scholarships through the university foundation because they don’t want to limit them to recipients attending one university.

How does the foundation compare to others?

While there is a mix of nonprofit foundations and internal offices charged with fundraising among UH Mānoa’s peer institutions, Jennifer Kemp, community operations manager for the University of New Mexico Foundation, said there is no “one size fits all” model to how higher education foundations are supported or function. Generally there are three types: dependent, interdependent, and completely independent.

“The model or structure that an institution and/or foundation uses depends on numerous factors including (but not limited to) the institution’s resources, endowment size, university size, institution’s history, mission, etc,” she said in an email. “Additionally, even though an institution selects one model, that model could evolve as the institution evolves and factors change.”

This table shows how UH Foundation compares to some of UH Mānoa’s peer institutions. (Noelle Fujii/ Ka Leo)


UHF funding

In addition to the five percent assessment fee taken from gifts, the foundation receives funding from the university, which can provide $3 million a year for fundraising and alumni-related services — this cap is governed by state statute.

“This equates to about 20 percent of our budget so having an administrative service fee is key to our ability to fund core operations,” Schrire said.

The foundation also receives funding from an annual assessment on the market value of its endowment — the amount is determined each year — and interest on its short-term investments, according to its website.

View story at Medium.com


Faculty senate passes resolution encouraging adoption of model that puts students first

The Mānoa Faculty Senate again showed its support for a budget model that would distribute campus revenues to the units first before each pays off their proportion of costs relating to campus functions.

Eighty-nine percent of senate members voted in support of a resolution that requests the phased adoption of a Responsibility-Centered Management (RCM) budget model approach as a basis for budgeting at UH Mānoa earlier today. This comes a day after Chancellor Robert Bley-Vroman sent out a message to faculty about the model he was developing. The faculty senate had first voted on a resolution encouraging the RCM model in November 2014.

“What I think is really exciting is all the money would come into our departments, and we would be able to pay for what we need and then decide how much more we’re going to pay for administration instead of having them decide what they want to pay themselves. So when I look at Hawai‘i Hall, I see it growing and growing and growing, and we don’t get any discussion about how much they’re spending and who they’re hiring,” said Lilikala Kame’eleihiwa, a senate Committee on Administration and Budget (CAB) member, at the meeting. “I think we have to make a decision to take care of our students first, and I like this model because this model takes care of what we need for our students before it takes care of administration.”

The need for a new model

CAB member David Chin said the fact that budget allocations have remained flat despite an increase in enrollment for the College of Natural Sciences (CNS) is not the only problem. In the math department, the number of tenured track professors has decreased, and beginner level math courses are being offered with high numbers of students.

In fall 2016, Math 100 classes can hold hundreds of students.

“How the heck do we expect our students to actually learn math in these large lecturing conditions, which is basically impossible,” Chin said in his presentation at the meeting.

His computer and information sciences (ICS) department — where he is the chairman — has grown by 34 percent in the last three years in terms of student semester hours and number of majors.

“At this point we can’t simply add more seats to our classes anymore if they just all filled up. When you look at this page for ICS in a few months, you’ll find all of our classes will have wait lists,” he said. “So that’s what it means in real terms for both students and faculty when we don’t have the right budget model.”

Where revenues will go under this model

Chin said in his presentation that under this model, the campus’ income — general funds, tuition and Research, Training and Revolving Fund (RTRF) monies — would first go to the schools, colleges and organized research units; also called responsibility centers. The deans and directors would then be advised about their budgets by internal faculty committees.

All RTRF monies would return to the responsibility centers, providing incentive to increase the amount of research being done.

Tuition would include Outreach College fees, and undergraduate distribution would be based on student semester hours, majors and graduates. All differential and graduate tuition would return to the units that generate them, based on major count.

“We feel that if students are paying for this, their money should go purely for things that directly support their education,” Chin said.

This formula would incentivize schools and colleges to go out and recruit students, which according to Chin, is opposite of the current historically-based budget model.

