ON May 14, 1975, Gov. George R. Ariyoshi signed a bill making the East-West Center a corporation independent of the University of Hawaii. It was placed instead under a board of governors designed to make it more clearly a U.S. national organization of international stature for technical and cultural interchange in the Asia-Pacific region.
Ariyoshi: Keep E-W Center independent
Five of its board of governors would be appointed by the State Department, its channel for federal funds, and five more by the governor of Hawaii. These 10 would then choose five international members to assure it would not be simply a propaganda arm of the State Department.
Today Ariyoshi is in a new role - ex-governor of Hawaii but the current chairman of the East-West Center governors.
And he is ready for a fight. He says he will strongly oppose the recommendation of Gov. Benjamin Cayetano's Economic Revitalization Task Force to put the center back under UH governance to assure its "continuance and growth."
The center's prestige as a national institution will be "destroyed" if that should happen, he says. Hawaii's senior U.S. senator, Daniel Inouye, shares his belief and will work with him against any change, he told me this week. Inouye, too, supported the 1975 transition.
Inouye has been key in the fight to keep federal funds flowing to the center in spite of budget austerity.
They both want to see the center re-oriented, Ariyoshi says, to have it reach deeper into the Asia-Pacific community and to make more use of its 43,000 alumni, who are spread throughout the community.
When he talked about "the community" I had to get him to clarify that he was talking about this whole Asia-Pacific half of the world, not just Hawaii.
He is in a hurry. He is impatient that a new president of the center has not been named to succeed Kenji Sumida, whom he nudged into retiring. He wants his ideas executed in time so he and Inouye can go back to Congress in a year or two and show concrete results justifying the center's independent continuation.
What would he do differently? First, more involvement of alumni. He sees them in his private business travels, finds many of them in important positions in their countries, and knows they have a deep aloha for the center.
Second, less concentration of activity at Manoa. He looked across his desk and told me that if I were an Asian scholar or researcher he could approach me in two different ways.
One would be to say, "I have this project. Will you sign on?" And I probably would say yes. The other would be to say: "We have this problem, will you help us solve it?"
The first approach would keep control in Manoa. The second would farm it out, though still with international coordination through the center. There would be fewer full-time researchers at Manoa, more scholars and leaders throughout the community working on contract for the center.
THIRD, he would give foreign governments more voice in determining what their students at EWC should study at the University of Hawaii.
He wants the center to further improve its visibility as a solid source of research information on Asia-Pacific communications, population, resource mangement, environment and Pacific Islands development.
Today the center supplements its federal appropriation with between $7-8 million a year in private grants. He wants that boosted to at least equal the $12 million federal appropriation and thinks it can be done.
The changes he suggests, he says, will give him and Inouye the ammunition to persuade both Congress and a skeptical White House staff that the East-West Center is becoming an even more important U.S. lighthouse in "the community."