A Brief History Of UH Protests

Larry Price
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Wednesday - May 18, 2005
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Something interesting happens when protestors take over a university office. Every president in the past 50 years at the University of Hawaii has handled protestors differently. Even the protestors have been different because they are not as militant as they were in the 1960s and ’70s.

If you remember the Oliver Lee protests, you will recall how the community got involved in the protest. The issue was America’s participation in the Vietnam War, Oliver Lee’s rights to express his freedom of speech and then his tenure hearings.

During that period, the Lions Club marched on the University of Hawaii’s Bachman Hall to provide moral support for the troops in Vietnam and then- President Thomas Hamilton. They also wanted to show their displeasure at the University of Hawaii’s granting tenure to the controversial Oliver Lee, an avowed leftist radical.

Bachman Hall is a great spot for protestors. It gives easy access to the media. Without the media, protesting is not worth the effort. Having said all this, the big question is, “How did Interim University President David McClain perform in handling the recent uprising?”

The short answer is compared to UH presidents past, he did remarkably well. That is not to say he didn’t have a lot of good advice and a little bit of luck. To begin with it is probably safe to say the first reaction of any university president to protestors occupying his office is to get them out. It’s like a knee-jerk response. Then the next hurdle is to find someone big and strong enough to accomplish the feat.

In most cases, the president would call HPD. In the old days they would, more often than not, respond with enough force to accomplish the mission much to the delight of the protestors. Protestors like to be carted away with the television cameras rolling.

In this day and age, the Honolulu police, more often than not, would decline the request. The reason being, the problem is political and does not warrant uniformed police intervention. The next phone call would probably go to the State Sheriff’s Department. They would be interested in responding; however, they would probably need assurances from the state attorney general, in writing, that none of the sheriffs would be held liable if one of the protestors was injured in their removal from Bachman Hall. Chances are they couldn’t convince the AG to release them from any liability.

The last resort is to call the University of Hawaii Campus Police. This group will testify that they are not equipped or trained in handling protestors with kid gloves, they lack the numbers and probably do not have enough restraining devices and personal protection devices to handle protestors refusing to cooperate with university authorities.

In fine form, Interim President David McClain confronted the protestors like John Wayne. He stood right up there and answered their questions politely and treated them with firmness and understanding. He also employed the best from of defense known for political encounters — delay. He promised to discuss their concerns with the UH Regents and get back to them. He kept his promise and the delayed actions on the protestors demands until October 2005.

The most permanent form of denial in politics is delay. Surely, the protestors will not give up so easy and will return in October. The same staged encounter will probably occur.

Hopefully, the protestors will have better signs and a few creative chants to help draw the attention of the television crews.

There is a possibility that future protestors at the University of Hawaii will have a little more pizzazz and Dr. David McClain will no longer be an interim President.

He’s proven he can handle the job.

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