Silent boos and broken bridges

As reported by this blogger on the Hawaii State Senate’s vote to deny Alapaki Nahale-a a second term as a Board of Regent for the University of Hawaii, it was sensed strongly that the vote didn’t go down well with many people.

Especially those who saw the vote in real time, that day, in the gallery.

However, others took issue with it and made it known in various mediums, including print. Both Civil Beat and the Honolulu Star-Advertiser made mention of the vote. And in the case of Civil Beat, included a visual in the form of an editorial cartoon

But seeing how the press reacted to the vote is one thing, it’s another thing to see how those on the inside – university employees – reacted to it. That reaction came soon after the vote, which happened on a Tuesday the 5th of March, that next Friday, the 8th.

Here is what happened.

Every year, the University of Hawaii Community Colleges get together, employees from all seven campuses, in a “confab” of sorts called the Hawaiʻi Student Success Institute, or HISSI for short. This year it was held at the Hawaii Convention Center, and it was estimated by this writer, who attended, that about 1,000 people attended.

It is an all-day event where there is a lunch, during which time there is a presentation made as part of the program. This year, the program revolved around celebrating the 60th anniversary of the University of Hawaii Community College system.

And as with all these anniversary events, dignitaries, former college leaders as well as current leaders attended this event. A few of those dignitaries were, as you may have guessed, legislators.

Considering how things went down earlier that week, this is where the program became interesting.

It started with the emcee of the entire day’s event, University of Hawaii Maui College’s Chancellor Lui Hokoana introducing the dignitaries, including the legislators. And then before calling them up to present certificates, he acknowledged their presence and the tension in the room by saying that he would be “addressing the elephant in the room”.

The speakers at the event, in this general order: Lt. Governor Luke, Senator and Senate President Ron Kouchi, and Senator and Chairwoman of the Higher Education Committee in the Senate, Donna Mercado Kim

He then proceeded to thank the legislators for their support of the Community Colleges and noted that the system will still need their support in the future. His presentation felt like the first movement of a dance, no one quite knew what the next steps were.

And then the opening act – a presentation of a certificate by the governor’s office by Lt. Governor Sylvia Luke. Since no one in that room seemed to have an issue with that office, her presentation elicited no real reaction in the room, outside of the courtesy audience clapping after she was done.

Next up, and not in any particular order was, in order of title and house, Senate President Ron Kouchi, Chairwoman of the Senate’s Higher Education Committee Donna Mercado Kim, and Chairwoman of the House of Representatives Committee on Higher Education Amy Perruso.

Getting the easy one out of the way, Perruso read the certificate from the House acknowledging the 60th anniversary.

And then, in order, was Senate President Ron Kouchi. Welcomed to the podium, he started his speech by talking about how he has an open-door policy, and that he would welcome anyone to come to his office and “talk story”. At least Kouchi knew who he was talking to, and tried to break the tension that was growing in that room, standing next to the University President and three current Regents.

He got a short courtesy clap from the crowd. His words, being graded by this blogger, suggested that at least he tried to “make nice” with his words as a form of a peace offering. It came across, though as if he was dancing with two left feet, and his dance partner was standing on the side trying to figure out what he was dancing to.

And then next up was Senator Kim.

If there was a moment where the good Senator could have used words in their most basic form to build bridges with a room full of people who have chosen words for her actions against the University, she must have that speech at her office.

Instead, and as she talked it became apparent that she wasn’t there to build bridges. Instead, she proceeded to tell the room full of university professionals that her actions in the Senate, on the University, are being done in its best interests. There was no reciprocating “open door” call as the President of the Senate made moments earlier.

There was no bread broken between the Senators and the University of Hawaii at the HISSI conference. And judging by the efforts of Senators to try and “make peace”, it would seem that there is a long way to go on that front, too.

Even before she finished her speech-ette, adding that she didn’t want to read the entire certificate but proceeded to read the “therefore” statements in it, this blogger put his head down and knew full well that she didn’t earn any new fans in the room. Instead, she showed her benevolent dictator side and proceeded to tell the room that “I am being a <add adjective here> for your good!”

So much for the peace offering.

If people were arranged differently in that room, maybe standing instead of sitting, no doubt some would’ve turned their backs on the Senator during her presentation. As acknowledgment that it was time to go right after, they walked out with singular focus to exit the room and didn’t make eye contact when they passed the table this blogger was sitting at, with a former Regent sitting at it too.

The Senators – and by extension Perruso and Luke – may have hoped that attending the HISSI event would improve their image among attendees, but it seems they missed their mark. Instead of fostering a partnership between the Legislature and the University, they demonstrated an authoritarian approach to decision-making and only gave money to the University as a token gesture.

To repair this relationship, it appears that both parties have a significant amount of work to do.


Photo Credits: 
Donna Mercado Kim: "File:Donna Mercado Kim.jpg" by Tinachase321 is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0.
Ron Kouchi: "Ron Kouchi" by ThinkTech Hawaii is licensed under CC BY 3.0.
Sylvia Luke: "Sylvia Luke, 2023" by Maryland GovPics is licensed under CC BY 2.0.
University of Hawaii photo: "The Entrance, University of Hawaii at Manoa," by Mj-bird is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0.
Hawaii State Senate: PHwSF