In an impassioned speech to the Council for Native Hawaiian Advancement yesterday, University of Hawai'i President Evan Dobelle committed the university system to being a force that advances justice for Native Hawaiians.
"The time has long since passed for the university to walk beside you as a partner in achieving Hawaiian parity," he told participants on the opening day of a conference that sponsors hope to hold annually.
"The university must be a force that advances justice as surely as it advances our understanding of the oceans, the human mind and the cosmos."
In throwing the strength and power of the university behind the movement to bring Hawaiians more fully into the mainstream as scholars and administrators of the statewide system, Dobelle issued his strongest support yet for Native Hawaiian rights and redress of past injustice. And he said that these were not just Hawaiian issues, but human issues, of concern to everyone in the community.
"By investing more fully in our Center for Hawaiian Studies, and in the presence of Hawaiian scholars throughout the system, the university will do its part to create a critical mass of citizens, young and old, who have had strong Hawaiian role models ... who have come of age in an era where these questions of self-determination and decolonization came to the forefront of political debate," he said.
But Dobelle also said Hawaiians should not be limited - or limit themselves - to programs at the Center for Hawaiian Studies. "I want to see Hawaiians in the math department. In the school of engineering. In our biomedical sciences program. ... I support the goal of making our faculty look like Hawai'i - in character and demographics," the UH president said.
Only 3 percent of the faculty are of Native Hawaiian ancestry, and there are no Hawaiians in administration, he said.
Manoa's new chancellor, Peter Englert, has also committed himself to opening wide the doors of Hawai'i's state-supported system of higher education to those who have hesitated, or been unable in the past, to step through.
When he accepted the role of chancellor, Englert had already begun looking at ways to bring a fuller representation of Hawaiians and other Pacific Islanders into faculty and administrative positions, just as he had done with New Zealand's native Maori at Victoria University of Wellington.
The new strategic plans adopted for Manoa and the statewide UH system also include strong language backing social justice for Native Hawaiians and a determined push for an increase in the percentage of Hawaiian students.
In closing, Dobelle pledged help in bringing something now imagined to reality:
"It seems to me that those of you who are battling to define your people according to self-defined terms have a dual citizenship - of this state, and of a state yet to come into existence. Of Hawai'i and Ha-va-i'i," he said. "Ha-va-i'i, home of your ancestors, exists now as a state of mind - and with the university as your partner, the Hawaiian community will turn that into a state of being. ... "
The Council for Native Hawaiian Advancement's conference continues through Saturday at the Sheraton Waikiki Hotel. Walk-in registration is still being accepted. For more information, call Lisa at 429-3642.