HONOLULU — University of Hawaii President M.R.C. Greenwood asked through her lawyer to receive a $2 million payout to be released from her duties, saying political pressure from the governor, Senate president and House speaker had interfered with her ability to do her job.
The request was later pulled, but attorney Jerry Hiatt’s Oct. 2 letter to university regents underscores the high stakes of a struggle over how the university should respond to the athletic department’s botched handling of a charity concert.
In July, the university lost $200,000 it sent to a man who claimed he could arrange to have Stevie Wonder perform at a fundraiser for the athletic department, even though the singer never authorized the event.
The school has spent another $1 million or so on lawyers and accountants to figure out how it was scammed, as well as on a new contract for former athletic director Jim Donavan.
Donovan was placed on paid leave after the concert debacle. The university later cleared him of any wrongdoing, but he was placed in a newly created position.
Greenwood later said she would have moved to hire a new athletic director even if the incident over the botched fundraiser hadn’t taken place.
Hiatt wrote in the letter that Greenwood received pressure at an Aug. 10 meeting with Gov. Neil Abercrombie. Because of constituent concerns conveyed to the Senate president and House speaker, the governor wanted Greenwood to reinstate Donovan as athletic director instead of having him take the new job.
Greenwood claimed that Abercrombie then left her a voicemail on Aug. 16 to try to get her to call a special Board of Regents’ meeting to reinstate Donovan as AD.
“If this issue is not resolved decisively on Wednesday, by Thursday, you’re going to be in the thick of a Senate investigation and all that entails,” Hiatt quoted Abercrombie as saying. “I don’t think that’s a good outcome.”
Within two weeks of that call, the Senate special committee on accountability scheduled special briefings into the failed concert.
“Dr. Greenwood has regrettably concluded that she has not been given the ability to function independently, as is required of the office of the President of UH, and that she has been severely defamed,” Hiatt wrote in the letter.
Greenwood’s request for a $2 million settlement would be less than the damages from a potential lawsuit, Hiatt wrote.
Hawaii News Now reported that the request was withdrawn a week ago.
Abercrombie’s press secretary Louise Kim McCoy said in a statement Tuesday afternoon that the governor didn’t put any pressure on Greenwood.
Hiatt said on Tuesday that Greenwood expects to fulfill her term. He declined to say why the payout request was rescinded. Greenwood’s contract ends in 2015.
A North Carolina man is scheduled to be arraigned in federal court in Honolulu next week on charges he scammed the university.