For the past 20 years, an annual gathering called the Mānoa Forum has been building bridges between the community and the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa. Each forum consists of a retreat, where 10 invited members of the general public and 10 faculty and administrators from the campus delve deeply into a selected topic over several days.

All participants use only their first names–no last names, nor titles–to facilitate discussion and the free flow of ideas.

Topics for the Mānoa Forum have included wisdom, leadership, identity and creativity. UH Mānoa Chancellor Robert Bley-Vroman says, “I went to the Mānoa Forum and it changed my life. The theme was leadership and risk taking.”

Hawaiʻi Poet Laureate Kealoha, a participant in Mānoa Forum XVI “Creativity” says, “For me, the importance of the Mānoa Forum was getting a chance to tap into the brains of some of the greatest thinkers that Hawaiʻi has to offer.”

“The Mānoa Forum is incredible,” says journalist Denby Fawcett, a participant in Mānoa Forum XI “Courage.” “It allows you to sit back, albeit for a brief time and think about some of the big ideas, big philosophical ideas and you do it with interesting people.”

Vernon Char

Mānoa Forum Founder Vernon Char

Recently, participants gathered at College Hill to celebrate the Mānoa Forum’s 20th anniversary and to honor founder Vernon Char. Char is a retired attorney and served as the first chair of the Hawaiʻi State Ethics Commission. A 1993 meeting he attended at The Aspen Institute inspired him to do something similar in Hawaiʻi. Char shared his idea with UH Mānoa’s Dick Dubanoski and Judy Hughes, and both helped him to launch the Mānoa Forum.

Two UH presidents and two U.S. senators, as well as a judge, CEOs and artists have been among the Mānoa Forum’s almost 400 participants.

Author and historian Tom Coffman, a participant in Mānoa Forum XVI “Creativity” says, “Vernon Char has done a huge service out his devotion to building up the university and keeping the ties between the university and the community as healthy and vibrant as possible.”

Former UH Regent and UH Foundation Trustee Momi Cazimero is herself a bridge between UH and the community. The president of Graphic House and a participant in Mānoa Forum I “Leadership” says the community needs “to know that the University of Hawaiʻi is basically the foundation of this state.”

Bley-Vroman says UH Mānoa is committed to grounding the interaction of the university and the community in the world of ideas. “That’s what the legacy of the Mānoa Forum is and that’s what we will continue into the future.”

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