College of Pharmacy could be in danger of losing accreditation


By COLIN M. STEWART

Tribune-Herald staff writer

University of Hawaii at Hilo College of Pharmacy administrators are warning that the fledgling program is in danger of having its wings clipped before it has barely had a chance to fly.

At a Wednesday morning meeting on campus with Gov. Neil Abercrombie, Dean John Pezzuto explained that the college will be up for review in April by the Accreditation Council for Pharmacy Education (ACPE), and if no progress can be shown on securing a permanent building for the program, the loss of accreditation is a very real possibility.

“There is no college on Earth that doesn’t have a building,” Pezzuto said after the meeting. “As we’ve been through the accreditation process … we’ve done all the things a college does to be accredited. But when they come in April, they’ll be saying ‘This is what you told us, this is what we believed.’ Hopefully, we’ll be able to say ‘Yes, we are building it (a permanent building.)’”

At issue is the Accreditation Council for Pharmacy Education’s Standard No. 27, which states that a college or school “must have adequate and appropriate physical facilities to achieve its mission and goals.

“The physical facilities must facilitate interaction among administration, faculty, and students. The physical facilities must meet legal standards and be safe, well maintained, and adequately equipped.”

Currently, the college operates out of a number of temporary trailers, or “modular buildings,” situated between Aohoku Place and Komohana Street, near the ‘Imiloa Astronomy Center.

According to Pezzuto, since the college’s effort to achieve accreditation began in 2006, administrators have promised the ACPE that a full-time facility was in the works. The college was granted full accreditation for the 2010-11 academic year on the strength of such promises combined with the achievement of all other requirements.

“Last time they were here, we had just received $5.5 million for planning (the building), and it was clear to us, and to them, that we were making strides. Now, we have the planning done, we have the design done. We have an agreement so the labor unions will build it. We have the location. The economy is coming back. We’re ready to go,” he said.

Essentially, he said, the university is running out of excuses for why it can’t build a permanent home for the College of Pharmacy.

“Now is the time,” he said.

But before construction can begin, there is the small matter of funding, to the tune of $66 million in total. That was partly why Abercrombie was visiting the campus Wednesday, he said — to learn more about efforts to fund the project, and to offer his support.

The University System and Abercrombie have both identified the College of Pharmacy building as their top capital investment request for UH to go before legislators this year. The Hilo campus is asking the state for $33 million toward the first phase of the building, which will require a total investment of $41 million. The college would raise through the issuance of revenue bonds the remaining $5 million needed to complete the actual structure for Phase I, and would put up an additional $3 million raised through general obligation bonds for furnishings, equipment, computers, and other necessary items.

The second phase could be completed at a later time, when additional funds are more readily available, administrators said.

“We met for a long time and honed it down to what we considered the bare essentials,” Pezzuto said of the building’s first phase.

A former state representative and UHH alum, Jerry Chang now serves as UHH’s director of university relations and has been charged with shepherding the capital funding request through the Legislature. On Wednesday, he said that Abercrombie had told him he was “more committed than ever to see this project move as quickly as possible.”

“He’s committed to helping us with the Legislature,” Chang said. “The main point he made was the saving of the accreditation. He feels this situation is something that mirrors what happened when he was a legislator when they were building the John A. Burns School of Medicine and the challenges that they had with accreditation.”

He added that a loss of accreditation would be catastrophic for UHH’s College of Pharmacy.

“If they (the ACPE) stop the accreditation, our faculty will, of course, leave, and we won’t get the enrollment numbers that we hope to get to keep this program running. It would definitely be a major blow,” Chang said.

Chang asked that members of the Hilo community contact the legislators in their districts and urge them to support funding the College of Pharmacy building. He added that students will begin canvassing today area shopping centers to enlist residents in signing a petition requesting funding for the project.

“This is a project that will mean so much to not only the town, but the state,” he said. “This is the only pharmacy program in the whole Pacific basin.”

Email Colin M. Stewart at cstewart@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

 

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