Maunakea protests at UH

Dozens of University of Hawai'i students, faculty and staff protested about Maunakea near the intersection of University Avenue and Dole Street on Aug. 26. 

The Mauna Kea Protectors, a group of students, faculty and staff at the University of Hawaiʻi are demanding that the Board of Regents and President David Lassner intervene on the reported claims of racist attacks against Hawaiian faculty by faculty members supporting the Thirty Meter Telescope project on Maunakea.

In a press release on Sept. 18, the Mauna Kea Protectors said that "the recent escalation of racist and discriminatory acts against Hawaiian faculty on campus has created an atmosphere of hostility that may be irreversible if the administration does not immediately enforce the University's E9.201 Workplace Non-Violence policy."

At a symposium about "A History of Astronomy on Mauna Kea and the Case for the TMT " on Sept. 5, faculty members discussed why Hawaiians are underrepresented in the field of physics and astronomy. An audio file of the discussion was circulated on social media. In the audio file, a UH physics professor at the symposium claimed that “We know that the Kam Schools are academically unsuccessful...a student that we have here who is working on his Master's and is a physics teacher at Kam Schools, he told me that he had to graduate people in physics that couldn't even read.”

A Hawaiian professor in the audience told the physics professor that his statement was racist, but the physics professor responded back saying, “I don’t care.”

The protectors also cited a UH email listserv, which reports a pattern of claimed racism and discrimination occurring on campus. The same physics professor reportedly commented on the listserv saying that, “Just about the only thing Hawaiian about UH is that it is in Hawaii and educates many Hawaiian residents, including a few folks with Hawaiian blood. But UH is not here to serve the tiny remnant Hawaiian population preferentially. We honor them and the good things we take from the old Hawaiian culture (and many others), but they are in the larger scheme of the future of Hawaii, not important.” 

The Mauna Kea Protectors stated that "although the physics professor does not speak for the science community, the President's silence on this matter gives license to racist attacks and creates fear and hostility on our campus."

Lassner responded back in a statement, saying that the "The University of Hawaii's core mission is education and the broadening of minds. Bigotry is antithetical to that mission, and is condemned by the University.The statements of individuals cited do not represent the positions or views of the University of Hawaii or its leadership."

The university has a policy that prohibits "any work related or workplace violence against its students, faculty, staff, visitors and contract employees which materially and substantially interferes with an individual’s work, academic performance, and/or workplace safety and/or otherwise subjectively and objectively creates a hostile environment. Such prohibited violent acts may involve physical attack, property damage, as well as written or verbal statements or non-verbal gestures that, to a reasonable person, express or suggest the intent to cause physical or mental harm to another person."

Lassner also directed UH officials to review the materials that show the claimed reports of racist attacks and assess the appropriate next steps under UH policies and procedures. Lassner, who is also reportedly on the email chain, said that he issued a message directly to the entire list that concluded: "It is my deepest hope that we can all find ways to learn from what is happening today to become a stronger community of learners, teachers and scholars. We donʻt all need to agree. But we all benefit when we commit to civility and respect for one another, especially those with whom we disagree.”

The university denounced "the hurtful and wholly inaccurate statements made regarding Kamehameha Schools."

In the statement, Lassner said: "Kamehameha Schools is a trusted and valued partner to the University of Hawaiʻi in our shared mission of improving education across the entire state. Their dedicated work is deeply appreciated on every island and on every UH campus.  Kamehameha students are among the best in the state and enroll with great success across the UH System and at other great universities across the country.  UH welcomes every Kamehameha graduate who we are fortunate enough to bring into our campuses. We apologize to the entire Kamehameha Schools ʻohana for the disparaging remarks of one faculty member who does not represent the positions or views of the University of Hawaiʻi or its leadership."