In October 2003 the Political Science Department at the University of Hawai'i, Manoa circulated a notice that it would be making a decision whether to grant tenure to Assistant Professor Noenoe Silva. To help make that decision the department requested input about her performance. The department probably expected that its request for input would be pro-forma and ignored by everyone except students and professors who wanted to send in favorable, glowing comments to support a friend and colleague. Internal academic politics is still an "old boy network," even when some of the "old boys" are middle-aged or young-adult "girls."
A decision to grant tenure is very important in the academic community. It is comparable to the confirmation of a federal judge, because it grants permanent, lifetime employment to a professor. As with Congressional confirmation of a judicial nomination, a faculty's decision to support a tenure nomination is based on the prior job performance of the nominee and reasonable expectations of future performance. An academic tenure decision is also based on larger issues such as the scholarly direction or emphasis a department wants to pursue, and the need for a balance of viewpoints on both substance and research methodology.
Following is Ken Conklin's response to the Political Science Department, submitted on October 15, 2003. Although this letter focuses on the teaching, research, and community service of the particluar individual who is up for tenure, it also raises more general questions about the Political Science Department itself, how it defines its mission, and what sort of scholarly record should be expected of someone seeking to join the ranks of the permanent faculty.
This letter was also published in the on-line newspaper "Hawaii Reporter" at:
Professor Manfred Henningsen
Department of Political Science
University of Hawai'i, Manoa
Aloha Professor Manfred Henningsen,
I understand that the Political Science Department is seeking input by October 21 from scholars and community members regarding the department's forthcoming decision whether to grant tenure to Professor Noenoe Silva.
My own qualifications as a scholar and community activist are described at the end.
I suggest that Professor Silva probably lacks the qualifications to become a tenured professor of Political Science. Specific reasons follow. But first, let me offer a general metaphor for a way of looking at Professor Silva's current, and probable future, role in your department.
Consider the cuckoo bird. It is famous for laying its eggs one by one in different nests of other birds. Whenever possible the cuckoo bird will go to the temporarily unattended nests where it laid its own egg and push some or all of the rightful eggs out of the nests so the cuckoo egg gets more attention than it otherwise would. When the egg hatches, the birds who laid the rightful eggs end up feeding the cuckoo chick who has usurped the place of the rightful chicks.
I suggest that the Center for Hawaiian Studies has laid an egg in the Political Science Department, as it has also done in other departments. See:
Noenoe Silva views herself as primarily a community activist on Hawaiian Sovereignty, whose natural home would be the Center for Hawaiian Studies. She is taking a faculty position in Political Science that would better go to a genuine scholar of Political Science; and she is using the security of that position to devote her scholarly work, community service, and teaching to topics far removed from what Political Science departments generally do.
That raises a topic for a brief digression. Does the UH Political Science Department have a core or center, or is it merely a collection of individual fiefdoms? And, indeed, does the core faculty of the department believe there is a core of scholarly knowledge and techniques which comprise an academic discipline known as "political science," which all tenured faculty should know and be capable of teaching? Or is the field of "political science" merely a collection of specialists in widely diverse fields with no common core other than leftist political sentiment -- fields such as feminism or womens' studies, future studies, ethnic identity affirmation, and now Hawaiian nationalism? Perhaps this tenure decision can serve as a vehicle for the department to decide whether it has an identity, and if so how that identity is defined. It is also an opportunity to decide whether to seek a balance among contending intellectual and political viewpoints, or whether to further strengthen an unchallenged leftist dogmatism.
This semester, I note that the course-listing for Political Science shows Professor Silva teaching only two sections of "indigenous politics." Is that a course generally taught in departments of Political Science? Wouldn't such a course be better taught in the Center for Hawaiian Studies? Does Professor Silva have expertise, and substantial course content, about indigenous groups other than Native Hawaiians? Would Professor Silva be able to teach undergraduate and graduate courses in Political Science other than those that have a focus on ethnic Hawaiian or "indigenous" issues?
Has Professor Silva published articles or books about any topics of general interest to the field of Political Science? Or have all her publications been devoted to translating Hawaiian language documents, and describing the native resistance to annexation?
Also, in her research and publications on native resistance to annexation, does she provide scholarly analysis of the events of the 1890s from the perspective of the field of Political Science, using analytic techniques and arguments generally recognized in the field of Political Science and generally applicable to the analysis of topics other than (in addition to) the Hawaiian native resistance?
Has Professor Silva ever published articles or participated in panel discussions, in which she was required to respond to scholarly or political opponents? Has anyone at the University of Hawai'i ever said one sentence questioning any of her polemical diatribes or challenging any of her "scholarly" views? I know from personal experience that she seems unable even to tolerate the presence in the crowd of someone opposed to her views. At a sovereignty rally in Thomas Square for the revived Kingdom holiday "Ka La Ho'iho'i Ea" commemorating the return of sovereignty to King Kauikeaouli Kamehameha III on July 31, 1893, she gave a short speech and very nearly broke into tears as she pointed to me sitting on the ground 20 feet away and told the assembled crowd that such an enemy of Hawaiian sovereignty was being rude to even attend such an event in a public park. How dare someone like Conklin show his face! There's nothing wrong with a professor having strong views and expressing them strongly in public. What's wrong is when a professor tolerates no opposition, seems emotionally incapable of handling opposition, and, indeed, is so "politically correct" that she appears never to generate any opposition.
