Hawaiian Music Muted at UH?
The fall semester of 2004 could be the last for University of Hawai'i at Mänoa's single course in slack key guitar. The popular class, taught by lecturer and renowned slack key artist Peter Medeiros, narrowly escaped the axe in April when Chancellor Peter Englert and University of Hawai'i President Evan Dobelle responded to a public protest of those and other cuts in Hawaiian cultural classes by providing an additional $100,000 to the UH Mänoa College of Arts and Sciences. The cash injection also saved two hula classes and a Hawaiian Choral Ensemble program. But the stay of execution could prove temporary. The administration could make no promises to provide further funding, according to Victoria Holt Takamine, one of two kumu hula at UH. That might mean curtains for a handful of popular classes and a marked reduction in Hawaiian cultural offerings
The official reason for the cuts is that UH has had to somehow absorb a 50 percent rise in student enrollment over the past five years with essentially the same budget from the Hawai'i State Legislature. That may be true. But the real reason that slack key and hula classes appear to be on the brink is more troubling. UH Mänoa simply hasn't made a real effort to keep it Hawaiian. Currently, in the music and dance departments, not a single scholar of hula, slack key, chant or any other indigenous Hawaiian performing art holds a tenured post or tenure track position. This is despite consistently full classes in the Hawaiian cultural disciplines, which illustrates both student interest and the economic viability of these offerings. "The status quo speaks volumes. I would think there would be a place for at least one tenure track position considering how many kids show up for my classes and want to learn Hawai'i's native art forms," says Holt Takamine.
In the schools' defense, Dean of Arts and Humanities Judith Hughes points out that many music and dance classes have been axed as a result of annual budget cuts to non-science portions of the university.
To be sure, President Dobelle has made Hawaiian studies and culture a priority for his administration. And Chancellor Englert won acclaim for support of Maori arts, culture and scholarly pursuits during his last gig as the head of Victoria University in Wellington, New Zealand.
Another problem are zealous tenured faculty members, protecting their own turf, who have forced the issue with the budget cuts. No tenure means no clout and no union backing. So classes with single-digit student enrollments in relatively obscure majors, when taught by tenured professors, are given priority over the Hawaiian cultural offering. In other cases, departments are unwilling to abandon classes in scantily populated majors because that could leave matriculating students high and dry. Regardless of who holds the most blame, the result will likely be the same; a flagship campus at Mänoa that is becoming less and less Hawaiian.