University of Hawaii Board of Regents Interim President David Lassner assigned an internal auditor to look into allegations of misuse of student fees at Hawaii Community College in Hilo.
Board of Regents Secretary Cynthia Quinn said Tuesday afternoon the board is unlikely to discuss the allegations at a meeting until at least July, as members are busy bringing to a close their search for a new university system president.
“I can tell you that he (Lassner) has assigned an internal auditor,” she said. “I think it was sometime last month.”
Quinn was unable to respond with more detail concerning the audit as of press time Tuesday.
In an emailed statement sent Tuesday afternoon, HawCC External Affairs Coordinator Thatcher Moats confirmed the internal audit.
“We do not believe the allegations there was misuse or fraudulent use of money are true, but to verify that belief, we have referred the matter to the University of Hawaii internal auditor. The auditor has agreed to look into the allegations and has just started this work,” he wrote.
Moats added the future structure of student fees at the community college is currently being discussed with the student council “and a decision is expected soon.”
In the last several months, a group of former student council members from the college has been successful in its attempts to raise a red flag about the fees.
The students say the college has been charging each semester for the last year and a half for services and facilities that are either in whole or in part no longer available to HawCC’s student body, because of a split with UH-Hilo’s student activities organization.
School administrators disagree, saying students continue to have most services available to them, although they admit some activities might require extra fees.
The former council members, who say they were removed from their elected positions after raising questions about the funds, requested the university system hire an outside auditor to look over the school’s books.
“This is unacceptable,” said Marieta Carino, former council treasurer, when told Lassner assigned an internal auditor.
“When (fellow former council member) David Canning tried this (requesting an audit) from (Chancellor) Noreen Yamane, she said they’d already done an internal audit, and they hadn’t found anything wrong. And I’m sure that if they do an internal audit again, the same thing will happen. This is unacceptable to us. We want an outside, certified public accountant to do it.”
In response to such concerns, Moats said the internal auditor, according to University of Hawaii standards, would report only to the Board of Regents “and not to anybody in administration.”
Among those who joined the three students in petitioning the Board of Regents to look into the allegations is state Senate President Donna Mercado Kim, D-Oahu.
Last month, she penned a letter to the board, saying it was unfair for students to be asked to pay fees for services they don’t receive, and requested the board address the situation.
“Are you kidding?” she asked Tuesday afternoon, when asked if she received a response from anyone on the Board of Regents concerning her letter.
“I sent a letter on the 22nd of April to every single member on the board,” Kim said, “and I followed that up with a call last week, and I haven’t heard a thing. … Lassner has been very silent on all of this. They haven’t been responsive to much, going back to the (Stevie) ‘Wonder Blunder.’
“Somebody should be answering to this. It’s a shame that the interim president is being considered (for the permanent president position), and yet he’s been silent on this. Me, I just couldn’t stand by and watch this happening, and just let the students on the Big Island pay so much for services they don’t even get.”
At the beginning of each semester, HawCC students are asked to pay fees totaling $67 to cover access to various services, including a news publication, activities, recreation, student government and campus center. Much of those services and facilities were formerly dependent upon UH-Hilo’s campus. But, a recent decision to stop paying the fees to UH-Hilo means various services have been unavailable to students, or unavailable unless additional, one-time-use fees are paid.
HawCC Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Jason Cifra explained earlier this month the split was intended to realize better value for students.
“We saw that we were sending a lot of money to UH-Hilo, but we didn’t know how much usage our students were getting out of it,” he said.
Cifra admitted the fees collected since the split had not all been spent on making activities available to students, with the hope of spending it in the future to build up the HawCC’s on-campus offerings.
“Our students deserve better than to be charged fees that end up sitting idly in an account going unspent,” Kim wrote in her letter to the Board of Regents.
“As the policymakers, I request that the Board of Regents review the basis in which these fees are charged and ensure that our students are getting what they pay for.”
Email Colin M. Stewart at email@example.com.