Lihu’e businessman is new university regent

Gov. Ben Cayetano has appointed Charles K. Kawakami, a Kaua’i businessman, to the University of Hawai’i Board of Regents.

Kawakami’s appointment, approved by the state Senate, became official July 1.

Kawakami, the new Kaua’i regent, is beginning his service during a time of transition for the university. He said the “most pressing issue” is to find a successor to UH president Kenneth Mortimer, who recently announced he was exiting the position he assumed in 1993.

“We need someone who can move the university forward, and this may not be an easy job,” Kawakami said.

Mortimer announced he was stepping down on May 5. His resignation isn’t effective until 2001.

Jim Manke, a UH spokesman, said the board has approved the hiring of “a headhunter firm” to aid in the search for Mortimer’s eventual successor.

Kawakami said the other important issue facing the board is the need to resolve the debate on tuition.

The regents “went through a period of great turmoil recently,” turning down a 2 percent tuition increase after lengthy debate, including heated input from students. “But that’s an issue that will have to be addressed again” this year, Manke noted.

“I think it’s only reasonable that students understand this is a shared responsibility,” Kawakami has said.

Despite his position on tuition hikes, Kawakami has struck an optimistic note about the university’s future.

“There seems to be some light out there, and just as the university has shared in cuts to the state budget, I’d like to think we would get our share of whatever additional revenues are available. The university is vital to the state and we need the support,” he said.

Manke said the Legislature increased the university’s budget (approximately 2 percent) this year, the first increase in seven years.

Kawakami replaces Clyde Kodani of Kaua’i, who served as a trustee for seven years.

“As I leave, I feel pretty good because I think we are in good hands,” Kodani said.

The University of Hawaii system serves about 45,000 students with three campuses that grant bachelor degrees and seven community colleges, including Kaua’i Community College.

Kawakami is president of Big Save Inc., the Kaua’i grocery chain. He also is a former chairman of the Hawai’i Food Industry Association, which supports athletic scholarships at Hawai’i-Manoa through its Rainbow Fever campaign.

Kawakami has also been “somewhat involved” with Kaua’i Community College as a member of the Kaua’i Private Industry Council.

“I think a business background is important when we look at running the (university) effectively with limited resources,” Kawakami said.

Staff writer Dennis Wilken can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 252).


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