UH professor embroiled in controversy after criticizing Kamehameha Schools

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Controversy broke out as an audio recording emerged that reportedly showed UH physics professor John Learned criticizing Kamehameha Schools. The recording was posted on the Instagram page of ProtectMaunaKea.

According to a news release from the Mauna Kea Protectors at the University of Hawaii, the statements were made at a symposium on the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT). Reportedly, panel members — including Dr. Learned — were discussing why Hawaiians are underrepresented in the fields of physics and astronomy.

In the clip, a man alleged to be Professor Learned can be heard saying: “We know that the Kam schools are academically not successful.”

A woman in the audience responded saying, “That’s so untrue. I’m a graduate [of Kamehameha Schools] K-12, and now I’m a professor here. That is so ignorant.”

The man alleged to be Professor Learned replied, “I’ll tell you my example of why it’s not ignorant. My example is a student who is working on his masters and is a physics teacher at Kam schools. He told me that he had to graduate people in physics who couldn’t even read.”

The comments were denounced by ProtectMaunaKea as racist.

UH President David Lassner released an official statement yesterday in response to the Mauna Kea Protectors at UH shortly after:

The University of Hawaii’s core mission is education and the broadening of minds.  Bigotry is antithetical to that mission, and is condemned by the University. The statements of individuals cited do not represent the positions or views of the University of Hawaii or its leadership.

UH has clear policy that prohibits ‘any work related or workplace violence against its students, faculty, staff, visitors and contract employees which materially and substantially interferes with an individual’s work, academic performance, and/or workplace safety and/or otherwise subjectively and objectively creates a hostile environment.  Such prohibited violent acts may involve physical attack, property damage, as well as written or verbal statements or non-verbal gestures that, to a reasonable person, express or suggest the intent to cause physical or mental harm to another person.’

I have directed that the responsible officials at UH review the materials provided to assess appropriate next steps under applicable UH policies and procedures.  

At the time of the email exchange noted, I issued a message directly to the entire list that concluded: ‘It is my deepest hope that we can all find ways to learn from what is happening today to become a stronger community of learners, teachers and scholars. We donʻt all need to agree. But we all benefit when we commit to civility and respect for one another, especially those with whom we disagree.'”

In a new statement today, Lassner addressed Kamehameha Schools:

“The University of Hawaiʻi and I strongly denounce the hurtful and wholly inaccurate statements made regarding Kamehameha Schools. Kamehameha Schools is a trusted and valued partner to the University of Hawaiʻi in our shared mission of improving education across the entire state. Their dedicated work is deeply appreciated on every island and on every UH campus.  Kamehameha students are among the best in the state and enroll with great success across the UH System and at other great universities across the country.  UH welcomes every Kamehameha graduate who we are fortunate enough to bring into our campuses.  We apologize to the entire Kamehameha Schools ʻohana for the disparaging remarks of one faculty member who does not represent the positions or views of the University of Hawaiʻi or its leadership.”

According to the most recent data from the school-rating company Niche, Kamehameha’s Kapalama campus has an A- in academics.

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