Broken Trust: Greed, Mismanagement & Political Manipulation at America's Largest Charitable Trust

Discussion Questions

  • Chapter 8:  Five Fingers, One Hand
    • The trustees used a “lead trustee” system of governance in which each trustee had individual authority over a different aspect of the trust.  In your own words, what was wrong with this system? 
    • According to the authors, “anything deemed sensitive was stamped, ‘Confidential—Attorney-Client Privilege’ and held by Bishop Estate’s chief in-house lawyer.”  Explain in your own words the meaning of “attorney-client privilege.”  Does it strike you as a good or bad idea?  Why?
    • In your own words, explain the cartoon on page 99.
    • Professor Edward Halbach offered to help explain fiduciary duties, pro bono.  What does “pro bono” mean?
    • On page 100 the authors explain that the law allows trustees to receive “reasonable compensation” for their services as trustee.  Do you think it was a good idea to determine trustee fees using a formula like the one the author’s describe?  How much do you think would be reasonable compensation for serving as a trustee of this trust?  How would you go about deciding how much is reasonable for any particular job?
    • The authors refer to “power without accountability” as “a recipe for disaster.”  Why would they say this?  Do you agree with the statement?  Why?
    • There is an old saying:  “Power tends to corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”  Do you agree with the saying?  Why?
    • What is the meaning of the cartoon on page 101?  How would that cartoon make you feel if you were one of the people depicted in it?  Do you think it’s fair that cartoonists and others sometimes publicly make fun of unpopular individuals?
    • The authors state that one master used the word “awesome” 17 times in a 25-page, double-spaced report.  What is their point?  Is it a fair criticism?
    • One master argued that the trustees should not have to reveal the amount of their fees.  As a reason for not telling the public, he cited “cultural modesty.”  Why did the authors include this in the book?  What was their point?  Was it fair to the master?  Do you think the master had a good reason for what he did?  Was it fair to include that master’s picture in the book?
    • On page 103 the authors describe how mainland reporters tended to view and describe Hawaii.  Does that description surprise you?  How would you like people on the mainland to view Hawaii?  What could you do to make that happen?
    • In 1987, Bishop Estate tried to stop the Honolulu Star-Bulletin from publishing a story about the trust, and then “punished” the newspaper for doing so.  Is that how you would have reacted if you were a trustee?  Why do you think the authors included that in the book?  Were they trying to help readers understand why the local media coverage of Bishop Estate tended to be superficial and “soft”?
    • According to the authors, the Advertiser’s publisher said, “readers were tired of reading negative things about Bishop Estate.”  Do you think he believed that?  If not, why do you think said he would say that? 
    • Do you think people generally are more interested in “good news,” or “bad news?”  Have you ever heard the expression, “If it bleeds, it leads”?  What do you think that means?
    • The authors write that, “Critical thinkers at the University of Hawaii focused on national and international issues rather than local politics.”  What does that mean?  Why did the authors point this out?  Should professors be involved in local issues?  If so, in what way(s)?
    • The chapter ends with this sentence:  “Politics in Hawaii was like politics elsewhere, only more so.”  What does that mean?  Do you agree with it?  Why?