Saturday, November 13, 2010

Conference Comments from Cluny Macpherson

The Conference was a productive and well- organised one. It highlighted and celebrated the connections which now connect the various Pacific Studies programmes that have sprung up around Oceania. It demonstrated the influence that one institution, CPIS, has had in shaping over time what is now understood as Pacific Studies. The conference programme was, quite understandably, focused around tracing the contributions of and connections between CPIS alumni who now lead innovative Pacific Studies programmes in the US, Australia, New Zealand and Japan.
As the lateral and horizontal links between the CPIS alumni who now lead Pacific Studies programmes in the region were outlined, the connections came to resemble a spider web in which a centre is connected to an ever expanding set of connecting threads which both strengthen the structure and make it an extremely efficient ‘machine’. In fact, as the programme unfolded, it reminded me of the influence which the Fiji School of Medicine once had in the Pacific as its graduates and alumni networks came to link first medical systems and, later, political systems in the throughout the Pacific
Some of the most valuable lessons for me focused on the ways in which those who manage these programmes have addressed various pedagogical, institutional and resourcing challenges generated by the external economic, political, institutional, demographic and sociocultural constraints under which the programmes operate. How, for instance, does one start a programme when one has first to convince colleagues, and a sceptical public, that there is a need or place for such a programme? How does one use social networking technologies to connect with a new student body which looks for new strategies for engaging with the academy? How does one deal with unprecedented growth in demand and stable resources? How does one recruit and retain in Pacific Studies students from non-traditional educational backgrounds and with no history of engagement with the academy? How does one person fill the roles of two ‘giants’ and integrate two programmes which were set up in different ways by two very different people to achieve somewhat different ends? How does one design a programme for people whose conception of the Pacific is generated by quite different spatial and cultural conceptions of the region? These and many other questions were addressed.
This, in itself, was valuable for those in Pacific Studies programmes which face similar constraints, and could learn how others had addressed and managed these challenges. My respect for the people who spelled out one creative solution after another to these challenges, and for the institution which had prepared them for this work, grew as the conference proceeded. The student presentations provided examples of the commitment and enthusiasm which a new generation of CPIS alumni bring to Pacific Studies and will take into their professional lives in and beyond the academy.
So, the conference outlined and celebrated CPIS’ role in the creation of a vital network which is having a marked impact on the ways in which ‘Pacific Studies’ are currently defined and taught in Oceania. But for me it also raised questions about the consequences of the extremely efficient replication of a particular way of thinking and studying the Pacific. It correctly addressed and celebrated what is good about what he have but, the conference was also an opportunity for reflecting on the consequences of creating such an efficient incubator.
It would in my view have been valuable to have another session, or sessions, in which other ways of thinking about and studying other ways of envisaging ‘Pacific Studies’ and ways of defining and addressing these challenges. Beyond the ‘Pacific Studies’ outlined by the speakers are other types of ‘studies in the Pacific’ which are as important to, and in some ways offer more for, the people of the Pacific.
Beyond the creative interdisciplinarity outlined by the speakers, which involved for the most part a relatively small range of humanities and social sciences, are other forms of interdisciplinarity which are required to address some of the most significant issues faced by the region.
On reflection, it occurs to me that the discussion had little to say about a set of problems which impact on the lives Pacific citizens daily and the ‘Pacific studies’ which are necessary to address these. Some public health issues, for instance, which currently make Pacific social indicators some of the worst in the world, require quite different kinds of inter-disciplinary projects. To understand, for instance, why health goals in the UN Millennium Development Goals are not being met is crucial: it impacts on and stunts the opportunities of large numbers women and youth throughout the Pacific.
Identifying and understanding these issues requires different of forms inter-disciplinary collaboration which may involve public health physicians, demographers, statisticians, economists, ethnobotanists, and public policy specialists. It also requires recognition of the fact that our definitions of ‘Pacific Studies’ may prevent us from seeing this other set of issues and from seeing the possibilities of recruiting and working with a much wider range of disciplines.
I am not suggesting that these are ‘better’ ways of studying the Pacific. The definitions of the core of ‘Pacific Studies’ outlined in the conference are the consequences of the necessity of focussing on what we can do with the resources which we have available and under constraints imposed by the institutions in which we work. But these other issues are crucial ones which have a huge impact on the lives of Pacific people. These problems’ very social and human significance make them as important as the challenges of delivering courses to relatively privileged Pacific people in metropolitan centres whose problems focus on finding ways to relate to their personal history.
I enjoyed the programme, but it would, in my view, have been valuable to have run some sessions in which these other ‘studies of the Pacific’ and the sorts of inter-disciplinarity which might be required to address these were discussed, if only to remind ourselves of the consequences of doing things in the ways that we do.
Cluny Macpherson

