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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, September 6, 2002

Unpopular opinions must thrive on campus

One exciting aspect of university life is the spectrum of ideas that circulate. So if you only want to be around like-minded folks, you may as well stay home.

In light of that, it's truly sad that a class that was to examine an unpopular or politically incorrect view of Hawaiian nationalism and sovereignty has been canceled because the students didn't feel safe attending it.

Apparently, a group of elder students of the University of Hawai'i's Academy for Life-Long Learning wanted to hear the views of Kenneth Conklin, a retired teacher who opposes race-based programs and quarrels with the Hawaiian sovereignty movement.

So the academy set up a five-week course to be led by Conklin at the UH-Manoa Campus Center.

But according to the academy's coordinator, Rebecca Goodman, an "angry man" didn't approve of Conklin landing a platform from which to challenge Hawaiian sovereignty. She says the man threatened her, and when the students caught wind of the intimidation, they dropped Conklin's class.

Now, because the students don't feel safe attending Conklin's course on campus, Goodman is looking for an off-campus venue. And when she finds it, she won't be publicizing it.

Regardless of whether we agree with Conklin or not, we wouldn't dream of undermining his right to hold forth, or of discouraging those who want to listen to him.

In this case, it's the students, not the university, who bowed to intimidation. We can't fault people aged 65 to 91 for being scared. But we are disappointed that one person succeeded in suppressing their debate.

UH-Manoa has a vibrant Hawaiian studies program whose members make no secret of supporting sovereignty and condemning America's treatment of Native Hawaiians. It's their academic freedom to do so.

Moreover, people in Hawai'i have frequently called for Haunani-Kay Trask, a UH professor and Hawaiian nationalist, to be fired for what they consider offensive statements. And the university administration has defended her academic freedom, as it should.

Conversely, we see no problem with Conklin teaching a mini-course that presents his views on the issue. If you can't debate prickly issues on a university campus, where can you feel safe?