Honolulu Lite
Charles Memminger

Princess’s will
was mishandled

The seeming hysteria over the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling against Kamehameha Schools' Hawaiian-preference admission policy is really uncalled for. The 9th Circuit is the largest and most liberal federal appeals court in the country. It represents 11 Western states and has 20 judges. The Kamehameha ruling came from a three-judge panel, and only two of those judges ruled against Kamehameha. The schools have a choice of asking the three-judge panel to reconsider, which would be a waste of time. I doubt that the two judges who consider Kamehameha's admission policy race-based and therefore unconstitutional would suddenly wake up one morning and say, "Hey, you know, I'm thinking that Hawaiian school policy is OK after all!" I'm no lawyer, but I've spent enough time covering the courts to know Kamehameha can appeal to the 9th Circuit "en banc," a fancy French phrase that means "to the entire court." So all 20 judges will hear the case and, if history is any indication, likely will come out with a more liberal view.

It was the 9th Circuit, after all, that said the Pledge of Allegiance was unconstitutional because it makes reference to God. That was overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court, which is where the Kamehameha Schools case could end up. And by that time the Akaka Bill, giving Hawaiians some sort of tribal status, might be law. That could cast a completely different light on the admission policy of a school clearly set up to educate mainly Hawaiian children.

While the legal case wanders on, it might be a good time to figure out how Kamehameha Schools has become such a lightning rod for controversy.

Lilikala Kame'eleihiwa of the Center for Hawaiian Studies referred to the ruling as "white racism."

That might be fun to say, but it's not the truth. The fact is that Kamehameha Schools' many problems are the result of shoddy and corrupt management by previous Bishop Estate trustees, dereliction of duty by yearly court-appointed "masters," lackadaisical oversight by the state attorney general and a lack of involvement by the multibillion-dollar estate's beneficiaries: the Hawaiian community at large. As trendy as it might be to blame everything on white guys, they aren't responsible.

And in fact, this white guy tried to alert the community to many problems surrounding Kamehameha Schools 15 years ago, in investigative reports showing that the trustees were more interested in getting rich off of the sale of Bishop Estate land then educating Hawaiian children. I pointed out that despite being the richest school in the country, the students were not getting much educational bang for the bucks. And, in fact, only one out of seven Hawaiian kids who applied to the schools got in. That alone is a shameful indictment. All those screaming that white federal judges are trying to keep Hawaiian children from being educated should remember it was fat-cat Hawaiian trustees keeping Hawaiian children from their education.

And where was the Hawaiian community when the court-appointed masters simply glossed over the schools' problems every year? Where was the Center for Hawaiian Studies when the attorney general, the legal "parent" of all public trusts, refused to intervene against the trustees?

I know where some in the Hawaiian community were after my exposé came out. They were on the phone making late-night anonymous calls telling me to leave the island.

You have to wonder if this court case would even been here today if the trustees had put all their efforts into running a world-class educational institution for "indigent children, giving preference to Hawaiians" -- as the will of Princess Bernice Bishop spells out -- instead turning away 6 out of 7 Hawaiian kids from the schools and making themselves millionaires in the process.

Charles Memminger, the National Society of Newspaper Columnists' 2004 First Place Award winner for humor writing, appears Sundays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays. E-mail cmemminger@starbulletin.com

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