“The current model, the more students you have, the more work it is for your faculty. The less attention you can give to the students in your class and the worse their experience will be,” he said. “So the incentive basically is to have fewer majors. If you get more majors, you don’t get any more money.”

An exemptions committee would review this formula and make exceptions to it.

General fund money, which comes from the state, would be distributed to the responsibility centers based on permanent personnel expenditures. According to Chin, general funds cover most of the campus’ personnel costs.

Units first, campus functions second

The schools, colleges and organized research units would then pay amounts proportional to their uses for direct costs – like utilities, personnel and supplies. They would also pay amounts proportional to their revenues to support cost centers — such as libraries, facilities, maintenance and administration — and taxes for strategic investments, buffering fast enrollment changes and the system.

Cost centers would be overseen by a committee of faculty, students and staff to determine their budgets, and this, according to Chin, gives an incentive to reduce administrative bloat.

“The more the cost center committee sends out to administration, the less colleges and schools have to spend themselves,” he said.

An advisory committee would oversee how taxes are given.

Further work ahead

Marguerite Butler, senate vice chair and an assistant biology professor, raised concerns whether there will be programs that cannot support themselves.

Chin said the committee would need to look at the numbers, though if units are harmed, it’s because they’re living beyond their means.

Instructional return to be part of chancellor’s budget model

Campus schools and colleges will soon see some of the tuition they bring in reflected in the pot of money they receive to operate and spend each year under Chancellor Robert Bley-Vroman’s budget model.

His model is based on the idea of instructional return – the idea that a portion of the money units bring in that relate to instruction should be returned to those units that do the teaching and graduate students, according to a memo he sent to campus members earlier today.

“It means that for every college, school, organized research unit, every budgetary unit gets an allocation. Part of that allocation is based on this return of tuition and it goes up and down as your instruction goes up and down,” Bley-Vroman said to Ka Leo.

Forty percent of tuition revenues – after 20 percent is first taken out to fund scholarships for the campus – will be allocated to units based on instructional load. For 2016-17, the 40 percent will be piloted with any additional tuition collected.

In addition, the law, business and medical schools will pilot a special method in the upcoming year where 70 percent of regular graduate tuition collected and 100 percent of differential tuition will return to the units that generate them.

The campus faculty senate is also working on a budget model that will be discussed at tomorrow’s meeting.

Check back in our April 25 issue for more information on the campus’ budget models. 


How these Hawai‘i youth work to prevent suicide

A majority of teens in the U.S. tell someone they are thinking about committing suicide – and University of Hawai‘i researchers are working to help others recognize the warning signs earlier.

“If 85 percent are telling someone, 85 percent are reaching out and we can actually do something to help them, so we have to be able to recognize what is occurring,” Psychiatry Professor Deborah Goebert said in a phone interview.

From 2011 to 2014, she and a team of UH researchers and education organizations worked to create a model for youth groups to become gatekeepers — a safety net of people that can recognize the warning signs and provide connections to resources — as part of the Hawai‘is Caring Communities Initiative (HCCI) for Youth Suicide Prevention. Although the HCCI grant has ended, a council of teens and young adults continues to bring youth together to carry on the work this model started.

“If we’re going to target youth and we want to make a difference in the youth’s lives, we have to involve and engage youth because they’re important resources for their own friends and their peers,” said Jane Chung-Do, a public health assistant professor and HCCI staff member, in a phone interview.

Hawaii high school suicide rate .jpg
Nearly 11 percent of high school students reported attempting suicide in the past 12 months, according to the 2013 Hawai’i School Health Survey results. (Noelle Fujii/ Ka Leo)

Youth as gatekeepers

According to Goebert, everyone is a potential gatekeeper, though youth — defined as ages 14 to 24 — are important because they have eyes and ears on each other, especially on social media.

The Youth Leadership Council on Suicide Prevention’s purpose was to help sustain suicide prevention efforts statewide and to bring together partners on different islands to have a group to represent the youth voice, said Mara Pike, Mental Health America of Hawai‘i’s Pono Youth Program manager.

