On Tuesday, May 7 the University of Hawaii Board of Regents held a “public” forum for Lt. Gen. Frank Wiercinski, one of two finalist candidates for UH President.

Wiercinski was educated at West Point, has spent his entire 34 year career in the U.S. military, and has no experience in an institution of higher education.

The forum was poorly publicized and the selection process that led to it devoted little effort to garnering sustained student and faculty input.

A group of graduate students organized what we expected to be a small student action to tell the Board of Regents that the university’s deepening connection with the U.S. military-industrial complex is inherently at odds with our vision for the university.

We sent out a call to action less than 24 hours before the forum, hoping that a few of our peers would show up. Instead, on the day of the event nearly 50 undergraduates, graduates, and faculty filed into the Architecture Auditorium, all holding signs reading “demilitarize,” “decolonize,” and “Hawaiian values?”

We sat in the audience and listened to the lieutenant general’s speech. Each time he said something that was at odds with our vision for our university community, we collectively — and for the most part, silently — raised our signs in an act of protest.

We raised them often.

We raised them to get answers about whether the leadership of the military is something that is appropriate, suitable or in line with the kind of leadership we seek in building a “Hawaiian place of learning.”

We raised them when Wiercinski tried to convince us that his experience commanding troops in the Asia-Pacific region has any relevance to our goals of building a university community that serves Hawaii’s people.

We raised them when he spoke about the U.S. military as if it were a humanitarian organization, oblivious to those in the Asia-Pacific region who have suffered greatly because of U.S. imperialism.

We raised them when he demonstrated his ignorance of our island culture by stating that 85 percent of our student body is Hawaiian, conflating this identity with “Texan” or “Iowan.”

Again and again, our signs went up. We raised them when he talked about the military’s record of mālama āina, conveniently neglecting its destruction of Kahoolawe and Makua Valley, and its current efforts to expand live-fire training in Pohakuloa.

We raised them as he evaded questions about sexual harassment, speaking in convoluted terms about how leaders have to be careful of being held “liable” for their decision-making.

We raised them, yet again, when he talked about the militarized “Pacific pivot” and the role that the university should play in projecting U.S. interests across the Pacific.

But we raised them the highest when Wiercinski told us that his philosophy as a leader is to always do what is pono.

Appointing a military officer as UH President is not pono.

The patriarchal, hierarchical structure of the armed forces is unfitting for any community that seeks to nurture openness and critical thought, and appointing a president without any credentials in higher education would be absurd at any university.

But it is even more profoundly contradictory in Hawaii, where thinking critically about power and history so often leads us back to the U.S. military’s continued occupation and exploitation of our precious islands and those of our cousins across the Pacific.

Wiercinski’s candidacy is just one example of the university’s ties with the U.S. military-industrial complex.

Last year, the university quietly renewed its highly contested UARC contract with the U.S. Navy and, in June 2013, faculty voiced opposition to the university’s consideration of George Kailiwa III for vice president of research and development, due to Kailiwai’s career in the defense industry.

Our act of protest, then, is not directed solely at Wiercinski, but intended to communicate our strong opposition to the continued militarization of higher education here at UH and, indeed, across the country.

Chancellor Tom Apple told Hawaii News Now that the students in the audience on Tuesday evening did not show the lieutenant general the “aloha he deserved.”

Admittedly, emotions ran high and there were some unsolicited outbursts from the audience when we realized that our questions and concerns would not be addressed unless we made them heard.

However, we argue that what we did was show our deepest aloha for our university community, as well as for the land and people of Hawaii.

We were compelled to take a stand because we are gravely concerned that our university is becoming an adjunct to the military-industrial complex.

If our university administration seeks to do what is pono, they can start by demilitarizing our education and pursuing a truly transparent and democratic selection process for the next UH President.

About the authors: Tina Grandinetti is an MA student in Indigenous Politics.
Mary “Tuti” Baker is a Ph.D student in Indigenous Politics.
Akta Kaushal is a Ph.D student in Political Science. They are all student organizers.

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