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UH dean: College of Pharmacy teetering on precipice

February 14, 2014 - 12:05am

The University of Hawaii at Hilo Daniel K. Inouye College of Pharmacy now stands at the edge of a cliff, according to Dean John Pezzuto.

And this session, the state Legislature has the power to either push the program into the chasm below, or pull it back from the precipice, he added.

Pezzuto used the cliff analogy repeatedly Tuesday as he discussed the college’s efforts to win funding for a permanent building from state legislators.

“Come May, if their decision is not positive, that would be equivalent to pushing us off the cliff, and we would be in a free fall. … Perhaps someone — Superman — could come along and save us, but what he would be saving would be a house in shambles,” Pezzuto said.

This week, the College of Pharmacy received a report from its accreditor, the Accreditation Council for Pharmacy Education, following its executive board meeting last month. According to the report, Pezzuto will be required to submit no later than May 1 a detailed description of continued progress toward obtaining a physical facility — a requirement for any accredited program.

“Given that Standard No. 27 has been determined to be non-compliant, the College must show cause as to why it should not be placed on probation at the Board’s June 2014 meeting,” the report reads.

Should the Legislature fail to fund a permanent home for the college this year, after also denying funds last year, Pezzuto said the program will surely be put on probation by the accreditation agency — the results of which could be disastrous.

“If we don’t get the funding, I don’t know what I will tell them. Probation would be the beginning of the end,” he said.

Already, the school is finding its ability to attract students waning, he said. This year, the pharmacy program received 500 applications from prospective students, compared to 800 last year.

“Why would students want to come here and put up with the uncertainty of not knowing?” he asked. “We would also see faculty bailing out,” he said of the situation the school could find itself in once being placed on probation.

Should the program face the loss of its accreditation once being placed on probation, administrators will have to institute a “teach-out” plan, by which they would complete instruction for all current students without accepting new ones before the accreditation is taken away, Pezzuto said.

He added that, logically speaking, he anticipates legislators will approve the construction project this year, as taxpayers have already spent $5.5 million on the design and plans for the building.

“Why would they approve that amount, only to deny the money for the building? But, I said the same thing last year,” he said.

In addition to renewing their efforts to lobby legislators for their support for the funding, College of Pharmacy organizers have pared down the design of the proposed building, lowering the amount being requested from the state to $33 million. Last year, they were asking for $38 million.

“The opulence people complained about is gone. The big roof lines,” Pezzuto said. “It’s more reasonable, and it’s ready.”

Bills making their way through the House and Senate attempt to make the College of Pharmacy financially and managerially independent. Senate Bill 2550 and House Bill 1652 both call for the establishment of a five-year pilot project at the college, as well as a special fund.

“The college of pharmacy shall be financially supported entirely by the special fund established … into which shall be deposited all revenues generated by the college of pharmacy, including revenues and any interest accrued from tuition, grants, fees and donations,” according to the first draft of HB 1652.

The University of Hawaii system may subsidize or provide financial assistance to the college, but may not subject the school to any fees or assessments generally paid by university system programs, departments and schools.

Ultimately, the idea behind the effort is to make the college responsible for building its own facility.

“Although the college has achieved full accreditation, the legislature finds that accreditation is in jeopardy due to the lack of a permanent facility to house the college. The college of pharmacy is dependent upon the legislature to provide funding for this facility,” the draft reads.

“The legislature further finds that the success of the college of pharmacy is vital not only to addressing Hawaii’s shortage of medical professionals but also to the state’s overall economic development. Given these wide-reaching, statewide effects, the legislature finds and declares that the financial sustainability and success of the college of pharmacy is an issue of statewide concern and therefore under the legislature’s purview.”