Thursday, July 31, 2014


UH digs into the garbage can, fires Apple


by Larry Geller

Well, perhaps, but no need to be surprised.

All this said, it’s rather amazing, in the dead of summer, how many students and faculty members you can find who have been appalled at the amateurish way Bachman Hall has managed to do this.

[Civil Beat, Community Voice, Bachman Hall Bumbling, 7/31/2014]

University, heal thyself. It can be done.

What is taught at the business school can be applied to management of the university itself.

I’ve previously written about the “garbage can model” of management that seems to fit UH (as well as some other mid-level colleges and universities, but not the top schools, which have figured out how to manage themselves):

Why “garbage cans”? It was suggested that organizations tend to produce many “solutions” which are discarded due to a lack of appropriate problems. However problems may eventually arise for which a search of the garbage might yield fitting solutions. A snip from a glossary of terms:

… Organizations operate on the basis of inconsistent and ill-defined preferences; their own processes are not understood by their members; they operate by trial and error; their boundaries are uncertain and changing; decision-makers for any particular choice change capriciously. To understand organizational processes, one can view choice opportunities as garbage cans into which various kinds of problems and solutions are dumped. The mix of garbage depends on the mix of labeled cans available, on what garbage is currently produced and the speed with which garbage and garbage cans are removed.

[ Economic Geography Glossary]

The situation preceding Apple’s firing as described in Ian Lind’s UH freeze may stem from “do whatever it takes” order to fund Cancer Center (, 7/31/2014) and in particular in the article he references in the Hawaii Independent, Apple cored: business as usual at UH (Hawaii Independent, 7/29/2014) is a perfect demonstration of uncertain and changing boundaries.

If the university administration had well-established procedures and policies that they could rely upon, there would be some resistance to manipulation by influential state senators, for example, as alleged in the Hawaii Independent article.

Now, if the affairs of the Cancer Center are important to Hawaii, involvement of stakeholders (including legislators) does not seem inappropriate. But follow the narrative in the article—if there are outside forces “pulling [UH president] Lassner’s strings,” and all he has to guide his actions is a dip into the garbage can, then management of UH will always be subject to the strength of outside winds and political storms.

Policies and procedures found in the garbage can are there for a reason.

But the Legislature can fulfill a more important function if it wishes. As I wrote in a Star-Advertiser Island Voices op-ed after the inquisition conducted by the Special Committee on Accountability hearings led by state Sen. Donna Mercado Kim after the “Wonder blunder” incident (Legislative interference threatens long-term viability of UH, Star-Advertiser, 10/22/2012):

Instead of placing blame, it would be far more productive for the Legislature and other concerned individuals to offer assistance to UH with an aim to strengthening its internal governance so that a similar incident is less likely to happen in the future. The university has structural management issues that go far deeper than current or future leadership can likely deal with. What might help would be a makeover by organization development professionals.

While a university does not operate exactly like a corporation, it is possible to put in place structures of management that enable the organization to avoid compounding problems that inevitably occur. The operation of the UH with its many inter-departmental communications problems and uncertain boundaries of responsibility is characteristic of the so-called "garbage-can" model of organization. This needs to be replaced.

If the special committee convenes again, it would be refreshing — and a service to present and future UH graduates and to the state economy — if the committee would replace its current star-chamber tactics with a sincere offer to help.

Bottom line (a useful management cliché), it will be one thing after another at UH until internal processes are strengthened. That can begin at any time, even now, even under UH’s current leadership. Perhaps with some help, but one way or another, they need to start down a path that will lead to strength and confidence in the organization’s leadership.


"The problem is we can't find out what it is in the garbage can that stinks. There is sealed impenetrable bag that contains the financial ties of the resigned Board of Regents members in there- instead of making them retroactively public, the new law allows them to resign and seal those disclosures. Plus I smell a Roz Baker twist-tie at the core of all this. This all apparently relates to the attempts to fire the cancer center director.
There's a god awful smell coming from that garbage can but we are not permitted to see the carcass from which the odor is emanating. "


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