In addition, the council seeks to provide youth with leadership and development training on suicide prevention, civic engagement and community service opportunities and connect adults to support students as leaders in their home communities.

The group first met at a two-day suicide prevention conference on Big Island in 2015. Malia Bush, a freshman at Leeward Community College, said the fact that students were given leadership roles, rather than adults, stood out to her.

“[The adult leaders] let us youth council members brainstorm ideas — on how to raise awareness and provide resources within our communities — and gave us whatever support we needed, such as materials, training, and guidance when needed,” Bush said in an email. “They definitely empowered us.”

Kamehameha Schools senior Hi‘ilani Pacheco joined the council in October because she has a passion to increase awareness about the topic. She has since participated in sign waving and training activities and hopes to continue being involved when she attends college at one of the UH campuses in the fall.

Some members of the council also serve on the Prevent Suicide Hawaiʻi Task Force.

Training leaders

The council is a collaboration between Mental Health America of Hawaiʻi and HCCI, in addition to other local organizations. Since its establishment in April 2015, the group has grown from 78 youth and supportive adult members to 94, Pike said.

“You got to start the conversation and you have to be willing to open up and you have to be willing to talk about what’s going on and be vulnerable,” Pike said in a phone interview. “The adults are here to listen and … the youth, it’s really up to them to be able to help us understand what would be helpful for them in their communities.”

However, she said the challenge is that youth grow up and carry on with their lives. The council has ongoing enrollment and members contribute on a voluntary basis.

Future plans include a statewide self-care fair with stations on each of the islands in April and to bring suicide prevention training to middle schools.

“When we get a chance to bring them all together, you know, across the state and bring all these youth from different communities together, they really feel a sense of team or a sense of community,” Chung-Do said. “So they feel more empowered to do something about youth suicide prevention so they don’t feel so alone in their own little community.”

A model of youth leadership

The youth leadership model focuses on youth empowerment, suicide prevention trainings, community awareness events and team-building, Chung-Do said.

The model was implemented when HCCI’s Mobilizing Communities at Risk (MCAR) project partnered with six community organizations across the state to develop and implement community awareness activities in suicide prevention. The organizations were located in rural communities with a high proportion of youth and Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders. They were also already engaged in suicide prevention activities, though most were primarily focused on adults.

At each organization, youth leaders were identified, trained through a gatekeeper training program and engaged in community activities to increase awareness and teambuilding.

“We felt youth were key gatekeepers that hadn’t been tapped into in our state previously,” Goebert said. “So we wanted to not only train youth to become gatekeepers but also to do sort of a broader community awareness about suicide and the importance of suicide prevention.

The Prevent Suicide Hawai‘i Task Force will hold a gatekeeper training on April 18 on campus. For more information, go to:eventbrite.com/e/connect-suicide-prevention-training-41816-for-uhm-registration-22979105122.


Research compliance office move to save $1 million

Published on March 9, 2016. 

The campus office that approves protocols for researchers whose projects deal with animal subjects, human participants and biomaterials will soon become part of the system.

The Board of Regents approved the move of the Office of Research Compliance on Feb. 25 in an effort to make it more efficient and save the system an estimated $1.1 million. However, not everyone is happy with this change.

“This is in line with their strategic vision, and so I understand that,” University of Hawaiʻi Professional Assembly (UHPA) Associate Executive Director Christian Fern said in a phone interview. “It’s just for us and the impact on our members, we need to better understand the details.”

The Mānoa Office of Research Compliance provides research compliance services — including education and the handling of misconduct — to all 10 system campuses. According to system Vice President for Research and Innovation (VPRI) Vassilis Syrmos, the move will have no effect on Mānoa researchers, faculty, staff and students, though he anticipates a positive effect on those at other campuses.

“As research has been growing at all campuses including community colleges, faculty and staff will be serviced at a central shared resource compliance office as an equal client irrespectively of campus,” he said.