The one topic for which Professor Silva claims to have made a significant "discovery" and contribution to public dialogue was her bringing to public attention in 1997-98 the anti-annexation petitions of 1897 containing 21,000+ signatures. However, this was a public relations and propaganda coup rather than a scholarly discovery. Only superficial inquiry was necessary for me to verify that the existence of those petitions was well-known prior to her "discovery" of them. She and her supporters often claim that dominant-culture historians have suppressed historical knowledge and have "kept our history from us." But I easily found the following evidence that the petitions were widely known, including being long known in the small group of sovereignty activists with whom she habitually associates.
"The petitions were mentioned in the Native Hawaiian Study Commission's Minority report in 1983. A concerted effort was made to retrieve them as legal evidence for Ka Ho'okolokolonui Kanaka Maoli, The Peoples' International Tribunal convened by Dr. Kekuni Blaisdell in 1993. The U.S. National Archives was contacted and responded that no search would begin without a record group (catalog) number. Nevertheless, the petitions became part of the Tribunal records in the testimony of several Kanaka Maoli speakers. In 1996, a page of the petition, along with its record group number, was reproduced in a U.S. National Archives exhibit booklet titled Ties That Bind: Communities in American History, by Lisa B. Auel."
Incidentally, from my own experience, I know that it is not necessary to have a "record group number" or catalogue number to persuade the National Archives to find something. I was easily able to correspond by e-mail with a staff archivist regarding the Hawai'i Statehood petition of 1954 containing 120,000 signatures, and the archivist found the huge roll of petitions and sent me photographs of it; all based on my giving him the approximate date when the petition was delivered to Congress, the topic of the petition, and the approximate number of signatures.
Even the popular media were well aware of the existence of the petitions. The Aloha Airlines in-flight magazine of May, 1994 includes a lengthy article "The Overthrow of the Monarchy" by Pat Pitzer, containing the following two sentences (which incorrectly place the number of signatures at 29,000): "Hawaiians submitted a petition to Congress with 29,000 signatures opposing annexation, and petitions to the Republic of Hawai`i, asking that annexation be put to a public vote." See
Throughout the period from 1997 to now, Hawaiian sovereignty activists repeatedly say "there were 38,000 signatures [some even say 40,000] on a petition opposing annexation, representing 95% of all Native Hawaiians then living" and Professor Silva never corrects them. She knows the truth, but does not accept a scholar's responsibility to correct the public record. In the same way, she continues to perpetuate the pernicious falsehood that Hawaiian language was made illegal in 1896 by the Republic of Hawai'i, and remained illegal until recent times. For example, see her demagogic published article at
and my reply at
and my extensive scholarly analysis of this issue (including descriptions of research on the history of Hawaiian language contained in two books published by UH scholars several decades apart) at
In conclusion, I have presented evidence of Professor Silva's lack of qualifications for tenure on all three dimensions of teaching, research, and service; and her lack of academic fit for a permanent position in a department of Political Science. Her teaching seems limited to topics more appropriate to the Center for Hawaiian Studies and it appears she is not trusted to teach more generalized courses in the fundamentals of Political Science at the undergraduate or graduate levels. Her research and publication seems limited to Hawaiian sovereignty, native resistance to annexation, and translation of Hawaiian language documents. Her main claim to fame in community service was the propaganda coup of bringing the anti-annexation petitions to the awareness of the public in 1997; but that was not a scholarly discovery since the existence of those petitions was well known before she "discovered" them; and furthermore she has encouraged (through her acquiescence) the popularization of false stories about how many signatures were on the petitions, and about the Hawaiian language being made "illegal." If the Center for Hawaiian Studies wants to offer her a position, perhaps she can go there. But her work and her demeanor are not suitable for a position as a tenured faculty member in the Political Science department.
Kenneth R. Conklin, Ph.D.
[address and phone number redacted for website]
Ken Conklin's personal note regarding his qualifications as a scholar and community activist:
My own Ph.D. is from the University of Illinois, in Philosophy. During my academic career I published approximately 45 articles in scholarly journals; held positions as Assistant Professor at Oakland University (a branch of Michigan State), and Emory University; and for three years served at the rank of Associate Professor of Philosophical and Historical Foundations of Education at Boston University. The foregoing can be verified by documents on file at Windward Community College where I taught in Fall 2002. Thus, I have credentials as a scholar and experience in academia, including advising doctoral candidates and helping select new faculty. Since coming to Hawai'i in 1992 I have studied Hawaiian history, culture, and language. I have published numerous articles in the newspapers and served as expert panelist on Hawaiian sovereignty in various radio and television programs, often in a setting where I was debating adversaries. I also was a candidate for Office of Hawaiian Affairs trustee in year 2000, placing fourth out of twenty candidates in a contest for one seat on the board. In Fall 2002 I was invited, and did teach, a non-credit course on Hawaiian sovereignty for the Outreach College Center for Lifelong Learning. Thus, I have informal but community-recognized credentials on issues related to Hawaiian sovereignty and the political issues that concern Hawai'i.
