Francis “Frank” Wiercinski has traveled the world, from Afghanistan and Iraq to Panama and Japan. The retired Army general has overseen thousands of soldiers and developed military strategy, assimilated countless cultures across the Asia-Pacific region and used that insight to help develop foreign policy and mediate crises.
But it was Hawaii that, 34 years ago, stole his heart. And Wiercinski, a 57-year-old Pennsylvania native, says he doesn’t plan on ever leaving — whether or not he becomes president of the University of Hawaii.
Wiercinski is one of two finalists contending for the position, which was vacated last fall after former UH President M.R.C. Greenwoodabruptly announced in May that she would be resigning ahead of schedule. Wiercinski, who now runs his own international consulting firm, was nominated for the job rather than applying for it.
“I see where the potential is,” he said at one of his forums, speaking of the university’s future and why he wants to be a part of it. “I just can’t stand on the sidelines and cheer — it’s just not in my nature.”
Wiercinski’s candidacy, however, has been controversial — at least more than it has been for the other contender, a generally well-liked veteran UH administrator.
While university regents and supporters have touted Wiercinski’s military record, highlighting his ability to lead complex organizations, others say that training is antithetical to public education. Many students and faculty have denounced his military ties, arguing that “the general,” as they refer to him, has no place leading a university — particularly one in Hawaii. (Wiercinski tells everyone to call him “Frank.”)
Meanwhile, others point to his lack of extensive higher education qualifications, questioning whether someone without a master’s degree — let alone a doctorate — should be at the helm of a university system that includes 10 campuses, serves more than 54,000 undergraduate and graduate students and employs about 4,000 faculty members. Wiercinski got his bachelor’s degree in engineering from West Point — the country’s prestigious military academy — but never went into engineering.
The other finalist is David Lassner, UH’s longtime information technology executive who’s been serving as the university’s interim president since September 2013. Lassner has a bachelor’s degree in economics from the University of Illinois, where he graduated summa cum laude. He also has a master’s degree in computer science and a doctorate in communication and information sciences, the latter of which he got from UH.
Photo Credit: PF Bentley for Civil Beat