Saving money 

The office is composed of 22 positions. In fiscal year 2015, the total operating cost was $2.5 million — $2.1 million was used for salaries and fringe benefits using appropriated funds — and Syrmos estimates it will cost $1.4 million annually to sustain the ORC under the system. Areas of saving include:

How the cost savings would be achieved were some of the biggest concerns for the Mānoa Faculty Senate, which passed a resolutionopposing the reorganization in January, and UHPA, which has two bargaining unit members that are affected.

Michael Angelo, chairman of the senate’s Committee on Administration and Budget (CAB), said the justifications provided by the OVPRI were increased organizational efficiencies and an already existing budget surplus, but they still left the committee wanting to know how the move would make the process more efficient and where the cost savings would come from.

In addition, the system is requesting an estimated $600,000 in general funds from the Mānoa Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research (OVCR) and $800,000 from the system’s RTRF fund to pay for the ORC’s operating costs. This was not made clear to CAB until the BOR meeting, according to Angelo, who described this as a transparency issue.

“To the Committee on Administration and Budget, that’s very significant because … the $600,000 in general funds is money that is being shifted from the Mānoa campus up to the system level, and there should be a clear justification for that and [it] should be transparent,” he said.

ORC infographic

Noelle Fujii/ Ka Leo. Freepik (4).

ORC services

The ORC is composed of multiple program areas, some with committees composed of researchers and community members that approve protocols before researchers can begin their projects.

Because microbiology Professor Tung Hoang’s research revolves around developing vaccines for bacteria and infectious diseases, he got his protocols approved by the Institutional Biosafety Committee (IBC) – a process that takes at least one month.

He and his lab staff of one post doctorate and seven graduate students also receive yearly training in areas like biosafety and blood borne pathogens. Researchers are also required to participate in yearly inspections and inventories, sometimes with a compliance officer, who communicates with the federal agencies, such as the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).

“If the CDC wants to make a surprise visit and they want to do a surprise inspection, then we have to be there with the compliance office to show them where everything’s kept, what volume, you know, whatever they want to see, we have to provide them,” Hoang said.

Research protocols

Brye Kobayashi/ Ka Leo

Improved efficiency

Part of the reorganization stems out of the Research Compliance Task Force’s (RCTF) recommendation to reorganize compliance structures to be more efficient, according to Syrmos’ memo to the Board.

BOR Chairman Randolph Moore said this reorganization was in response to the question of what the system does versus what the Mānoa campus does.

While the RTCF found that many of its survey respondents did not experience problems understanding compliance requirements for areas like ethics, lab and bio safety and the institutional review boards for the Human Studies program, it did find there was a need to improve communication and transparency.

“[In terms of research] protocols, a lot of times we don’t know, well I do now, but new researchers might come along or even established ones [who] don’t know what is needed in terms of compliance because there’s no help and they’re doing it themselves, and that causes serious delay because, you know, it comes back to them [with information that they don’t know is] missing,” Hoang said.

He sat on the IBC for about four years and added that better guidance from the office from the start would reduce the delay in getting protocols — some of which can be 50-100 pages long — approved.

For the biosafety program, task force survey respondents reported experiencing problems with filing applications to comply with state requirements for the use of microorganisms.

According to Hoang, researchers have to file applications through the Hawaiʻi Department of Health (HDOA) to import microorganisms and animals – a process that can take up to a year. Stephen Case, a biosafety professional, said the ORC tries to ease the burden by guiding researchers through this paperwork, though because the researchers are the ones responsible for the imported organisms, the office doesn’t do it for them.

Depending on the situation, approvals from the state and federal departments are needed before research protocols can be approved, Case said. Other times, the protocol has to be approved first.

“Most researchers who want to work on something, they wait six months to a year, whether it’s a HDOA import, whether it’s helping with applications to submit to the IBC, helping with the deficiency prior to the submission, you know all these things the compliance officers should help but they’re doing a poor job, and each researcher wastes and enormous amount of time waiting and doing the paperwork,” he said.

Research Compliance Task Force

Noelle Fujii/ Ka Leo. Freepik (2).

