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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, July 16, 2002

Kamehameha may alter its admissions policy

 •  Decision viewed as appeasement to IRS

By Jennifer Hiller
Advertiser Education Writer

Kamehameha Schools alumni lashed out last night at estate trustees following their decision to offer a non-Hawaiian student admission to the Maui campus, accusing the officials of betraying the promise of Bernice Pauahi Bishop's will.

Kamehameha Schools trustee Nainoa Thompson reflects after addressing the meeting last night. Trustees apologized for their decision to offer a non-Hawaiian student admission to the Maui campus.

Eugene Tanner • The Honolulu Advertiser

At a three-hour meeting on the Kapalama campus, trustees repeatedly were met by cries of "shame," "resign," and "reconsider." With bright yellow signs, alumni turned the Maui decision — in which trustees said not enough qualified Native Hawaiians applied for spots — back onto the trust administrators: "Trustees resign. You're not qualified."

Trustees apologized for their decision and the lack of communication with the Hawaiian community, saying that they need to rewrite the admissions policy so the Maui decision can never happen again.

Some alumni on Maui have started a statewide petition drive to ask Kamehameha trustees to reconsider their admissions policies before the applications season starts in the fall semester.

Others are planning an Aug. 19 protest on Maui that will cover everything from admissions policies at Kamehameha to the continuing legal threats to Native Hawaiian entitlement programs.

Last night, the trustees stopped short of a full explanation and skimmed over many alumni questions on the legal issues, saying only that the $6 billion private trust faces great legal risks in trying to preserve its Native Hawaiian preference rules for admission and the tax-exempt status.

"There is ongoing a very great chess game," said J. Douglas Ing, chair of the board. "There are those in this country that would like to erode if not eliminate rights for indigenous and native people. We're attempting to protect the admissions policy. To do that it may be necessary for us to give up a pawn here and a pawn there."

But dozens of alumni — some bristling with emotion — said that trustees should fight harder to preserve the Hawaiians-only campus.

Last week's decision also has rekindled a debate on whether the campuses should serve the academic elite or a broader spectrum of the Hawaiian community.

CEO Hamilton McCubbin said that the current policy does not allow for the education of all Hawaiian children, something he said trustees are reconsidering.

Keoni Bunag of Halawa, a Kamehameha Schools alumnus, passed out signs before the Kamehameha Schools trustees meeting began.

Eugene Tanner • The Honolulu Advertiser

Trustee Constance Lau called the decision the most difficult the board has ever made.

"We know there's quite a bit of hurt out there and confusion and downright anger," Lau said. "And if we screwed up, it's because we didn't communicate."

Trustee Nainoa Thompson said he had no excuse for his lack of judgment and failure to represent the Hawaiian community in the Kamehameha Schools boardroom, but asked the community to trust officials to protect the will legally.

"Let me say we screwed up major on community in relation to who we are supposed to serve," he said.

But many alumni said it is too late for apologies. Maile Ishihara, a 1951 graduate, said the Hawaiian community is deeply hurt by the decision.

"We love this school," Ishihara said. "It's the only thing we have that still belongs to us."

Trustees disclosed Thursday that a non-Hawaiian student had been accepted for admission on the Maui campus in the fall.

While there are typically more Hawaiian applicants who meet the criteria for admission than spaces available, that was not the case on the Maui campus this year and the decision does not represent a change in admissions policy, they said.

The decision came as a surprise to the Hawaiian community, though.

"Apart from the wisdom of the decision, we need to sit down and talk about this," said Haunani-Kay Trask, a political organizer, poet, and professor of Hawaiian Studies at the University of Hawai'i-Manoa. "How could you just leave us like that as if we are not part of the will? I'm an alum. There's a whole Hawaiian community out there. There's parents of children who didn't get in. They don't understand how badly people want their children to go there."

Kamehameha Schools was established in the 1884 will of Princess Bernice Pauahi Bishop. The trust was swept up in controversy in 1997 after protests by students, parents and alumni over how the schools were being managed.

Maile Jachowski, a Maui doctor and valedictorian of Kamehameha's 1977 class, said the trustees gave up too easily before offering the spot to a non-Hawaiian.

She is helping circulate the petition in hopes that trustees will broaden their approach for who gets into the campuses. She has two children attending Kamehameha's Maui campus now.

"A bright Hawaiian will succeed anywhere," she said. "To set a standard that only the top students can meet doesn't meet the needs of the children who really need the help. The idea that there is a standard bar for the whole state is a little crazy."

Adrian Kamali'i, a 2000 graduate of Kamehameha Schools and the president of Hui Ho'oulu, a group that advocates Hawaiian cultural education, said he has been on the phone constantly with other graduates to talk about the decision.

The fact that trustees have said the non-Hawaiian student was admitted because no other Hawaiian applicants met the entry standards has been a blow to those who have tried to get their children into one of the campuses and been rejected.

"I don't think they realized how much of an imprint it has on Hawaiians to hear those stereotypes," Kamali'i said. "People will say Hawaiians are so stupid they can't get into their own school. To have it come from within the community is very hurtful."

Reach Jennifer Hiller at jhiller@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-8084.