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Faculty Op-Ed: Political Inaction No Longer a Luxury

By Karla Hayashi

Political activism was probably not the reason why most of us earned our degrees and found our place here at one of the University of Hawai‘i campuses. We got here initially because of our passion for our academic discipline, desire to share that passion with students in the classroom, and opportunities to engage in research and other professional activities which we believed would benefit our students, campuses, community, and profession. Now more than ever, however, we also need to become politically engaged and active.

Most of us have been fortunate to carry out our work with relatively little disruption or chaos as a result of thoughtful and strategic decisions by UHPA’s Executive Director and Executive staff members. Yet now more than ever, political activism is required of us. Each new legislative session brings bills that can negatively impact our students who we work to educate, inform, and inspire to be and do better than when they first arrived on our respective campuses.

Some legislation has been in response to questionable decisions or actions by UH administrators. The impact of that legislation, however, can threaten the students and work we carry out in our individual classes and which could take years or decades to recover from, if ever. Recently deferred House Bill 555 is an example of this kind of legislation which, if passed, would have gutted the Languages and Literature of Europe and Americas department, among others. Eliminating so many language programs in one fell swoop would threaten the ability of many undergraduate students to obtain the required one or two languages needed to pursue graduate degrees. That bill, if passed and signed into law, might have reduced some of the financial challenges UH is facing, but at what long term cost to the undergraduate education of our students who choose to remain in-state for their higher education? What did they do to deserve this kind of legislation? Thankfully HB 555 was met by an organized group of students and educators who saw the danger of this bill and who moved in a coordinated way to voice their objections. HB 555 was deferred and hopefully is unlikely to be resuscitated this session.

The threat of legislation like HB 555, however, does not disappear at the end of this legislative session.

Bills like HB 555 and others are why it is vital now, more perhaps than ever, that we all become politically active in some way. This political activism can take many forms.

You can be politically active and engaged by regularly checking UHPA’s Legislative Action Center. This new feature on UHPA’s website identifies and summarizes the bills UHPA is tracking and can educate members about various issues we may not always be aware of within the isolation of our individual department and campus units.

You can also take a few minutes to contact your legislative representatives to let them know your thoughts about bills they introduced or which they may eventually vote on by submitting testimony.

You can consult with UHPA Executive staff to find out how you and other members can organize and carry out actions that help legislators and elected officials understand what we think about their efforts to address the numerous challenges facing the university. They need to hear our voices and be educated about how their legislation will impact our ability to educate students who we all hope will become engaged citizens making thoughtful evidence based decisions which will impact our community as well as future students who attend the University of Hawai‘i long after we leave our posts.

Sitting quietly on the side assuming someone else will do something or deliberately choosing not to engage in political discourse is no longer a luxury we have. Our students, their future, and our ability to educate them objectively and thoughtfully depends on your political activism.