University of Hawaii Maui College Chancellor Clyde Sakamoto, the longtime name and face of Maui's primary post-secondary institution, will retire by the end of October, University of Hawaii officials confirmed Wednesday.
For years, there has been speculation about the 70-year-old Sakamoto's retirement. In October, the chancellor with more than four decades in the UH system told The Maui News that he would retire but did not offer a date.
On Tuesday night, Sakamoto wrote an email announcing his retirement to the college, its community advisory committee and its donors and the greater UH system and his UH community college system colleagues. Currently, he is in his 41st year in the UH system and said he wanted to give "early notice" to help with an orderly transition and to permit the new chancellor to fill the interim administrative and vacant faculty and staff leadership positions.
Chancellor Clyde Sakamoto poses in front of University of Hawaii Maui College, where he has worked for more than 40 years. He said that he will stay on until Oct. 31 or until a successor is named.
The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo
University of Hawaii Maui College Chancellor Clyde Sakamoto, 70, walks down the hall to his office. The longtime leader of Maui’s main post-secondary institution announced his retirement Wednesday. This photo was taken in October.
The Maui News MATTHEW THAYER photo
He said in the email that he would step down before Oct. 31 if a successor is found for the institution that serves Maui, Molokai and Lanai.
Sakamoto said that he is "continually and deeply grateful to have been given an opportunity to contribute to higher education in Maui County and Hawaii."
Sakamoto could not be reached for comment Wednesday.
"Clyde has been the singular face of higher education on Maui for decades," said University of Hawaii Interim President David Lassner in a news release Wednesday. "He has always been an innovator and visionary, with one example being his pioneering leadership in developing distance learning for the tri-isle Maui County that became a model for UH's work throughout the state."
The Maui News asked UH officials about the selection process for the next chancellor and the timeline for the naming of a successor, but no detailed responses were provided.
"Our task now is to begin the process of finding someone who can continue Chancellor Sakamoto's legacy of service and dedication to the residents of Maui County as the next chancellor," said Vice President of Community Colleges John Morton in a news release.
On Wednesday, friends, colleagues and community members praised the longtime college leader and said that his successor has big shoes to fill.
"The college wouldn't be here today, if it weren't for Clyde Sakamoto," said UH-Maui College donor and retired Maui businessman Dorvin Leis.
"I wish he would have waited a little longer (to retire). He's got so many things in the fire. (But) I know he has been planning (to) retire for quite some time. I will miss him immensely," said Leis, whose family name adorns the college's award-winning fine dinning Class Act Restaurant on campus, where students prepare themselves for the restaurant industry by working in a fully functioning restaurant.
Leis, who also heads the UH-Maui College Chancellor's Advisory Council, said Sakamoto is knowledgeable "about everything" and has a working plan on where to start a project and how to see it to fruition.
Nancy Johnson, currently a member of the nursing faculty and former head of the college's Allied Health Department, called Sakamoto "an amazing, fabulous, visionary leader." She said Sakamoto grew the Allied Health Department from five faculty members to 25.
"It's just been amazing," she said. "He has been able to get resources for us. He challenged us to figure out what was possible."
Johnson, who has worked with Sakamoto for 31 years, said he was able to garner much in federal funds from the late Sen. Daniel Inouye, for whom Sakamoto served as a congressional fellow in the 1980s.
Mayor Alan Arakawa said in an email that he knew Sakamoto was going to retire but is still saddened by the announcement.
"Under Clyde's leadership, Maui College has had new facilities built, enabled distance learning for students in Lanai, Molokai, Hana and Lahaina, obtained authorization to grant baccalaureate degrees and much more," he said. "Maui County owes Sakamoto a debt for bringing Maui College into the 21st century, and we wish him well in all of his future endeavors."
University of Hawaii Regent Saedene Ota, who represents Maui County and serves as board vice chairwoman, said in an email Wednesday that "UH-Maui College is an extremely important institution to Maui County and Chancellor Sakamoto has worked tirelessly and consistently to make it even more so. On behalf of the entire Board of Regents, I thank him for his years of commitment and service to our county and our state."
University of Hawaii Regent Eugene Bal, who also represents Maui County, called Sakamoto's position "very difficult shoes to fill."
"He's done so much for the college as well as the county. His legacy will live on well beyond his retirement," said Bal.
He added that UH will do a thorough search to find Sakamoto's replacement.
In an interview with The Maui News in October, Sakamoto said he hoped that his replacement would have a Maui connection and would build on the college's "strong foundation for exceptional performance."
In recent years, the college has witnessed the construction of state-of-the-art classroom buildings, including the $21.6 million 'Ike Le'a science building, which opened in 2013.
UH-Maui College has academic and trade programs that touch nearly every facet of the community, including culinary arts, nursing, carpentry, sustainable technology, Hawaiian music and several four-year degree programs.
Sakamoto also oversees a $10 million federal Rural Development Grant and has helped secure more than $13 million in rural development funds since 1997, according to UH. He has helped secure a $3 million grant for the Native Hawaiian Scholarship Program, obtained and administered grants related to telecommunication infrastructure, gender equity, Hawaiian education and sustainable technologies.
Sakamoto has secured more than $147 million in outside funding for UH-Maui College since 1997.
When he took over leadership of the then-Maui Community College in 1990, the fall enrollment was 2,346. The student population in the fall of 2013 was 4,076 - a 74 percent enrollment increase during Sakamoto's tenure, UH said.
While Sakamoto has grown the college's programs, faculty and staff and garnered millions in grants, obtaining sufficient funding has been a struggle. In his retirement email, Sakamoto said that in the months leading up to his retirement, he will continue to focus on securing resources to support the college's 43 percent overall enrollment growth since the fall of 2006. Enrollment ballooned during the economic calamity of the late 2000s as displaced workers sought new jobs and careers.
Sakamoto said that UH community college system officials have indicated to him that UH-Maui College's performance with enrollments, retention, graduation and innovation could net the school $1.5 million in additional funding.
He also would like to sustain the technological and facility innovations on the campus and "equalize higher educational opportunities" for Maui County residents with other counties in the state. In addition, the college is preparing for its Western Association of Schools and Colleges Senior Re-Accreditation visit in April.
In addition to his chancellor duties, Sakamoto, a former Peace Corps volunteer in India, has served on countless boards and professional organizations nationally and at home. Those include the Maui Arts & Cultural Center, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Maui, Maui Chamber of Commerce and Hui Malama Learning Center.
Sakamoto started his career at Maui Community College in 1973, serving as Dean of Students until 1980 when he became Dean of Instruction, the post he held until he became provost, the top official at the college.
During his tenure as Dean of Instruction, Sakamoto took a sabbatical for several years to serve in Inouye's office, where he assisted with higher educational and telecommunication issues. He also was the director of the Office of International Services at the American Association of Community and Junior Colleges.
In July 1990, Sakamoto took over as interim provost and became the permanent provost in April 1991. He served as provost until 2001, when he accepted a position as executive director for "Project 2 & 4" in the University of Hawaii community colleges system, where he was responsible for baccalaureate degree development in the community colleges.
In July 2003, he returned to serve as chancellor of Maui Community College, which later became UH-Maui College.
In his retirement email, Sakamoto thanked "all of you who have contributed to improving higher learning in Maui County."
"Through your support and assistance, we built a firm foundation for continual and future leadership to prepare learners for the global and local opportunities presented by needs and problems," he said.
* Melissa Tanji can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.