Werner Levi, UH educator, international law expert
By Beverly Creamer
Advertiser Education Writer
Werner Levi, who fled Nazi Germany and went on to become a renowned author and scholar in international relations and a professor of political science at the University of Hawai'i from 1963 until his retirement in 1976, died Sunday at the age of 92.
Levi had three doctorate degrees in jurisprudence and canon law from the University of Frebourg in Switzerland, and in political science from the University of Minnesota.
Levi was honored with two Fulbright fellowships during his career, as well as a Carnegie Foundation grant that brought him to UH in 1955 from the University of Minnesota, where he served on the faculty from 1944 until 1963. As a visiting scholar, he lectured on international relations. He later lectured extensively throughout Asia and Europe.
"He was one of the nation's leading scholars of international law in his day and brought a great deal of attention to the university while he was involved in the department," said Jonathan Goldberg-Hiller, current chairman of UH's Political Science Department.
Levi was also known for his violin playing and his wit. "People would jostle to sit next to him at department meetings," said Goldberg-Hiller. "Under his breath, he'd say some of the funniest things you've ever heard."
Regarding the violin, as a boy Levi found his own teacher without his parents' knowledge, launching himself on lessons and becoming so well qualified that he played in the Honolulu Symphony when it was an orchestra of unpaid volunteers, said a good friend, Scott Allen, former director of the Law of the Sea Institute.
Levi was born in Halberstadt, Germany, on March 23, 1912.
After the rise of Hitler, Levi fled Germany, going first to England and then coming with his wife, Ilse, to the United States and working in a furniture factory as he went to school.
A renowned expert on everything from Vietnam to Russian and Chinese Cold War policy, Levi wrote extensively on international politics, law and organization. His books include: "The Coming End of War," "International Law, International Politics," and "From Alms to Liberation."
In 1976, Levi sued UH over the constitutionality of the mandatory retirement age of 65. Although the Hawai'i Supreme Court ruled that the general state retirement age of 70 should apply to UH, Levi won damages but not a change in his own situation. However, it changed the future for other faculty members, and eventually the Legislature abolished mandatory retirement for state employees.
Levi chaired the UH-Manoa Faculty Senate during the difficult days of campus unrest during the Vietnam War, spoke out on U.S. foreign policy and advocated for a law school at UH. He also was staunch in his calls for state financial support to push UH into the top tier of state universities.
"The good reputation and quality of a state are closely
related to its educational system ... " Levi wrote in the Advertiser in 1973. "The economic and social future of Hawai'i's youth can be seriously affected by the quality of the university. Future manpower needs everywhere are for highly educated, trained, skilled individuals. Only a good university can produce them."
Levi is survived by a daughter, Antonia Levi, a professor and author at Portland State University in Oregon; son, Matthew Levi, a private detective in Honolulu; three granddaughters; a brother, Rudolf Levy; and nephews and nieces.
Borthwick Mortuary is handling arrangements. A private family service is pending.
Reach Beverly Creamer at email@example.com or 525-8013.