The next steps

The goal is to complete the research administration realignment by the end of the calendar year, though in the meantime the office will continue to function as it has in the past, according to Syrmos.

All staff, except those assigned to the Animal and Veterinary Services Program, will move from the Biomedical Sciences Building to Sinclair Library. In addition, the system will assess synergies amongst the Office of Research Services, Office of Export Controls and ORC within the next three to four months to achieve a structure that will serve the university as one research administration enterprise.

“At [the end of the calendar year] we plan to physically coexist under one roof as a one stop shop for research administration at UH,” Syrmos said.


UH President proposes a set of reorganizations

While the Office of Research Compliance reorganization will advance towards its next steps, others are on the way.

UH President David Lassner has been speaking with the Board of Regents since August about potential reorganizations in administrative activity areas where there used to only be one of each, instead of the current two.

“So if you go back in time to when the president and chancellor were one position, there was only one HR office, there was one communication office, there was one government relations office, all of the facilities and capital improvements were in one office,” he said. “So these are the things that sort of split off, so they were a very natural place to assess.”

According to Board of Regents (BOR) Chairman Randolph Moore, these proposed reorganizations are in response to the board’s question on how to clarify and make more transparent who does what and why.

In January 2015, the BOR asked the Western Interstate Committee for Higher Education (WICHE) to look into whether or not the UH president and Mānoa chancellor positions should once again merge. According to Lassner, the interest stems from the belief that a merged administration would create administrative savings and efficiencies.

Ultimately, the BOR approved the WICHE recommendation to keep the positions separate, in addition to the recommendation to look at administrative efficiencies.

The proposed reorganizations would consolidate the Manoa and system offices under the Office of the Vice President for Administration, where the system functions currently exist.

Right now, eyes are only on Mānoa as it is perceived to have the most duplication and potential savings.

“…Once we move forward in a new direction and fine tune it, then there will be opportunities for looking at whether greater economies of scale that may be achieved if we start the discussions with the other units. But I mean Mānoa is the biggest and most complicated single part of the system,” Lassner said.



Chancellor plans to re-establish problem-solving office

This article was published on Dec. 28, 2015. 

While the campus ombuds office closed almost six years ago, the chancellor has plans to re-start small by creating a position that will assist campus members with where to go when they have a question or a problem.

“In my view, that’s the sort of basic thing that we have to have now,” Chancellor Robert Bley-Vroman said. “We can start becoming more elaborate in the future. But what we really need now is that … and it’s not just students who need this, I should say. I mean everybody needs this. Again, my long experience as a dean, just all the time someone would come to you with a problem and even the dean wouldn’t know exactly where you’re supposed to go.”

According to Neal Milner, who headed the ombuds office when it was open from 2006 to 2009, the office’s job was to help people solve their problems and concerns in a confidential manner.

“What it meant was that we would do anything from ‘where can I find this place,’ kind of like navigating, which is pretty routine, all the way to faculty members in a conflict, departments having trouble,” he said.

Bley-Vroman hopes to have someone to function in this new role within a month, though he would be disappointed if it didn’t happen by the end of the school year.

The old office

Milner helped set up the old office and said there was always a need for it.

“Let’s put it this way, you don’t have to do a needs assessment at this university to figure out you need it,” he said. “Any conflicts organization benefits from one. This is, this place is just bizarre enough and anarchistic enough in an organizational sense to know that you need it.”

The old office, located in Krauss Hall, was composed of three ombudsmen and a secretary, and according to previous Ka Leo articles, handled hundreds of cases each year. It followed the ethics and practices of the International Ombuds Association, and some of its work would include mediation as part of conflict resolution and informal investigations.

“So to us the book had many chapters, and mediation was maybe one chapter and we spent a lot of time on that. So that, it sounds drier than it is because it’s a real adventure, you never know what the hell’s going to happen,” Milner said.

The office closed in 2009 from budget cuts. Milner estimates the office had an annual budget around $200,000, with most of it paying for salaries.

A beta ombuds office

It’s important for an ombuds office to report to a high level, such as the chancellor, and be relatively independent, Bley-Vroman said. One function of the office would include reports on campus trends.

