It is important that the public understand that a recent lawsuit filed against the dean and the school is at best only one side of the story.

Recently, Civil Beat published a story regarding a lawsuit filed by University of Hawaii law professor Ken Lawson against the school and other individuals.

The article essentially recited Mr. Lawson’s complaint. The University of Hawaii and Camille Nelson, the dean of the law school, both declined to comment as a matter of policy regarding on-going litigation.

It is important that the public understand that the complaint is at best only one side of the story, and that Civil Beat has done a disservice to the community in its failure to speak to others in the UH Law or legal community before publishing its article.

It is especially disappointing that Civil Beat apparently failed to speak to any other law school
faculty, staff, students, alumni, or the broader legal community (Black, African American or
otherwise). Civil Beat would have found a deep well of respect in the community for the
exceptional leadership and steady character that Dean Nelson has brought to the law school
during her three-year tenure. A nationally respected scholar with a strong track record of turning around struggling institutions, she has proven to be an outstanding leader.

Dean Nelson took the helm of the school in the summer of 2020 during the height of a global
pandemic and social upheaval. She has worked tirelessly to bring in new resources to the school, elevate standards, and work in partnership with the faculty to reward excellence and enhance the student experience. Her leadership has been consistent and fair, and is deeply rooted in her decades of work understanding racial and economic justice, as well as mental health.

Among many other accomplishments, in just three years, Dean Nelson:

  • Created the law school’s first diversity, equity, and inclusion committee.
  • Advanced diversity and representation in every area of law by supporting women, people
    of color, LGBTQ people, and others who have been traditionally underrepresented in legal
    practice; and by speaking and publishing on leadership, empowerment, and racial and
    social justice.
  • Spearheaded the launch of a new part-time, online Juris Doctor program that provides
    opportunity to students from different locations and backgrounds who may otherwise be
    unable to relocate to obtain a law degree.
  • Facilitated the unprecedented hiring of young and diverse faculty.
  • Strengthened core initiatives, including clinical programs, to facilitate UH Manoa’s
    mission as a community-serving university grounded in a Native Hawaiian place of
  • Strengthened student bar passage programs.
  • Launched an island-focused leadership lab featuring local and national “leaders in
    residence” who prepare law students with tools for success.
  • Raised $1 million from UH alumnus and philanthropist businessman Jay H. Shidler to
    start the Dean’s Innovation Fund allowing the law school to bring into legal education
    the type of innovative approaches that drive business.
  • Established a focus on mindfulness at the law school to support student, faculty, and
    staff holistic health and well-being — physical, psychological, and emotional.
The dean of the William S. Richardson School of Law has done many things to improve the school that the public should know about. (Civil Beat photo)

As a result of Dean Nelson’s hard work, the law school’s current and future trajectory has never looked so good. That’s why we are all so deeply saddened to see Mr. Lawson’s one sided and unchecked allegations appear in print and potentially interrupt the progress and positive changes at our beloved school. Mr. Lawson appears to be a popular figure often quoted by the media. While we cannot know all of the details of the case, we do know from firsthand knowledge that there are fundamental inaccuracies in the complaint and by extension, the Civil Beat story.

Mr. Lawson has a right to file a lawsuit, even if it proves to be without merit and damaging. The
community, however, deserves to know that deeply engaged alumni, faculty, and friends of the
William S. Richardson School of Law greatly value the character and contributions of Dean Nelson to an institution that is training our next generation of leaders on how to put society before self.

For three years she has been modeling that behavior — in her actions as well as in her discretion — as she has quietly tackled the hard and unglamorous work of improving the school. Local media outlets should do their homework and write researched and balanced articles before posting a story that may garner lurid attention but could also undermine a true servant leader and the improvement of one of most important institutions in our islands.

We recognize that race relations continue to require ongoing discussion at the law school, in Hawaii, and throughout our diverse nation. We hope that Civil Beat can contribute to that discussion from a balanced and researched perspective in keeping with the best of journalistic ethics and standards.

Community Voices aims to encourage broad discussion on many topics of community interest. It’s kind of a cross between Letters to the Editor and op-eds. This is your space to talk about important issues or interesting people who are making a difference in our world. Column lengths should be no more than 800 words and we need a current photo of the author and a bio. We welcome video commentary and other multimedia formats. Send to The opinions and information expressed in Community Voices are solely those of the authors and not Civil Beat.

Help power our public service journalism

As a local newsroom, Civil Beat has a unique public service role in times of crisis.

That’s why we’re committed to a paywall-free website and subscription-free content, so we can get vital information out to everyone, from all communities.

We are deploying a significant amount of our resources to covering the Maui fires, and your support ensures that we can pivot when these types of emergencies arise.

Make a gift to Civil Beat today and help power our nonprofit newsroom.

About the Authors