More than 100 faculty and instructors at the University of Hawaii are banding together to help some of their students earn course credit while they continue to protest the building of the Thirty Meter Telescope on Mauna Kea.

Protests at the base of Mauna Kea Access Road against the $1.4 billion TMT are stretching into their fourth week, and the start of school for UH, Aug. 26, is quickly approaching.

The faculty say their class offerings are following the university’s rules. UH deans met with administration Monday to discuss the class list. In a statement, the administration didn’t oppose it.

“We anticipate that scheduled courses will be taught as officially described,” the statement says.

Scores of UH Manoa students and faculty stand on the steps of Hawaii Hall to rally against telescope construction on Mauna Kea.
Scores of students and faculty from the University of Hawaii Manoa protested TMT’s construction in December. Now, UH faculty are finding ways to work with students who want to spend part of the fall semester on Mauna Kea. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

UH professors say that they are operating within the university’s rules by allowing some of their students to work remotely.

“We feel like we’re working within our kuleana as faculty,” Noelani Goodyear-Kaopua told Civil Beat.

The list of class offerings has a greeting from UH Maui College Professor Kahele Dukelow. She thanks the instructors and professors who signed up, and says that faculty on Mauna Kea will hold sessions to advise students.

TMT is scheduled for construction on lands leased by UH, which has a history of mismanaging Mauna Kea detailed in four state audits. In recent years, the university has improved its management of the mountain, which many Native Hawaiians consider sacred.

The UH class offerings are the latest move by opponents of TMT’s construction to prepare for the long haul. The well-organized protestors, who call themselves protectors of Mauna Kea or kia’i, routinely hold classes on Hawaiian culture and language at the makeshift Pu’uhonua O Pu’uhuluhulu University.

“Every possible problem that supporters of the mauna encounter, we come up with a solution rather quickly,” N. Ha’alilio Solomon, a Hawaii language instructor at UH, said.

In the fall semester, Solomon is teaching an upper-division Hawaiian language course. It’s one of the offerings for students who want to spend their time on Mauna Kea.

Solomon said he plans to work with one of his students on Mauna Kea, who is enrolled in two of his classes, to discuss how it will work. 

Students registered for classes in the spring, months before Gov. David Ige announced that construction was set to begin July 15.

Ku’ualoha Ho’omanawanui, a UH English professor, has been helping to check the spreadsheet of professors every night for inaccuracies. Courtesy photo

Faculty have emphasized that the classes are open to all students, not just those on Mauna Kea.

Ku’ualoha Ho’omanawanui, an English professor at UH Manoa, had been curating the list of instructors offering courses to students who want to spend time on Mauna Kea. When the list was still an open document, she went through it every night to check for impostors and that the course numbers and descriptions align with UH’s course catalogues.

Ho’omanawanui, who has been a full-time professor since 2007, has been contacting instructors to make sure they follow policy while helping their students. For example, if their course includes an attendance policy, they still need to abide by it.

The classes need to be conducted according to the syllabus, said Ho’omanawanui.

And faculty need to follow the rules, too.

We couldn’t say ‘I’m not going teach courses this semester because I’ll be on the mauna.’ You can’t do that,” Goodyear-Kaopua said.

Goodyear-Kaopua, who chairs the political science department at UH Manoa, said that she has been communicating with her dean to assure that the class loads fall within the ranges approved by the UH Board of Regents.

Faculty union contracts allow them freedom to design classes.

Many are choosing to work with Mauna Kea students in independent study courses in which a professor works with just a handful of students to design an individualized area of study.

Other options include online courses that don’t require in-person class time.

However, students who need to participate in class discussions may have options to do so remotely.

Goodyear-Kaopua is offering a graduate-level seminar class on indigenous people and sovereignty issues. The class meets once a week, but students who spend part of their time on Mauna Kea, Goodyear-Kaopua said, can Skype in.

“It’s not that unusual,” she said. “Making it possible for students with different kinds of life circumstances to complete the expectations of a course: I feel that’s part of our job.”

Noelani Goodyear-Kaopua, the department chair of political science at UH Manoa, was one of several protesters who chained themselves to a cattle guard on Mauna Kea Access Road July 15. Anita Hofschneider/Civil Beat

Goodyear-Kaopua was on Mauna Kea when construction vehicles were scheduled to move up the mountain. She was one of eight kia’i who tied themselves to a cattle guard to block the road.

She said her experiences could provide good insights for class discussions. She plans to take a trip to Mauna Kea with interested graduate students over the Labor Day Weekend.

Not all of the classes on the list focus on Mauna Kea or even Native Hawaiian culture. Instructors from multiple campuses in various disciplines are offering courses in Victorian literature, geography, business records management and philosophy.

But students who want to focus their studies on Mauna Kea can do so if it fits the course requirements. For example, some of Solomon’s students have compiled song playlists referring to Mauna Kea as part of a project.

Goodyear-Kaopua has some class days set aside to discuss Mauna Kea.

Ho’omanawanui teaches a class focusing on folklore in Oceania. She said if her students want to analyze moolelo, or stories, about Mauna Kea as part of the class, they have the option to do that.

She said some instructors may coordinate with their students on class projects that may involve traveling to Mauna Kea and spending some time there.

She hopes UH administration sees this as a learning opportunity for students and instructors.

“When they talk about being a Hawaiian place of learning, it’s not just planting a kukui nut tree and naming a building,” Ho’omanawanui said. “It’s about learning in a living, breathing environment.”

Support Civil Beat during the season of giving.

As a small nonprofit newsroom, our mission is powered by readers like you. But did you know that less than 1% of readers donate to Civil Beat?

Give today and support local journalism that helps to inform, empower and connect.

About the Author