Lee Cataluna: Mauna Kea steward seeks broad consensus
Greg Chun’s job is to improve UH’s stewardship of the mountain, to update the master plan, environmental impact statement, administrative rules, and to look at the longer term management structure.
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Greg Chun spends many hours in airports, on airplanes, and in his car. He drives the Big Island’s Saddle Road several times a week. That’s a lot of thinking time, and he is a thinking man, the kind of person who pauses to consider his words before he speaks.
“This is probably the largest kuleana I’ve ever taken on,” Chun said.
Last month, he accepted the appointment as executive director of Mauna Kea stewardship for the University of Hawaii, stepping into the middle of perhaps the most complicated and difficult situation UH has ever faced and one that will define the university for decades.
“I would like to be part of trying to make something good come out of this,” Chun said.
He grew up in Windward Oahu, a child who loved the ocean and became a man who loved to surf. He attended Kamehameha Schools and graduated in 1973. He wasn’t sure where his career would take him, but he knew he wanted to work with people.
Chun attended the University of Hawaii-Hilo, where he got his bachelor’s degree in psychology in 1977. He came to UH-Manoa as a graduate student, getting his Ph.D. in psychology.
Chun’s career went from clinical work to executive positions. Early on, he worked in a residential treatment facility in Los Angeles for children with varying diagnoses. He worked at the Straub Employee Assistance Program for a time, and at Hawaiian Electric, leading organizational development.
Prior to the recent appointment, he served as senior adviser on Mauna Kea to UH President David Lassner and was on the faculty.
He lives on the Kona side and works out of UH-Hilo now, but also has an office in Saunders Hall on the Manoa campus. On the office wall is a large photo of a heiau on the shoreline near the former Keauhou Beach Hotel. As an executive at Kamehameha Schools in the 2000s, Chun was in charge of the restoration of that heiau complex.
When he talked of the heiau project, his words seemed to have a different flow, as though he was not pausing to choose them but just let the story pour out. He told of the crew that worked on restoring the heiau hearing voices in the wind.
The voices called out in Hawaiian, in a dialect ancient and rarely heard, “Don’t forget me. Don’t forget me. Don’t forget me.” Asked if that place in the photo is a powerful place, Chun said without hesitation, “Oh, yes. You can’t help but feel it.”
When asked if Mauna Kea has this same sort of feeling for him, he nodded.
“Sacredness pervades everything. When you stand in the presence of these kinds of places, you have to think differently about how you behave, about ways to be present, and not just respectful, but appropriate.”
Chun’s job is to improve UH’s stewardship of the mountain, to update the master plan, environmental impact statement, administrative rules, and to look at the longer term management structure. His focus is the university’s presence on Mauna Kea — an organization and a mountain — but he’s a man who likes working with people.
“If you listen to people long enough, you realize not just that the emotion is valid, but often, there’s a valid point,” he said. “The way I view it is everybody is right. Nobody is an enemy … I don’t go around trying to correct people’s views. That won’t get you anywhere.”
It sounded like Chun advocates a compromise, but he didn’t put it that way. He talked of thinking about alternative solutions.
“The end goal has to be a collective one,” he said. “Wherever we wind up, everybody has to get something out of it.”