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Reflections on Celebrating Connections

In a nod to April Henderson and in a round-about way of exploring what one does with a degree in Pacific Islands Studies, I will tell you what my Monday looked like - today. Get up at 4:30 a.m. to prepare for work, teaching 4th grade in a public school in Kona, on the Big Island of Hawaii. At 5:30, I do some grading, as I was (and still am) behind, having spent the weekend at this CPIS conference not grading one single paper. Leave home at 6:00, arrive at 6:30. When I get to work, check emails and send some out. I had given myself a couple of reminders to send out reminder emails to HSTA (Hawaii State Teachers Association) school leaders, as I am the Kona Chapter President, and the disseminator of much information. Prepare weekly progress reports, plan and set up the room for the day’s lessons. From 8:00 to 2:00, teaching to a diverse group of students including English language Learners: 4 Marshallese, 2 Filipinos, 1 Kosraean, 1 Russian, 1 Mexican, 1 Samoan, 1 Thai in one class and 2 Marshallese, 3 Kosraens 3 Samoans, 3 Filipinos, 2 Puerto Ricans in another class. Among the non-ELL students are several part-Hawaiians, a few haoles, a few mixed plate locals. When I look around at the faces of the children in my class, I revel in the diversity. There are challenges, in the world of No Child Left Behind, the federal law that has resulted in schools chasing test scores, we are considered a “restructured school.” I’ll spare you the gory details, but it is not a pretty picture, and I spend a lot of my “spare” time reading and writing about nonsensical education reform mandates and the pressures and fallacies of high-stakes testing. To stay sane, I focus on the students and how I can take them from where they are to the next level. I teach math and science mostly, but I have a passion for social studies and I try to squeeze that in too, especially as it relates to being a good citizen. After the students leave, I keep working: grading, planning, organizing, collaborating with colleagues. Checking emails, I see that I have minutes to check as a member of the vestry (like a board) of my church. I leave early today, exhausted at 5:00. At home, I have dinner and set myself up for more grading, but decide that I should do this blog first.

In my Monday, I hope you see that I am a hard-working teacher, a union activist and leader, active in my church. What isn’t revealed is that I am also a writer, not real prolific, but it is a thread that continues to run through my life. What does this have to do with my degree in Pacific Islands Studies? When Vince talked about the shadow side of the conference, I thought he may be talking about the likes of me. I am the shadow side, not because I am a dark person, but because I had (past tense) a feeling of not advancing, as some of the super stars of the field had, all these brilliant young scholars. I was a schoolteacher before the program, and I went back to teaching after the program. The conversation about what you do with the degree was the most relevant in the conference to my life, different comments resonating and repelling. At first, I knew I wasn’t going to contribute because I didn’t want to reveal that there ain’t much you can do with it. But as the conversation ensued, I found myself changing my mind, I would have spoken had there been more time. I would have agreed with Ebil who said, “It’s not what you do, it’s how you do what you do whatever you do.” I would have disagreed with Teresia and her call for the program to be more deliberate in preparing students for careers. I know I made choices to be where I am. I had started a Ph.D. program in Political Science. Attending those classes, I did not feel I belonged, so I dropped out. At first, going back to teaching was just to have a job. But I wouldn’t have stayed if I was repelled by it, as I was in the Political Studies doctorate. It took a while in my journey teaching, but I now know I am where I am by choice.

