via Ka Leo O Hawaii: UH Manoa Student College Newspaper & Media – A McClain for all seasons.

By Junghee Lee


Published: Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Updated: Monday, August 3, 2009



KENT NISHIMURA – University of Hawai’i President David McClain, whose contract ends in June, believes his successor should promote teamwork by recognizing the scholarly

Like many students, University of Hawai’i President David McClain began college without a specific plan of action, only to have his dreams shaped by an inspiring professor.

Before coming to Hawai’i in 1991 to teach economics at UH’s business college, McClain received a bachelor’s degree in economics from the University of Kansas and a doctorate in the same subject from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

“I went to college without knowing what I wanted to do. … I wanted to just have fun,” McClain said. “But I was captured by my economics professor, Harry Schafer, from the University of Kansas, who introduced me to economics and made me passionate about it.”

After serving as UH’s chief executive officer for two years following the termination of former President Evan Dobelle, the Board of Regents officially appointed McClain as the new system president in 2006. Reflecting on the changes made during his term, which ends in June, McClain expressed confidence in his decisions.

“I’ve accomplished some things, a lot for native Hawai’i, Hawai’i Nui, such as making over 50 new positions for the Hawaiian Studies Program,” he said. “We also made nicer facilities, such as Frear Hall. Some other projects are still in the making, such as renovating Campus Center.”

Fundraising was a major part of being president, according to McClain, who said that, under his leadership, UH “raised over $150 million for new programs and for faculty, over $500 million to repair UH and over $73 million a year for scholarships.”

McClain also remembers the challenges he faced, including the floods that washed over campus on the day before Halloween in 2004.

“I was having dinner with my wife and friends when I received a call saying that 35 buildings were damaged from the Mānoa Stream flooding,” he said.

One of the most heavily damaged buildings was Hamilton Library. According to McClain, library workers had to freeze all the library’s artifacts before they deteriorated, but it was a holiday and places providing emergency refrigeration services were closed.

Fortunately, McClain was able to contact a friend, who brought 40-foot freezer trucks to campus and packed the artifacts on ice. Because of McClain’s efforts, UH lost only two school days and received $21 million in federal assistance for repairs.

“It took the whole village to save $100 million,” he said. “We had to work our way through it together, as a team.”

As for the next UH president, McClain believes that no matter who is chosen, collaboration and modesty will be key to his successor’s ability to initiate progress.

“Several qualities are needed to be president. You have to be humble, be a good listener, be good at forming relationships and, most importantly, be able to appreciate the scholarly work faculty do,” he said, adding that without the help of campus leaders, he would not have been able to achieve any of his goals.

Finally, McClain chuckled when asked how he felt about not being a household name among students.

“I could get involved more with UH Mānoa, but I would like the leaders of each campus to have more interaction with their students,” he said. “The faculty and I always try to make UH a memorable place for all the students because college is a special time in life that only happens once.”


David McClain was appointed president of the 10-campus UH system in March 2006. He has served as the system’s chief executive officer since June 2004.

McClain previously served as vice president for academic affairs from 2003 to 2004, dean of the UH Mānoa College of Business and First Hawaiian Bank Distinguished Professor of Leadership and Management from 2000 to 2003.

He has taught at MIT’s Sloan School of Management and at Universidad Gabriela Mistral in Santiago, Chile, and has been a visiting scholar at Keio and Meiji Universities in Japan. He also served as senior staff economist on the Council of Economic Advisors to Pres. Jimmy Carter.

McClain has headed the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation Business Management Network and is the author of “Apocalypse on Wall Street.” He and his wife, Wendie McClain, have three children and two grandchildren.