Robert Anacletus Underwood, a former member of the US Congress, was the president of the University of Guam from 2008 until July 2018. He is a distinguished educator with many publications and major presentations to his credit. He served as a classroom teacher, curriculum writer, school administrator, Guam school board member, dean of the College of Education and academic vice president of the University of Guam.
His public service and professional record reflects his passion for his homeland, Guam, commitment to high educational standards and his devotion to issues of justice and equity. He is widely acknowledged as a leading authority on cultural, educational and linguistic issues as well as federal-territorial relations in Guam and Micronesia.
Underwood graduated from Guam’s John F. Kennedy High School in 1965 and went on to earn a BA and MA in history from California State University, Los Angeles in 1969 and 1971, respectively. Underwood holds a doctor of education degree in policy, planning and administration from the University of Southern California. He also graduated from a management development program at Harvard University in 1988.
Underwood served as the Guam Delegate to the US Congress in the 103rd through 107th Congresses from 1993 to 2003 during which he sponsored major legislation for Guam, played an active role in US Department of Defense authorization bills and was an advocate for political development for insular areas and the extension of educational and social opportunities for Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. During his tenure in congress, he became a senior member of both the House Armed Services and Resources committees. He emphasized the importance of Guam and the Asian Pacific region in national strategic policy and worked to enhance the benefits of military personnel, especially those in guard and reserve units.
He passed major legislation for Guam that resolved long standing land disputes with the federal government, brought recognition to Guam’s World War II generation and their case for war claims and enhanced local autonomy. Additionally, he built a successful record of bringing in federal funds for military construction, assistance to the government of Guam due to in-migration from surrounding islands and for several education programs.
Underwood ensured Guam’s inclusion in major legislation such as the Telecommunications Act of 1996 that brought domestic telephone rates to Pacific territories, the State Children Health Insurance Program and the bill that established the Department of Homeland Security. He brought recognition to Guam’s unique people by lifting the ban on betel nut (pugua) importation into the US Customs Zone, inclusion in the National World War II Memorial, the creation of Chamorro Standard Time (CST) and participation in national commemorative events.
As a member of the Hispanic and Asian Pacific American Caucuses, he spoke out for the protection of immigrant rights, educational opportunities and sensitivity to language issues. As chairman of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus in the 106th Congress, he led the effort to include Asian Pacific Americans in scholarship programs, was instrumental in the development of the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, spoke out against racial profiling and for including Pacific Islanders as a demographic category in federal programs.
Underwood is a University of Guam professor emeritus and taught courses in culture, education, bilingual education, administration and Chamorro. While at the university, he led the effort to include the Chamorro language and culture in Guam’s school curriculum. He was appointed to the National Advisory Council on Bilingual Education during President Carter’s administration and while at the University of Guam, he ran a multi-million regional education center for the Micronesian region, served as dean of the College of Education and as academic vice president. He also served as chairman of the Chamorro Language Commission for over a decade.
In more recent years, Underwood participated in the effort to create the national Asian Pacific Islander American Scholarship Fund and was elected to be the APIASF‘s first chair of the board of trustees. He has also worked on several research projects with the East West Center and the Asian Pacific Center for Security Studies.
In recognition of his efforts in building good relations in the Pacific, he received a Presidential Merit Award from President Gloria Arroyo of the Philippines and congratulatory resolutions from the Pohnpei, FSM and Northern Marianas legislatures. He was also named Citizen of the Year by the National Association of Bilingual Education in 1996, Alumnus of the Year by California State University, Los Angeles and received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Guam Humanities Council.
Guampedia entries by Dr. Robert A. Underwood
Lectures by Dr. Robert A. Underwood
Provided by the Micronesian Area Research Center, University of Guam