“So an ombuds office can tell the chancellor like ‘I’ve been getting a lot of people asking about X,’ and that will let me know that there’s something, there may be a general problem that we need to solve,” he said. “It’s sort of my eyes and ears.”

His plan is to start with the navigator function and build the office out from the recommendations he or she could provide. Right now, he’s looking for someone that has knowledge of university systems, a client-service orientation and knowledge of ombuds offices. The location of the office would need to be convenient and relatively discrete.

Milner said an information giver function is valuable on the Mānoa campus, though one difficulty with starting with this sole position is that it’s only a small part of the work that needs to be done.

“But assuming that’s better than nothing, the problem is that often what starts off as a request for information gets more complicated,” he said.

Milner estimates the cost for an ombudsman at a large university ombuds office would make over $100,000 a year, though the chancellor did not know the exact cost for a navigator position.

A place to listen

Mānoa Faculty Senate Chairman Robert Clooney had testified in support of last session’s House Bill (HB) 96, which would have appropriated funds to establish and operate an ombuds office on campus. The bill has been carried over to the 2016 session. He views such an office as a place one could go and confidentially get advice without fear of retaliation.

“I mean sometimes people feel oppressed but in reality, maybe there’s nothing that can be done for them and so you’re better off finding that out up front and what your options are or what the consequences may be,” Clooney said.

Both the UH Student Caucus (UHSC) and campus Graduate Student Organization (GSO) have passed resolutions asking for the establishment of full ombuds offices on the each of campuses. UHSC’s resolution also gave the option of a system coordinated office.

“If you just do the hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil concept, just because there is no office and no place to go, doesn’t mean the problems don’t exist. You’re just not listening. And so I think that’s a concern,” said Ed Hoogland, a GSO history representative.


Community group to hold campus memorial Feb. 23

Published on Feb. 19, 2016 .

Campus community members who are still grieving the recent deaths of students, faculty and staff will have the chance to celebrate and remember them through the Compassion Hui’s Celebration of Life event next Tuesday.

“The need is that because there is little to no communication about the deaths of students, faculty and staff on this campus … we have found …. there are a lot of people who are still grieving losses that they haven’t been able to grieve for already,” said Susan Schultz, founder of the Compassion Hui and a UH Mānoa English professor. “We thought that this event would simply create a place and a time for people who are still grieving could come, say a few words, talk to other people in the same situation, and maybe it would help kind of lift morale a little bit.”

The event is the first of its kind on campus, Schultz said. According to Jade Sunouchi, a member of the Compassion Hui and lecturer at UH West Oʻahu, the group hopes the event will become an annual occurrence, whether it’s put on by them or university administration.

“We completely support it just like any other event on campus that’s organized by the members of our community,” UH spokesman Dan Meisenzahl said in a phone interview.

Responding to student deaths

UH Mānoa’s 2006 Procedure in Regard to Deceased Students authorizes a pair of administrators to notify the family of the deceased student and the appropriate student affairs offices. While the document also says the campus counseling center should be notified so that steps are taken in regards to counseling of other students who may be affected, the protocol does not address how UH Mānoa will inform the community.

While Schultz said she has found opposition to reporting every death on campus, she believes there should have procedures in place, including an annual memorial service where community members would know who had died.

“More awareness of the availability of resources and especially if it’s a very public death,” she said. “You know, then I think the chancellor needs to kick in and send a message to the entire community to say, ‘There’s been a tragedy on our campus. We’re very saddened by this and here are some resources to access.’ My preference would be if he would do that every time.”

Associated Students of the University of Hawaiʻi (ASUH) Sen. Todd Simeroth found out that a man died while trying to prevent another man’s suicide at Hale Wainani in August through social media, not campus administration. In September, he and fellow senators drafted a resolutioncalling for the campus to adopt a protocol for consistently addressing and responding to student deaths in a caring and professional manner. His concern was that administration should inform students about available resources, such as counseling and therapy.

