Why did UH pitch the “chancellor didn’t receive a contract” line?

Did you notice this sentence in a Star-Advertiser story on Sunday concerning the potential ouster of UH Manoa Chancellor Tom Apple?

Apple, like other university administrators, did not receive a contract upon hire, meaning there is no need to buy him out of a contract.

A follow-up story today clarifies this statement somewhat:

UH spokeswoman Lynne Waters said Apple, like other administrators, did not receive a formal contract when he was hired in May 2012 at a $439,008 annual salary to replace former Chancellor Virginia Hinshaw.

So the “no contract” line came from Waters, the university’s highly-paid associate vice-president for external affairs.

The implication of the “no contract” statement implies Apple is an “at will” employee without substantive rights.

But at least today’s S-A story gets the other side of the story from Apple’s attorney.

“If it’s in writing, it’s a contract,” Apple’s attorney, Hawaii island lawyer Jerry Hiatt, said Monday, adding that no decision has been made to remove Apple as chancellor. “He has an offer and acceptance letter signed by the president. The regents approved his appointment, which is for a five-year term and specific rights to return as a tenured professor.”

A May 9, 2012, memo from former UH President M.R.C. Greenwood to the Board of Regents recommended Apple be appointed to a five-year term through June 30, 2017, “subject each year to successful annual performance evaluations at the level of satisfactory or above.” (The recommendation was unanimously approved by the board.)

The memo includes a provision that “subject to the successful completion of a review and board approval, Dr. Apple shall be appointed as a full professor in an appropriate department.”

Perhaps a letter containing offered terms and conditions isn’t the same as a document with written up as a formal “contract,” but it would certainly seem to confer employment rights nonetheless, especially when it has been reviewed and approved by the Board of Regents.

So what was the purpose of Waters’ “no contract” spin? Was it designed to mislead the media, and encourage the public to view Apple as an “at will” employee?

Or was Waters simply conveying talking points suggested by the university’s team of in-house lawyers?

I’m not sure which would be worse, to tell the truth.

9 responses to “Why did UH pitch the “chancellor didn’t receive a contract” line?

  1. Agree. Plus the fact that he has a fall-back option of being a fully tenured senior prof in the med school? For a non-contract it sure has a lot of terms! It is both silly and disingenuous to make any such claim. The only “at will” angle comes into play if through an annual review a case is made that his “performance” is less than “satisfactory.” Good luck with that. Who is behind the idea that the Cancer director can’t be touched, no matter what?

  2. I’d bet on talking points from the legal team, altho walking back the terms of the chancellor’s employment was sloppy. Let’s see how well Lassner and his people handle their first tricky situation.

  3. Lynne Waters has never impressed me as anything other than a mouthpiece. She can read a script. Other than that,what she does for her $$ is a puzzle.
    Might be just to keep Clayton happy.

  4. Yes, I noticed that on Sunday. Reminded me of an excellent Michael Crichton book, Disclosure.

    For a place with a host of in-house legal counsel, UH sure seems awfully sloppy about some pretty basic procedures. I keep thinking that the decisionmakers should have learned from the Dobelle fiasco.

  5. As long as Lassner keeps his inner circle of Greenwood (deadwood) staff around, more of the same to come. He needs clear, concise, advice from his highly paid team. Lassner should find his own team or be like MRC deadwood. Very sad for UH. People care, but when you are surrounded by others who aren’t up to the job, not-so-well thought ideas come to the front. Change can happen, but is it meaningful? (slightly edited)

  6. That’s pretty funny, actually – especially when you consider the fact that a verbal contract in Hawaii is as enforceable as a written contract.

  7. What’s even funnier is that Apple (who has 3 years remaining on his deal) is being ousted by Lassner, whose status as president is essentially “at will.”

  8. There is now an excellent lawyer on the Board of Regents: Jeff Portnoy. One hopes that he will be able to keep the Board from being intimidated by the pitiful legal counsel that they’ve received in the past.

  9. Nice piece in civil beat today. I suspect all sorts of things will now come out.

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