View Point

By Haunani-Kay Trask

Friday, April 9, 1999

Hawaiian students deserve
free tuition at UH

THE issue of tuition waivers for Hawaiians to attend the University of Hawaii has been before the state Legislature, the UH Board of Regents and the general public for several months.

Both newspapers have taken qualified but supportive positions on the granting of waivers, while the regents have held public hearings on all UH campuses. The idea has received overwhelming support.

Now, however, the Legislature is poised to kill SB 456, SD 2, which mandates waivers because, legislators argue, there is no money available.

A secondary argument is that legislators cannot direct university policy since the institution is, allegedly, autonomous. Moreover, UH representatives have testified against waivers, claiming both poverty and autonomy.

What has been intentionally obscured throughout the public discussion, however, is the issue of justice and compensation to the native people.

UH is only partially autonomous from the state. For example, its regents are still appointed by the governor, UH receives more than $250 million from the state, and one of the regents is a right-hand man of the governor. In other words, UH is both financially and politically tied to the Democratic Party and the state apparatus, including the Legislature.

While the UH claims, along with some legislators, that there is no money for Hawaiian tuition waivers, Board of Regents policy mandates a waiver of non-resident tuition for up to 800 foreigners from the following countries: Burma, the People's Republic of China, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Taiwan, Thailand, Vietnam, Fiji and Papua New Guinea.

At a $6,480 discount per student, this means that UH is prepared to forgo more than $5 million in tuition revenues to attract foreign students.

When questioned by legislators about this, UH Student Affairs Vice President Doris Ching replied that Hawaii actually benefits from this policy, because students from these countries generate money for the local economy with their expenditures for food, housing and other necessities.

The answer is both illogical and disingenuous. It leads to the false conclusion that Hawaii would enjoy enormous economic benefits by opening the floodgates to foreign students with tuition discounts.

Just think, if 800 foreign students -- with cut-rate tuition costing UH $5 million -- are good for our economy, we should be able to solve the state's entire budgetary crisis by offering free tuition to all foreigners who wish to attend UH!

Of course, this is ludicrous and would be a recipe for bankrupting the state.

The real reason these foreign students receive tuition discounts is that the state and university wish to maintain a special relationship with their countries. But, in fact, there is only one group of people who, by law, have such a special relationship: Hawaiians.

Hawaiians are not only residents and citizens of Hawaii. They are the indigenous people. As such, Hawaiians have a special relationship with the state and federal governments that has been recognized by the Legislature and the federal courts through the establishment of various agencies, such as the Office of Hawaiian Affairs and the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands, as well as the nearly two dozen existing federal programs earmarked for Hawaiians.

In other words, Hawaiians occupy a special category of citizens. Because of their uniqueness as indigenous people, preferential programs for Hawaiians, such as UH tuition waivers, are based on political rather than racial classifications.

Tuition waivers partially fulfill the goal of a political relationship which include, according to the federal government, the promotion of self-sufficiency for the native people. On the basis of this relationship, UH should grant tuition waivers simply because education is one of the obligations owed to Hawaiians.

This obligation is made even more obvious when we consider that UH now uses several thousands of acres of public lands taken from the former kingdom of Hawaii. No compensation has ever been made to the Hawaiian people for these lands.

In fact, the benefit from these lands has occurred only to those who use them, such as the foreign counties that currently own telescopes atop Mauna Kea and which pay no revenues into the state's coffers for the use of Mauna Kea lands.

The justification in that case is that, in exchange for free use of the telescopes, the state forgoes rent. On this reasoning alone, Hawaiians should be granted tuition waivers since UH is sitting on illegally taken native lands.

In truth, UH uses and benefits from Hawaiian lands without any compensation to Hawaiians whatsoever. Thus, one argument for Hawaiian tuition waivers is for partial payment, long overdue, for the use of native lands.

Reparations is the term for this, an attempt to repair damage done to an injured party. In the case of Hawaiians, that damage was done at the overthrow and annexation, when Hawaiian lands were taken and sovereignty was extinguished.

Finally, the issue of UH tuition waivers is not an issue of money, although it has been framed that way by both the university's administration and Legislature. Rather, the issue is one of just compensation to the native people for theft of their lands.

If UH can waive tuition for foreign students, for the mascot, band and orchestra, and, of course, for the athletes, then why not for native students? Since no money changes hands for these existing categories of waivers, why must money change hands for Hawaiians?

Is it because free tuition for Hawaiians acknowledges and thus attempts to repair the wrong done at the overthrow -- a wrong that includes stolen native lands that UH now occupies? Is it because in this alleged paradise, there is continuing and unrecognized injustice against the native people of Hawaii?

Haunani-Kay Trask is a professor of Hawaiian studies
at the University of Hawaii-Manoa, and a current research fellow
funded by the Pacific Basin Research Center of the Kennedy
School of Government, Harvard University.

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