Porteus Hall to be Renamed

Steve Murray and Christi A. Young, "Ending the name game: Regents vote to drop name of Porteus Hall, "Ka Leo O Hawai'i (20 April, 1998).

The end of a 24-year-old fight came quietly Friday afternoon when the University of Hawai'i Board of Regents approved the motion to rename the controversial Porteus Hall the Social Sciences Building.

About 50 people were on hand as the motion flew through the BOR without discussion. The vote was 10-0 with two abstentions.

It was a uneventful moment in an extremely genial meeting. Even those abstaining were humorous about the situation. Regent John Hoag, who was on the board when the building was named after Dr. Stanley Porteus, said although he had reservations about the change, it was the politically correct thing to do.

"Like a kidney stone, we should let this pass," Hoag said.

Regent Lee Ohigashi cast the abstention, saying it would "devalue" the professor's name for the family.

The final end of the motion that began anew last semester in the Associated Students of the University of Hawai'i Senate meetings was a drastic contrast to the exuberant reactions to the BOR committee meeting Thursday afternoon.

Students yelled and hugged Thursday after the committee unanimously passed the motion. The exuberance spilled out into the Campus Center where students jumped up and down, embracing each other and celebrating their victory.

"What a great day for student government," said Mike Manu, ASUH vice-president and president of the native Hawaiian student organization Kalai Po.

"We face so much racism for being Hawaiian, so this is a huge hurdle for us," Manu said. "But this isn't just a good day for Hawaiians, it's a good day for all the races in Hawaii."

It was standing room only in Campus Center's room 220 as more than 100 students, staff, faculty and community members flooded into the BOR's Committee on Physical Facilities and Planning meeting.

It was a room highly charged with expectation and enthusiasm, and students greeted every word in favor of the change with applause, beginning with the testimony of the Interim Senior Vice-President Dean Smith.

Smith recommended to the committee that the building be renamed after he read the ad hoc committee recommendation and some of Porteus' work.

"Porteus' work has not stood the test of time," Smith said. "Do I consider Porteus a racist? Not necessarily, he worked in his time and his work reflects that time."

ASUH President C. Mamo Kim brought in a petition signed by 200 students for the name change. This was added to the 2,000 names she already gave to UH President Kenneth Mortimer.

Regent Stanley Roehrig said that he was going to vote in favor of changing the name of Porteus Hall. He said this was s difficult decision since he grew up going to school and playing with Porteus' children. To consider him a racist was not easy, he said.

Hoag's concerns were about precedence. The BOR must be aware that they will be overruling the work of a previous board, he said, which was not racist as many have claimed.

Hoag also said that the vote could open the door for the possible renaming of building such as Thomas Jefferson and Kennedy theater.

"I am deeply concerned over the precedent the board will establish when we try to establish a person's character 50 years after his career has concluded.... I pray we will do the right thing," Hoag said.

[Winward Community College's Ka Ohana editor in chief, Jason Serikaku, also contributed to this story].

Murray, Steve and Christi A. Young, "Ending the name game: Regents vote to drop name of Porteus Hall." Ka Leo O Hawai'i 20 April 1998.