P.S.: Perhaps the Political Science department would be well served by having a rotating position for adjunct professors who could teach occasional courses related to Hawaiian ethnic nationalism and racial separatism. I would be happy to teach such a course. While professors of political science on the left of the political spectrum like to lecture on "identity politics" as being a good thing, I would bring to your students an alternative perspective that it is a source of balkanization that portends evil for the future of our nation (as demonstrated in the support for MEChA by California Lieutenant Governor Cruz Bustamante in August). Please see my website for both scholarly and polemical articles that would be appropriate to such a course.
especially the "legal" section
and the section on the Akaka bill
Additional note for this webpage posted by Ken Conklin:
The University of Hawai'i maintains a webpage where all openings are listed for faculty/staff positions.
It is interesting that on December 10, 2003 a job vacancy was posted for the Political Science Department at the level of Assistant Professor. The job description seems obviously tailored to the special qualifications of Noenoe Silva, perhaps in hopes that only she would be able to meet the requirements (much as a dishonest corporate or government purchasing agent might consult with a favored vendor, before putting a contract out to bid, and write the purchase specifications in such a way that only the favored contractor will be able to meet the specifications). The full job description is listed below.
Here are the special job requirements that seem tailored to Noenoe Silva: Ph.D. in Political Science or related field with a research specialization in indigenous politics ... Demonstrated ability to teach and conduct research on indigenous politics. Desirable qualifications: Applicant should be theoretically oriented as well as have a substantive focus in indigenous peoples of the Pacific ... Ability to supplement this specialization with a focus on international relations ... international law, ... feminist and/or queer theory, ... or a subdiscipline in a related field ... Candidate should have ability and interest in shaping new indigenous politics program unique in the U.S.
The Political Science Department is clearly trying to establish a full-time position for a Hawaiian sovereignty activist who has expertise on "indigenous" politics (i.e., ethnic Hawaiian sovereignty politics), international relations (such as the treaties between the U.S. and the Kingdom of Hawai'i), "international law" (such as the bogus hearing set up by Keanu Sai at an arbitral tribunal at the Hague), and the Political Science Department would consider it to be a "plus" for the candidate to be homosexual or lesbian (as Noenoe Silva is) although this particular issue seems totally irrelevant to the rest of the qualifications. It may be that the department felt it needed to formally advertise the position in order to meet legal requirements for hiring of faculty members. Perhaps advertising needs to be done as a formality prior to granting tenure to Noenoe Silva, or else as a way of keeping her on the faculty in case the university has budget cutbacks that would eliminate an open but not-yet-filled tenure slot in this department.
Here is the entire job announcement:
Assistant Professor, position number 84109, UHM College of Social Sciences, (Manoa), tenure track, Department of Political Science, University of Hawai'i at Manoa, full-time, 9-month, to begin August 1, 2004, and is contingent on position clearance and funding. Duties: Teach graduate and undergraduate courses in indigenous politics; conduct and publish research; share in advising; contribute to departmental, college and community life and to the development of the indigenous politics concentration. Minimum qualifications: Ph.D. in Political Science or related field with a research specialization in indigenous politics (ABD with degree in hand by August 1, 2004, considered). Demonstrated ability to teach and conduct research on indigenous politics. Desirable qualifications: Applicant should be theoretically oriented as well as have a substantive focus in indigenous peoples of the Pacific, Australia, Asia, the Americas, Africa or Europe, but not limited to these. Ability to supplement this specialization with a focus on international relations, international political economy, international law, comparative politics, feminist and/or queer theory, futures studies, or a subdiscipline in a related field (i.e., social anthropology, political geography, or others) is desired. Candidate should have ability and interest in shaping new indigenous politics program unique in the U.S. Selected candidate should be committed to innovative educational strategies and work with students with diverse backgrounds and experiences. The College is committed to excellence in scholarship and favors candidates who are collegial and attentive to issues of race, gender and diversity. Pay range: Salary commensurate with qualifications and experience. To apply: Send a dossier that includes a curriculum vita, a writing sample, and at least three letters of reference to Jonathan Goldberg-Hiller, Chair, Political Science Department, 640 Saunders Hall, University of Hawai'i at Manoa, Honolulu, HI 96822 Application address: Jonathan Goldberg-Hiller, Chair, University of Hawaii, Political Science Department, 2424 Maile Way, Saunders Hall 640, Honolulu, HI 96822 Inquiries: Jonathan Goldberg-Hiller, Chair 808-956-7536 email@example.com Date posted: Dec-10-2003 Continuous recruitment Review of applications will begin on Jan-15-2004 and will continue until the position is filled
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University of Hawai'i and Hawaiian Sovereignty -- A Case Study in Political Correctness Run Amok
University of Hawai'i and Hawaiian Sovereignty -- A Case Study in Political Correctness Run Amok
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