Parents Getting Involved At UH

Larry Price
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Wednesday - October 21, 2009
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MidWeek columnist Yu Shing Ting wrote an insightful story (MidWeek, 8/31/05) about one of the most stressful factors facing incoming students on a university campus. She writes, “College life is often seen as a time of freedom, independence and, of course, no parents!”

That was about three years ago, and I wondered if the University of Hawaii at Manoa had improved its attitude toward making incoming students feel more welcome on campus.

It’s a good time to look at the idea of a university parent teacher association, especially in light of the continued administrative turmoil going on at Manoa. In fact, representatives of UH and its faculty union are meeting with a federal mediator to try to put together a contract settlement after union members last week were encouraged to reject the university’s latest, best offer. It called for a 5 percent salary reduction and a possible $2,400 increase in health insurance premiums. The UH administration is seeking concession from its faculty union members because the UH budget has been restricted by $154 million through June of 2011.

To make matters worse, the enrollment of new students is higher than it has been in a decade. This means fewer dorm rooms, jam-packed classrooms, long lines at the bookstore and limited parking. Because UH-Manoa is a commuter college, this makes traffic one big problem. Additionally, it creates a security problem. The UH-Manoa campus is one of the few major research universities anywhere that has several major highways and byways intersecting it.


UH-Manoa has other related problems, such as under-age drinking and dormitory crime, so student security and welfare are big concerns for parents.

The conflict is the students don’t particularly like the idea of having their parents looking over their shoulders while they are out on their own for the first time in their lives. For local parents, it’s not much of a problem because they can just drop in on their sons and daughters. If the parents are from a Neighbor Island, the Mainland or overseas, the anxiety over their children’s well-being is increased tenfold.

A group of concerned parents and friends of UHManoa decided to form a University of Hawaii Parent Teacher Association. Their qualifications were sincere: They were parents first and foremost. They didn’t intend to take over the UH campus or bully the administrators about how policies for campus security should be written. They just wanted to help.

The group is led by UH graduate Theresa Y. Wee, M.D., who did the impossible - she got a meeting with President David McClain in July 2005. If you know anything about UH-Manoa, you know this was a major accomplishment for the concerned parents. They wanted to be part of the planning process, implementation and re-evaluation of UH-Manoa security measures and the training of all residential coordinators and advisers in first aid and CPR. They wanted the appointment of a liaison to work with their organization.

To their credit, they accomplished most of their objectives with promises from McClain that he would do what he could to help the project.

They even have a liaison: Terry Howell of the Parent & Family Relations Office, 2559 Dole St. (phone 956-7829). The office has a very interesting newsletter full of useful information for parents, such as important academic dates and holidays, final examination dates and information about commencement activities.

Some students are more prepared for the college experience than others. In many cases, new students are not prepared for the influx of demanding work and stress related to adjusting to a new environment. It is at this moment that it is important for parents to be available to provide support, should it be necessary.

There was a time when Manoa wanted to adopt UH to form a special kind of community, kind of like the community of Palo Alto and Stanford, or San Jose’s Silicon Valley and San Jose State University. That was about 10 years ago, but now the main concern of the Manoa Valley community is the intrusion of students parking their cars in unmarked stalls, the noise and additional traffic - all valid complaints, mind you.

What’s wrong with this picture? There is a natural conflict between academic administrators and community associations, like the tense atmosphere of university professors threatening to strike and leave students without classes needed to graduate or keep their education progress on track. The stress on campus among staff, faculty and administrators is at a high level. A new president, union unrest, cuts in benefits and disgruntled residents - it all sounds unbearable.

The one thing that is missing is concern for the student welfare. Chances are, if a parent called the university to find out about their son or daughter, they would get a disgruntled employee or faculty member, an interim chancellor, a new dean without the authority to make adequate decisions or a combination of all three.

And while it is true that libraries are important to a university and that award-winning professors are necessary to the academic respectability of the institution, this would be a good time for everyone to remember that the students are what the educational system is all about. That’s why just about every reputable university in the world has a parent teacher association. It is an important asset to the university administrators, whether they want to admit it or not.

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