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by Jennifer Ching, staff writer
In a brand new academic center in windward O‘ahu, a young doctoral student sat on the floor with his students as they started their academic year.

“ There was no furniture, just a red carpet on the floor,” said Dr. John Fleckles, senior vice president of Academic Affairs. “The students and I sat on the floor and started, and the furniture arrived late.”
It was January of 1971 at Hawai‘i Loa College, and this talented teacher and administrator’s academic career had just begun.

On July 1, after 16 years as HPU’s vice president of Academic Affairs, the last two as HPU’s senior vice president, Fleckles stepped down from a position that proved full of surprises and puzzles.
“ One of the most challenging aspects of the job are the surprises that happen almost every day,” he said. “There are negative and positive surprises, so it’s not a dull job.”

Born and raised in Massachusetts, Fleckles earned his Bachelor’s degree in Economics from Blackburn College in Illinois and his Ph.D. in history from the University of California-Berkeley. He first came to Hawai‘i to teach world history for one year at the University of Hawai‘i. He explained that, as the one-year contract at UH progressed, “I began to really like Hawai‘i, and [I said] ‘this would be a really nice place to live.’ But there aren’t that many jobs here teaching European history…so I was pretty much ready to go back to California.”

Then one day his officemate at UH mentioned that a new college was being launched on the island and that they needed a historian. Fleckles applied and, when the college didn’t respond, he forgot about it. Six months later, the college invited him for an interview.

“ Hawai‘i Loa College,” he said, “was just starting up, and it still conducted classrooms in a church in Nu‘uanu Valley. I was interviewed by the president and the dean, and the entire student body was…about 100 students.”

Fleckles was skeptical about their plans to start a college with only 100 students. At the end of the interview, they asked if he would like to see the college’s library.

“ We went downstairs and there was a living room on the first floor,” he described. “We go into the living room and there are two bookcases, and the dean turned to me and said, ‘And that’s our library.’ Then he said the magic words that have caused me to stay: ‘If you joined us, of course, you could build the library.’ That changed my whole perspective: this was more than a job, it was helping [to] develop and build a college.”

In the years that followed, Fleckles served as an instructor, assistant professor, associate professor, dean of faculty, and dean of academic affairs at Hawai‘i Loa College. Originally founded in 1967, the college’s academic center opened in January of 1971. The dining commons and six dorms were completed in August of 1973.

In 1992, Hawai‘i Loa College merged with Hawai‘i Pacific University; the HLC campus became HPU’s Hawai‘i Loa campus, and Fleckles became the vice president and academic dean of HPU. Part of his job was to successfully combine the two faculties and academic programs.

“ When you merge [one] institution into another,” he explained, “you really build, as much as you can, a third new entity. For example, we revised the general education and based it on five themes, which has now become a reality.”

Other duties of the vice president of academic affairs, according to Fleckles, include supervising curriculum (which involves working with the deans, program chairs, and faculty), ensuring that academic policies are appropriate, ensuring that the University meets accreditation standards, and keeping HPU’s president informed.

“ One of the biggest challenges [of] the job is coordinating all of these activities and making sure the University moves forward,” he continued. “If you enjoy working on puzzles, a lot of the problems that are solved are like solving puzzles.”

In a May 2008 statement to HPU faculty and staff, President Chatt G. Wright praised Fleckles’ leadership in academic affairs. “I cannot overstate the impact Dr. Fleckles has had on Academic Affairs and Hawai‘i Pacific,” he said. “He has been an effective advocate for academic excellence, providing strong leadership to the deans and faculty. Under Dr. Fleckles’ guidance, Academic Affairs also took on oversight of the University libraries, created the Office of Honors Programs, and grew the number of undergraduate majors from 27 to 60 while expanding the number of graduate programs from two to twelve.”

Since the merger, HPU’s enrollment has also grown, from 4,200 students (undergraduate and graduate combined) in fall 1992 to roughly 8,000 students in fall 2007, according to the Office of Institutional Research and Academic Support.

Fleckles had decided that it was time for a break. “I’m taking a leave of absence this fall,” he said, “I’m going on an expedition as far as Timbuktu in Africa…by way of Spain, Morocco, the Canary Islands, the Cape Verde Islands, Senegal, and Mali…”

Having been to dozens of countries, Fleckles’ goal is to visit “every major Pacific island country. The only area[s] that I have not been to [are] Kiribati, the Federated States of Micronesia, and the Federated States of Marshall Islands,” he said.

Fleckles also decided it was time “to pass the baton on to John Kearns. “I think [Kearns] is well prepared for this job, and he’ll make an excellent academic vice president because he understands our program and our faculty and our students,” said Fleckles.

When he returns in January 2009, Fleckles will serve as special assistant to the president, “working with President Wright on big projects concerning the University’s development,” he said, referring to new construction at the Hawai‘i Loa campus and HPU’s relationship with the Oceanic Institute.

“ The build-out of HLC involves fundraising and planning the new campus,” Fleckles explained, “and the Oceanic relationship involves working effectively with both institutions as they also work on common projects. Oceanic is already a wholly-owned subsidiary of Hawai‘i Pacific University, and it holds great potential as the site of our science programs. It’s already like a third campus, so there’s a lot of potential to be developed out there as well.”

Fleckles’ replacement, Dr. John Kearns, served as associate vice president for Academic Programs and was promoted to vice president of Academic Affairs on July 1. A classics scholar and award-winning playwright, Kearns has served as professor of history and classical studies, assistant dean of Academic Affairs (2001-2003), associate dean for General Education (2003-2004), and interim dean of the College of Business Administration (2004-2007). As the associate vice president for Academic Programs, he oversaw the Honors Programs, General Education, and the Study Abroad & Exchange Program. He also co-chaired the task force that was appointed to develop the new General Education Program beginning fall 2008 and is the HPU liaison to the ELS Language Center, according to a statement from the president.

On becoming the vice president of Academic Affairs, Kearns said he felt “very humbled, because it’s a huge responsibility. Dr. Fleckles set a very high standard. He has been, and will continue to be, a great teacher.”

“ A lot of life is approaching puzzles and finding the best solution,” Fleckles added. “The workplace is always changing, it’s always facing new challenges, and [the academic vice president’s] job is to lead the academic side of the University through those challenges or puzzles.”

 

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