Allan Saunders helped shape modern Hawai'i
By Richard H. Kosaki
Allan Saunders arrived in Hawai'i in September 1945, shortly after the end of World War II, with a one-year contract to serve as a professor of government at the University of Hawai'i. He stayed to make Hawai'i his home, and few have contributed as much to post-war Hawai'i's political and social development.
Through public speaking and letters to the editor, he practiced and consistently advocated freedom of speech and discussion, and he welcomed dissent. In the politically conservative climate of pre-statehood Hawai'i, he was often criticized for his views.
But it was in teaching, in and especially out of the classroom, that Saunders had his greatest impact. He took to heart the words of his political role model, Thomas Jefferson: "I know of no safe depository of the ultimate powers of the society but the people themselves; and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them, but to inform their discretion by education."
Allan is well remembered for his "crusade" to allow male faculty members to wear aloha shirts. When Allan arrived on the UH campus, neckties and coats were the prescribed attire. Allan and a few others formed an organization called, "Faculty Wearers of Aloha Shirts, Tails Out." It is evident today that Allan's group carried the day.
The victory for aloha shirts is often seen as the inevitable and practical accommodation to Hawai'i's tropical climate. But there is a larger significance: while comfort was a factor, Allan did not want "uniforms" to distinguish faculty from student; "clothes do not make the man," and he wanted a level playing field for the proper exchange of opinions and ideas.
To Professor Saunders, education did not mean lecturing to a class. He wanted to actively engage the students' minds by posing provocative questions and inviting meaningful discussion. This form of teaching is often referred to as the "Socratic method" and many who attempted it in Island classrooms did not find it effective as local students, especially of Asian background, are often reticent to speak up in class.
I believe that Allan succeeded because of the spirit and attitude which he exemplified he treated his students as adults, as "equal" human beings.
His teaching went beyond the classroom. Indeed, our most meaningful discussions were held in his office (where he stayed all day with the door open) and in his apartment. It was common for Allan and Marion to invite students to their home to discuss all manner of issues over pupus and cold drinks.
Allan believed that education was not a matter of remembering dates and events (although history was important) but of stimulating the mind and developing critical thinking. His examinations in political philosophy were not so much about what Plato or Aristotle said but asked what you thought about what they said. Some students avoided Allan's classes because he was a demanding teacher and not shy of assigning the "F" grade.
As one of his students, Sen. Daniel Inouye, remarked years later: "Allan was an individual you both loved and feared, admired but at times avoided. He was more fearful than a conscience you can always compromise with your conscience, but it was very difficult to compromise with Allan Saunders."
|Allan Saunders, with three former students, including author Richard Kosaki, left, believed learning was a matter of developing critical thinking.
Advertiser library photo 1960
In my senior year in 1948, as we students were actively campaigning for statehood for Hawai'i, Allan suggested that we hold our own constitutional convention. Thus, we could not only debate and discuss what we desired for the nascent state but also experience the political process of arriving at a consensus despite conflicting viewpoints.
Inouye summarized Allan Saunders' teaching career in the Congressional Record: "[H]e was an outstanding teacher who infused his students with an enthusiasm for participating in government. His students went on to guide the political, business, and social history of Hawai'i. ... There are few individuals who have contributed as much as Dr. Allan F. Saunders to the building of modern Hawai'i as a place of equality, social fairness, and progressive democracy."
A visiting professor who knew Allan well observed: "He was one of those political scientists a rare breed who practiced what he taught in class. His students, intensely loyal to him, carried his ideals and principles into every echelon of state government the ultimate tribute to a great teacher."
Upon his death in 1989 The Advertiser editorialized: "Saunders, through his own actions and those of the people he inspired, helped make Hawai'i a more progressive, tolerant, humane place."
Allan stood for equality and justice for all. He is often remembered as a fighter for "causes," but his causes had to do with principles and not "for" or "against" groups per se. Some see him as championing the "cause" of the AJAs or the Pacific Islanders, but what he sought was equality for all participants in a democratic community. Allan was not so much against governmental and corporate oligarchies but for the democratic principles of free speech, equal opportunity in education and in employment.
In this lifelong passion, he was fortunate to have a most willing and able partner in his wife, Marion Hollenbach Saunders.
Marion Hollenbach and Allan Saunders met in the fall of 1943 in Massachusetts. She was a WAVE officer teaching at an officer training school at Smith College; he was teaching Army officers at Amherst College.
At the end of the war, Marion returned to her museum position in California. Allan, having fallen in love with Hawai'i, persuaded Marion to join him here. They were married in Honolulu on March 16, 1946.
All who knew Marion speak of her boundless energy. She was actively engaged in many civic organizations. The League of Women Voters of Honolulu, which she and Allan founded in 1948, continued throughout her life as a major focus.
Among the other civic organizations on which she served were the Governor's Commission on the Status of Women, Hawai'i's Advisory Committee to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, and the United Nations Chapter. She also was president of the Hawai'i Personnel and Guidance Association and chairwoman of the East-West Center's International Alumni Association.
Marion's major emphasis, like Allan's, was education. She ran for the state Board of Education in 1974 and led the ticket. She served on the Board from 1974 to 1980. She served continuously as chairwoman of the LWV's Education Committee. She was also instrumental in establishing the Academy for Lifelong Learning at the University of Hawai'i-Manoa.
In 1954, she became the U.S. Interior Department's coordinator of programs for Micronesian students in Hawai'i, most of whom were at the University of Hawai'i with East-West Center scholarships. Thus began the Saunders' life-long love affair with Micronesia. These students from the remote islands of the Pacific were in need of special help as they were unfamiliar with urban living, let alone the American college routine of having to go to class on time and of budgeting properly so that they were not penniless before the end of the month.
Marion's anthropological training and interests may have helped her to effectively counsel these students with much aloha. She nourished them in body, mind and spirit. Many a Micronesian slept and ate at the Saunders home.
When the Saunders moved to their Woodlawn home in 1955, they promptly and appropriately named it "Hale Ha'a'a," Hawaiian for "hospitality house." For, indeed, it was open to all and served as a cordial meeting place to discuss all matters of interest to the many friends who gathered there.
Education is pervasive and its influence everlasting. Students have fond memories of and deep appreciation for their contacts with Marion and Allan Saunders. They were tireless workers for improving educational opportunities and promoting the public good.
It may be unusual to name a building for two individuals, a husband-and-wife team, but Allan and Marion were an unusual and extraordinary couple. Allan himself might not seek such an "honor," but he must be happy that Marion, who died in 1998, will forever be his partner in the social sciences building.
Richard Kosaki was a student and colleague of Allan Saunders at the University of Hawai'i.