Did the fight to stop UARC fail?
Feb 1, 2006
Some six hours into the public testimony before the University of Hawai’i’s Board of Regents, the moment arrives. Hope dies. It’s a moment that has been long in coming.
Now it appears there is nothing anyone can do to stop the University Assisted Research Center from dropping anchor at University of Hawai’i-Manoa. Not the loose coalition of faculty, students and members of the public. Not Chancellor Denise Konan. Not even Interim President David McClain. The only group who has any control over the fate of UARC is the Board of Regents. And they’re not likely to tell the U.S. Navy that UH is an unfriendly port. After all, that body, featuring executives at the Bank of Hawai’i, Central Pacific Bank, Maui Petroleum and other businesses, knows all too well the power of the dollar.
After the tense moments at the start of the meeting, through the grueling question-and-answer session with Konan, through the impassioned but rambling tirades of anti-UARC activists and on through the cool and collected arguments of the program’s technorati supporters, it feels as if UARC will in fact become a reality. At least that is how it appears watching Hina Wong, who is standing at the podium in front of the board, the Hawaiian flag by her side.
The flag wasn’t there before. In fact, for the entirety of the meeting, the flag was stationed in the back of the Manoa Campus Center Ballroom behind the board. How did it get where it is now? Simply put, she took it. Wong marched around the velvet rope that separates the audience from the board, walked over to the flag and carried it away.
As Wong begins her speech, it is clear that the final death rattle has begun after several hours of fever dreams and tremors. The sound is unpleasant. It is uncomfortable. It is unfortunate. Wong says that she will not wish the board ‘aloha.’ She says that she is not an American. She says that UARC is hewa. She says that the University of Hawai’i is not pono.
When Wong finally walks out of the ballroom carrying the Hawaiian flag, it is less a march of defiance than an unintended funeral procession, except that no one walks behind her. Many still believe UARC can be stopped. And they are clutching their beliefs like a child holds the body of a decapitated Raggedy Ann doll. Many cheer as Wong exits the hall.
Not surprisingly, Board chair Kitty Lagareta doesn’t. She doesn’t even appear fazed by Wong’s action. She doesn’t even acknowledge it. She simply calls the next speaker and gets on with the business at hand, bringing an end to this seemingly never-ending meeting. It has nearly an hour of life left in it. Its pulse is still strong.
Earlier it appeared that the Stop UARC crowd had all but secured a victory. Chancellor Konan gave the proposal a thumbs down. The UH Faculty Senate gave the research center a kick to the curb. The student body gave it the middle finger. Depending on who you talked to, the supporters were either too few or too timid. Either way, they kept a low profile.
Outside of the ballroom, a table is covered with fluorescent yellow printouts. They read, ‘Save UH. Stop UARC’ and ‘Hewa,’ Hawaiian for ‘wrong,’ ‘evil,’ ‘sin.’ For a recommended $10 donation, interested parties can purchase a T-shirt featuring a soldier pointing a rifle at a student sitting behind a desk. Inside of the ballroom, there are printouts, published reports and pencils imprinted with the words, ‘Save UH/Stop UARC.’ Two banners are hung up on the wall. One reads, ‘Not here. Not there. Not Anywhere.’
As for the supporters of UARC, what do they have? There are no banners. There are no T-shirts. There are no pencils. They have no presence. With this kind of support one wonders how the UARC proposal has gotten along as far as it has with so few public advocates.
Perhaps it’s because the Stop UARC crowd has a better argument on their side. Perhaps it’s because they have already won the debate. Their argument is rather straightforward:
A vote for UARC is a vote against academic freedom. Under the proposed UARC, professors will be forbidden to share some of their research materials with their peers, a practice at the heart of scholarship. Among those materials that aren’t classified, the military will decide what is too sensitive to be released and what is not. They alone make the call.
A vote for UARC is a vote against equal rights. Unlike UH, the Navy-controlled UARC could conceivably bar anyone who admitted they were homosexual. One lawyer has suggested the don’t-ask-don’t-tell policy would violate Hawai’i state law and open the door to a lawsuit.
A vote for UARC is a vote against peace. Consider this: If UARC is a military-assisted research center and if the military’s purpose is to prepare for and wage war, wouldn’t the center’s reason for existence be essentially one and the same? Does UH want to be so closely tied to the military? Does it want to be responsible, as some critics have charged, with developing the weapons of the future?
A vote for UARC is a vote against native Hawaiians. In this day and age when the issue of native sovereignty is not only a common topic of debate but, thanks to the Akaka bill, a possible reality, a move to further expand the grip the U.S. Armed Forces has on Hawai’i, will be viewed unfavorably by many in the native Hawaiian community, especially those who still bristle over the role the U.S. military played in overthrowing the Kingdom of Hawai’i. It is best perhaps for the university to avoid earning their ire.
However, there is one thing the supporters have on their side-the Navy’s word that they will shuffle $50 million into UH coffers. But even that argument holds only so much water. After all, UH will have to spend $3.5 million to get the program up and running. Even worse, there is simply no guarantee in the UARC contract that the Navy will put up the money. In fact, the $50 million figure touted by UH officials isn’t anywhere in there. What is mentioned instead is a deal to provide UH with funds for 1,000 staff hours, whatever that might be worth.
In the end, the chips are UH’s to bet. It appears to be a gamble the board is willing to take.