“We wanted it to be up to the families. If they didn’t want any personal information distributed, it could be something as simple as saying, ‘There was a student death on campus. If you witnessed it or are affected by it, go seek the counseling center.’ That sort of thing,” he said.

The Graduate Student Organization (GSO) passed a similar resolutionalmost unanimously in September.

“We wanted to say that there is a need for this type of communication and we want it done and we want it done properly,” GSO President Jonathan Dial said.

A sensitive topic

According to Meisenzahl, campus policies and procedures are always in review and received feedback is taken into consideration.

When handling student deaths, the family is the campus’ first consideration.

In Interim Vice Chancellor for Students Lori Ideta’s response to ASUH’s resolution, she said the campus does communicate the death of a student and offers support services to those the student came in regular contact with. Meisenzahl added follow ups are also done in case there are delayed responses.

“It’s something the university takes very, very seriously, but it’s not something that we do in a public spotlight,” he said.

Ideta’s concern with an instant notification — which would state, at most, that a death occurred and refer community members to counseling and support services — would create anxiety and raise more questions than answers.

“The fact of the matter is if we sent out an email blast every time someone passed away, there would be a lot of emails or there might be waves of emails because sometimes these things happen in clusters and what would be the benefit of that?” Meisenzahl said. “If there is one student who might know 100 people in a community of 25,000 people, and if we’re doing what we do to reach out to the vast majority of people who know that student, you know, their teachers, their professors, their classes, what benefit is it? So I guess it’s debatable, what [ASUH and GSO are] proposing. The benefit of it is debatable.”

The Office of the Vice Chancellor for Students has sent out email announcements informing students of available support services, and Meisenzahl said students are alerted through new student orientation and student housing.

Another campus’ example

UH Hilo’s Student Death Protocol authorizes the dean of students to act as the coordinator for all campus responses, including contacting the family and determining whether an all-campus announcement needs to be made.

Kelly Oaks, UH Hilo interim associate vice chancellor for student affairs and dean of students, said such a decision is made on a case by case determination. The circumstances of the death and the feelings and concerns of the family are taken into consideration.

The policy, which has been utilized for at least the five years Oaks has been in her position, stemmed from a need for a coordinated response.

“We wanted to have one point of contact for the university, and while individuals may have been making these contacts in different areas and departments, were doing so out of concern and the best intentions, the impact to families who were dealing with a tragedy, it can be significant,” she said in a phone interview.

Under the protocol, the dean of students is responsible for notifying the appropriate university and off-campus personnel and providing consultation and assistance to campus departments who wish to organize a memorial event on campus.

Both Simeroth and Schultz believe the protocol is more detailed and compassionate.

According to UHWO Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Judy K. Oliveira, her campus is also working on a protocol that would include internal processes for reaching out to campus administrators, offices and individuals. Like with the other campuses, campus-wide communication will be made on a case-by-case basis, following consultation with senior administration.

“We try to handle each situation with compassion and dignity – allowing the family members and close friends to inform us of how best to memorialize and/or ‘celebrate the life’ of their loved one,” she said in an email.

At UH Mānoa, Dial thinks groups like the Compassion Hui are setting an example.

“I think this is exactly what needs to happen in these kinds of situations,” he said. “This is the community itself bringing this topic up and it’s showing compassion, it’s showing that the community itself cares about the members of the community, it cares about the students, it cares about the faculty and that everyone is valued. And I think that group is doing a very good job by leading by example where I think the administration is actually failing.”

Event details

When: Feb. 23, 4 p.m. – 6 p.m.

Where: Hālau ʻO Haumea, 2645 Dole Street

Attendees are welcome to bring a candle, lighter and container. Open flames are not permitted on campus. Candles will also be provided by event organizers.


The Compassion Hui

Susan Schultz founded the group in September 2014 to advocate for suicide prevention, compassionate communication of student deaths and an increased awareness of campus resources. After the death at Hale Wainani in August 2015, the group grew and now has over 50 student, faculty and staff members.

Facebook: uhmentalhealthhui