Still, what does it have to do with Pacific Islands Studies? When I left teaching to get a Masters, I did not want to get a Masters in Education. I wanted to grow as a person, exploring topics that I was interested in, that I was passionate about. I wanted to have exciting conversations, read stimulating books and articles, write essays and papers, do research. Not that I wouldn’t have had the same experience in the college of education, but I thought I had left education at the time. Being where I am now - an elementary school teacher-union activist-public education advocate- playwright-letter writer-blogger- envronmentalist- progressive Christian - definitely built upon my experiences in the Pacific Islands Studies master’s program. I was given wonderful opportunities that I can look back on with pride: editing the film guide, writing a review for Albert Wendt’s Ola for TCP, speaking at a conference in Maui. (Thanks to Bib Kiste, the best boss ever!) I wrote a few plays during that time and one of my papers was published in Mana. Professors, especially Terence, were supportive of my intellectual growth, they challenged my thinking, introduced me to provocative ideas.

I think there is a lot to be said for being supportive. I was a single mom raising a daughter who was in second grade at the time. CPIS was my support system. It was a great job and there were people who cared about my life and my success in the program. So what does that have to do with life after CPIS? Being a big-picture thinker, a writer, an analyzer, a questioner, an integrater, an advocate, a leader, may not have started with CPIS (ask my best friend from high school), but it was definitely strengthened. In the end, I think it is a good idea to have students consider what their options could be with the degree as Teresia advised. But know there is the possibility that you just never know, that having personal, interpersonal and intellectual skills will carry you far forward, not just in a career, but in living a well-informed life of passion, advocacy, and service.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Comment by Dr Jon Tikivanotau M. Jonassen

A comment about, “Employment and career possibilities for Pacific studies graduates.” I am conscious that I am not a recruiting officer, nor am I a representative of an institution currently in search of a Pacific studies graduate to hire. My remarks are merely a humble attempt to contribute to this discourse and to demonstrate by personal experience, that a graduate of Pacific Islands’ studies is just as good as a graduate of any other major. They have just as much potential to contribute to society and communities. And have just as much opportunity to pursue a variety of career options.  At the end of the day, it is the person’s personal attributes and ambitions, not the degree that really makes the difference. Some revealing overview:

Firstly, in general no major or degree guarantees’ you a job.
Secondly, many if not most people who acquire especially an undergraduate degree, at some point end up working in an area outside of their major.
Thirdly, the general comprehensive approach of Pacific studies that crosses many disciplines, gives a Pacific studies graduate a great and unique knowledge base.
I would even assert that if a person intends to live or work in a Pacific based, interested, or related, area or institution, a Pacific studies focus gives him or her, an immense advantage. Knowledge of the pacific: a region that covers a major part of the earth, an expanse that contains so much wealth in its traditions, oceans, seabed and atmosphere, is wisdom that is precious even if is not being openly recognized.
In addition to general opportunities in education as teachers and instructors, in government as public servants, or in the private sector as dynamic decision-makers, there are specific job areas that mention the Pacific. Every serious foreign affairs institution in Asia, Pacific, Pacific Rim and several European states has a Pacific desk of sorts. The New Zealand government has a Pacific Islands department. And other governments have a Pacific specialized establishment to cater for internal Pacific populations or for interactions with the Pacific.
When I graduated with a Masters degree in Pacific Island’s studies in 1983, it was that qualification that landed me my job in the Ministry of Planning and External Affairs. It also was partially that background that helped me in establishing the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and then to become the Director of Programs for the South Pacific Commission. My MA Pacific major even helped in my role as the first Cook Islands Secretary of the Ministry of Cultural Development. And to a large extent this underlying influence continued in my life career to other jobs. As I reminisce my study experience in the University of Hawai‘i’s Pacific Islands program, I am sincerely appreciative of the many who have contributed toward a better appreciation of Pacific studies. Among those, I particularly appreciate Dr Bob Kiste, Dr Mike Hamnett, Dr Leonard Mason, Dr Norman Meller, and others. Mahalo.