The meeting gets off to a shaky start. Ikaika Hussey, a Stop UARC volunteer and the leader of the anti-Akaka bill group Hui Pu, steps up to the podium and asks Chairman Lagareta if he can read a statement from Stop UARC before the hearing begins. Lagareta informs him that the meeting hasn’t begun yet. Hussey asks again, saying that he doesn’t want to interrupt the meeting. Lagareta says the meeting has to start now. Hussey refuses to leave the podium. He speaks. Lagareta bangs the gavel once. He continues to argue. Lagareta bangs the gavel in quick succession. She calls the meeting to order. Hussey remains at the podium.
Throughout the entire exchange, Chancellor Konan has been standing at the podium beside Hussey, awaiting her chance to speak. After a brief introduction by Lagareta, Hussey relinquishes his hold on the podium.
Konan begins. It’s not a pretty sight. She isn’t a particularly polished public speaker. She stammers. She’s shaky. Her tone is monotonous. Judging by the glazed eyes in the audience, she might as well be reading from the phone book.
The chancellor says she believes UARC will undermine the faculty’s faith in the governance of the university. She laments the amount of wasted time, money and energy the entire discussion has taken. She encourages the board to put their time and energy into developing other less controversial projects.
However, she also mentions how the university gets a substantial share of its revenue from research money. Tuition revenue and state funds can’t cover the bills. Of the top 100 researchers who bring in money for the school, Konan says, the vast majority support UARC. According to one speaker later in the meeting, 70 percent of all engineering research at the school is funded by the Department of Defense. It is a nasty realization. UH is addicted to research money, and the DOD is their dealer. Of course, this doesn’t change the fact that junk is junk.
And while Konan mentions the issues that have been raised by the students, faculty and public-a loss of academic freedom, fears about being in bed with the military, offending native sensibilities-she also brings up one of the more curious concerns of the pro-UARC crowd: Some faculty believe that a decision to ban the military-assisted research center would interfere with their academic freedom to engage in the type of research UARC would engage in. It is the same sort of mental gymnastics performed by Judge Roy Moore and his posse when they argue that their right to religious expression is censored when they are forbidden to place the Ten Commandments in public buildings. It is doublespeak.
If the board announces that they have voted in favor of UARC, there is a good chance these two points will be mentioned-the university’s dependence on research money from the U.S. government and the Orwellian version of the academic freedom argument.
But in the end, no matter how sound the board believes their arguments to be, they cannot flatly dismiss the concerns of the faculty, the students and the public. There will have to be a compromise.
During Konan’s Q&A session with the board-in which Lagareta and company fail to ask the chancellor how the approval of UARC might be affect campus life, how it would stifle academic freedom, how it could infringe upon the rights of homosexuals, how it would give UH a more prominent role in weapons research, how it would offend the feelings of some native Hawaiians-it becomes clear exactly what that compromise will be, that is, if the content of the board’s questions can offer any indication what their intentions may be:
UARC will be moved off campus.
Feel free to curse or cry, applaud or breathe a sigh of relief. You have choices.
Some might consider the Stop UARC crowd a rude bunch. During testimony, they heckle. They shout. They chant from time to time. This is to be expected for the most part. In fact, it’s par for the course in the world of protest. We’ve seen it all before. It’s a flashback. Like one UARC opponent says, ‘Welcome to 1966.’
However, their most striking example of rudeness is their predilection for wasting the time of the board. Over and over again, anti-UARC speakers speak well beyond their allotted three minutes. And each and every time, Lagareta has to ask them to wrap it up. And each time, she is given promises that the speakers are on their last sentence or their last paragraph. More often than not, the speaker is lying. They have no intention of shutting up.
The same can’t be said of the engineers who come to speak on behalf of the research center. They don’t lose their cool. They don’t talk about the ’60s. They rarely go over their time limits. Their message is simple-UARC will bring the University of Hawai’i money and prestige, it will encourage the best and the brightest teachers and students to come to Hawai’i, and it will help to ensure that the best and the brightest here now do not leave. These points are repeated over and over again, calmly, without passion and with respect. And unlike the collection of English professors, law students and other liberal arts faculty and students, the steady stream of engineers that dominate the middle portion of the hearing are the very people who will ultimately work with UARC. After all, no one asks a Comp 101 teacher to help them design a new laser-guided missile. They don’t even ask them to write the instruction manual.
Each time one of the engineers gets up to speak, it’s another nail in the coffin of the opposition. For a time, the pounding is relentless.
The development of Agent Orange at UH. The testing of Sarin gas on the Big Island. The discovery of depleted uranium at Schofield. The bombing of Kaho’olawe. There are many other reasons why the University of Hawai’i might want to decline the Navy’s offer. More than one speaker brings up these cautionary tales. But is anyone listening?
However inclined the Board of Regents is to hearing history lessons, we can’t be certain. But there is no excuse for them to ignore the wishes of the majority of their faculty and students.
Let’s consider for a moment that the unlikely happens-let’s consider that the Board of Regents doesn’t vote in favor of UARC. Will these engineers who did not raise their voices until now launch a protest? Will they stage sit-ins? Will they create websites, make T-shirts and shout ‘hewa’ at their fellow faculty? No. They’ll cut their losses and get back to their research. They don’t like to waste time. They don’t like to waste energy. They are efficient. Perhaps the board should consider this most of all.
After all, it is not the engineers, it is not the representative from the Chamber of Commerce and it is not the software entrepreneurs that remain in the ballroom as the meeting crawls to the finish. It is Ikaika Hussey and the other UARC opponents that stick around. They have passion. They have the will to fight. And sometimes it gets the better of them. The Board of Regents shouldn’t hold that against them.