The End Of Collegiality At UH

Bob Jones
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Wednesday - November 02, 2005
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Campus life at a university is supposed to be “collegial.” That’s a 900-year-old English word meaning a partnership, shared responsibility and being nice.

There’s always some tension between administration and faculty, for sure, but usually it’s resolved with professional demeanor - smile even if it’s killing you.

Alas, campus life at the University of Hawaii has turned butt-ugly, confrontational and about as collegial as two tom-cats meeting in a dark alley over a discarded fish carcass.

The divisive issue is the Navy’s money-in-the-bank proposal to make the UH an affiliated research center, abbreviated as UARC.

The administration seems to favor UARC to develop new technology for the Navy and potential civilian applications, and give UH many millions of dollars.

The faculty objectors don’t like the school holding hands with the military, take issue with some of the no-publish secrecy and suspect that UARC is on fast track to approval by regents appointed by a GOP governor with close ties to the military-inclined Bush administration.

OK, such conflicts are not unusual. American universities do have heavily liberal, mostly anti-military, lopsidedly Democrat faculties. Also, professors don’t like to feel they are being herded. Many have tenure, so unlike most employees they can say what they please without fear of being fired.

Some, however, have pushed so far in this UARC case that there will be permanent damage. This one’s turned flat-out nasty.

It seems to have pitted interim Manoa chancellor Denise Konan (nine months left on her $254,000 appointment) against some fellow professors who had supported her for the job. She’s considered very liberal, a listener, a charmer, a major scholar. She’s also a white woman from America married to a black man from Africa.

On UARC, she’s now perceived by the headiest antis as a toady for perceived pro-UARC interim UH president David McClain. That’s a very weird development because as chair of the economics department, Konan signed a faculty letter to the regents against UARC which said “the idea of expanding classified research at UH is a terrible idea” and that “the arguments in favor of classified research at UH are pretty hollow.” She also agreed there wasn’t enough faculty input. That was before she became interim chancellor.

One of the most vocal UARC opponents is journalism professor Beverly Deepe Keever. She argues that the research “will be encased in a virtual firewall that prevents its being shared with private industry, students and faculty without proper security clearance.” Keever is a former Vietnam War correspondent and is married to a retired Marine colonel. I’d love to eavesdrop on their breakfast conversations. She’s at least been collegial on the UARC dispute.

Not so social work professor Joel Fischer, who had been a cheerleader for Konan’s elevation to chancellor. He’s done the collegiality no-no of filing charges with the state Attorney General and the state Ethics Commission against those he perceives as pro-UARC in Konan’s circle.

Konan then went public to say of Fischer’s charges: “They are being staged to influence a decision at this critical time. I find this reprehensible (my italics) and an attempt to interfere with the process.”

Goodbye, collegiality. Put on the gloves.

Fischer did. He shot back: “Your three vice chancellors, who are among the main proponents of the UARC, have access to you most of the time, while you adamantly have refused to meet with faculty, students and community members who have serious concerns about the UARC. Is this a sign of neutrality? Is this fair play?

“A university that attacks faculty for speaking out on issues of fairness and justice and bringing to its attention possible ethical and legal improprieties, while praising administrators for secretly attempting to set priorities for faculty activities, becomes less like a university and more like the military whose money - but not values, I hope - we seem so desperate to possess.”

Fischer is not known as one to pull punches. For example, here’s an excerpt from his Web page:

“I am a professor in the School of Social Work at the University of Hawaii. There, we have the disaster of an incompetent interim dean who is full of hatred for anyone who dares to disagree with him. This is a little man with a little man’s chip on his shoulders. A delightful working environment with most faculty colleagues working together as friends has been turned into a psychosocial wasteland by this twerp.”

Well, at least he didn’t call chancellor Konan a twerp! But maybe he has suspicions about her because she’s worked as a consultant for the World Bank.

Fischer definitely is suspicious of the UH chief legal officer Walter Kirimitsu. Fischer says he didn’t go the “collegial” route and file his criminality and ethics charges with Kirimitsu because “I know from long, hard experience he would never undertake an investigation of possible wrong-doing at UH.”

Other objectors, such as UH physics professor John Madey and urban planner Karl Kim, have been models of collegiality, merely pointing out adverse impact on existing UH defense research programs or the problematic secrecy rules that go with military projects.

The pro-UARC side has been very under-voiced in all this. UH-Hilo student Andrew Madden wrote a piece in the UH newspaper Ka Leo, saying that “anti-UARC forces are attempting to deny the academic freedom of faculty and students who wish to freely express themselves by assisting the national defense through military research. Growing numbers of faculty, students and members of the community have become disenchanted with what is being rammed down their throats as political correctness.”

On the more vocal, more radical side of the UH faculty and student body, the fight is visceral, and it’s doing serious damage that cannot be easily repaired. It also has set up a critical leadership test in just the third month of chancellor Konan’s probationary period and could easily sink her if the campus mood turns sour.

This brouhaha comes much too soon after the shocks of the president Evan Dobelle and chancellor Peter Englert firings.

The UH has badly needed a settle-down period. The UARC dispute guarantees it won’t get it.

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