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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Saturday, February 19, 2005

UH takes heat over visit by professor

By Beverly Creamer
Advertiser Education Writer

Calling statements by Colorado professor Ward Churchill "offensive, wildly inaccurate and remarkably hurtful" to those who lost loved ones on 9/11, University of Hawai'i Interim President David McClain nevertheless defends his freedom to speak.

Ward Churchill

Churchill has been invited by university and community groups to speak on campus next week as part of a symposium on civil liberties.

"This is hardly the first time I've disagreed with the sentiments of those who have spoken at our university, and it will not be the last," McClain said in a written statement. "Freedom of inquiry and of expression are what universities are all about, and freedom of speech is a cornerstone of our democracy."

Churchill has been lambasted for an essay that likened those killed at the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001, to "little Eichmanns." Nazi Adolf Eichmann organized the slaughter of European Jews during World War II.

Although the university is not a sponsor of Churchill's talk, set for 7 p.m. Tuesday in the UH Art Auditorium, some university money could end up being used to bring him here, said sponsor Robert Perkinson, assistant professor of American Studies.

"We're not going to pretend that we're going to have such great accounting that not one penny of taxpayer money will go to Ward Churchill," Perkinson said. "But it's mostly private money and private faculty money."

Most is being collected from voluntary contributions throughout campus. "Some departments have calabashes out," said Ruth Hsu, a professor of English and one of the organizers.

Churchill is not receiving a fee, Hsu said, but is appearing for expenses alone.

The total cost is expected to be $1,500 to $3,000, including any security costs, Perkinson said. But he said he isn't yet sure if money requested from the Student Equity, Excellence and Diversity office will be used. A request has gone in, but Perkinson doesn't know if it has been officially approved.

The UH system receives $100,000 annually for diversity funding through the SEED office, headed by director Amy Agbayani, and she says some previous money left unused for another project was diverted to this effort.

"There's a pool of money for diversity, and people make requests for it," Agbayani said. "Every month, people can apply for it. We just staff the committee, and the committee selects from diversity initiatives."

Agbayani said the money, provided from state general funds, is available to those throughout the UH system for a wide range of projects.

Requests generally are in the $500-to-$1,000 range and often help bring speakers to campus.

Meanwhile, at the Legislature, Senate Minority Leader Fred Hemmings, R-25th (Kailua, Waimanalo, Hawai'i Kai), took to the floor yesterday to condemn Churchill as "a very evil person."

"This jeopardizes the reputation and the wisdom of the University of Hawai'i," Hemmings said.

Hemmings said he sent a letter to McClain asking that Churchill not be given the opportunity to speak at the university.

Hsu said the groups involved are not supporting the content of Churchill's speeches and writings, but are interested in First Amendment freedom of speech, especially as it relates to academic freedom on college campuses.

"We wanted to bring Churchill out here to give him a chance to explain some of his remarks," she said.

"The faculty got questions from the students and the students aren't really sure what to make of it. They don't really understand what some of the issues are.

"When the governor of Colorado called for the Board of Regents to fire him, then the board started this 30-day investigation. It's one thing yelling at somebody for his opinions and quite another to say you need to fire him and have the governing body open up an investigation. So we thought this is clearly a free-speech issue.

"But we also want to be sure we go about this in a way that stresses how important it is to bring different perspectives and points of view to debating an issue."

David Stannard, a UH professor of American Studies and another of the organizers, said: "If we invited a right-wing political commentator like Bill O'Reilly, we'd defend him the same way we defend Churchill.

"You don't have to agree with what someone says, but the idea of shutting him down, that becomes problematic. Who's next?"

Almost a dozen groups sponsored the speech, including the university's American Studies program, the Center for Pacific Island Studies, the College of Social Sciences Public Policy Center, the Diversity and Equity Initiative, and Student Equity Excellence and Diversity.

Derrick DePledge contributed to this report. Reach Beverly Creamer at bcreamer@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-8013.