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Farewell Hawaii pono
This microcosm of the Asia-Pacific world should focus on peace studies as its major mission


May 17, 2005

It has been a great pleasure to live among the beautiful people of Hawaii. It also has been a privilege to teach at the Manoa campus of the University of Hawaii (UH). My reflections have focused on what this university can do with its unique potential to better contribute to the people of Hawaii.

Hawaii is a remarkable microcosm of the Asia-Pacific world. Its multicultural population resembles the region. Its unique Aloha culture has created an atmosphere of unity in diversity. That is exactly what the world needs today. We desperately need dialogue instead of a clash among the world’s civilizations.

But there are also the hard facts of life. The Hawaiian economy is currently based on tourism, the military, and to a lesser extent, agriculture and high tech. Economic diversification has been the state’s laudable objective, but it has not quite succeeded. If Thomas Friedman is right and the world is flat, Hawaii can become a major center for medical, educational, and recreational facilities. Hawaiian tempers and temperatures can immensely contribute to this future.

Militarization of UH does not serve the interests of the American or Hawaiian people. Hawaii’s late Senator Spark Matsunaga had high hopes for the UH to become a center for peace studies. He helped to establish an Institute for Peace here. Former UH president and Vice-president, Albert Simone and Tony Marsella, helped that dream come true. Betty Jacob, Bob Bobilin, John Van Dyke, Lou Anne Guanson, Ralph Summy, and myself served as the directors.

When I was serving as director, the Institute played a critical role in diffusing an ethnic conflict on the campus in the early 1990s. It also tried but it could not diffuse wars in the Persian Gulf. Since 1996, I have served a director of another peace institute outside of UH. The Toda Institute for Global Peace and Policy Research has dedicated itself to dialogue among civilizations for world citizenship.

Declining state support has reduced peace studies at UH. The Matsunaga Institute for Peace has been one of the victims. In the meantime, Hawaii has allowed a great opportunity to fade away by default. Hawaii can be a bridge of knowledge and understanding in the Asia-Pacific world. The thousands of Asia-Pacific graduates of University of Hawaii have contributed to the intellectual life at UH. But they also have served as dual ambassadors of good will between the United States and the Asia-Pacific.

A more active recruitment of Asian students for UH can be a source of strength. Hawaii Pacific University has demonstrated that it can be done. To do so, governance at UH must become more of a search for the greatest talents and less of a political football game.

Globalization is blurring boundaries. But it is also creating new boundaries. The new boundaries are more educational than physical. Hawaii cannot afford to fall behind in the race for global knowledge. Aside from the School of Hawaiian, Asia, And Pacific Studies (SHAPS), a regional studies center, the University of Hawaii has no academic home for international or global studies.

It is not too much to ask from a research university to respond to the needs of the time to establish a center for global studies. It would fit Hawaii’s role in the world. That center could also focus on peace studies as its major mission. It would thus respond to the fervent of hopes of millions. I hope the UH Board of Regents and the Interim-President David McLain hear this call.

Majid Tehranian is Professor, School of Communications, University of Hawaii at Manoa, and Director of the Toda Institute for Global Peace and Policy Research in Honolulu, Hawaii.  His latest book is Bridging a Gulf: Peace in West Asia (London, I. B. Tauris, 2003).

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