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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, October 23, 2005

Costs of UARC outweigh pluses

 •  Previous editorial: UARC should proceed under careful scrutiny

By Karl Kim

The plans to create a University Affiliated Research Center, a "contracting vehicle" for facilitating research funds from the military, may have started off as a well-intentioned effort to enhance research at the University of Hawai'i.

But upon deeper inspection and consideration of our university's mission, purpose, and needs, it has become clear that the UARC is not right for us.

While one can blame the clumsy and heavy-handed process that was deployed to advance this proposal, there are also some fundamental inconsistencies, flaws and problems created by the blind pursuit of this initiative.

To begin, the UARC is not consistent with our values and core commitments to public higher education and the unfettered exchange of knowledge and ideas. Taking "task orders" from the military is not what a great university should be about. Creating an environment where the research agenda is set not by faculty and students but instead by the military or corporations or others outside academia is against the true purpose of a university.

UARC is not about academic freedom. If faculty members want to do research on topics related to military hardware or warfare, they are free to do so. UARC is really about an institutional commitment to serving the military.

If the UARC is accepted, the university would be giving unprecedented access to our resources, facilities and intellectual power to the military. This sort of cozy relationship may indeed enable more money to be funneled more easily to research enterprises, but it also circumvents many of the long-standing processes of peer review, institutional due diligence, and academic management of research and scholarship.

There are legitimate concerns about the health, safety and welfare of our community associated with laboratory research.

It is for this reason that many of the safeguards and time-consuming review procedures have been established. We need to protect not just our faculty, but also students, staff and the broader community. Other UARCs at other universities have been set up at secured, controlled off-campus facilities, rather than merely immersed within the existing campus as the UH's proposal calls for doing.

Because of the requirements of up-front investment and commitments necessary to implement the UARC, many fear the displacement of space and other resources. Instead of investing funds used to promote this agreement on classrooms, lecturers and other academic needs, the administration has focused on future promised returns rather than meeting current crucial needs.

The administration acts as if there are no opportunity costs associated with the UARC. In addition to its failure to describe how the institution as a whole will be made better off with a UARC, there has been no systematic assessment of alternatives.

It is as if the UARC is the only opportunity available. What if, instead, a comparable level of resources and human effort were spent in pursuit of sustainable development, agriculture, international education or even to improve student housing?

Just because other universities set up UARCs 50 years ago doesn't make it right for us today.

There are few schools anywhere in the world with our potential to become a truly international place of learning and scientific and cultural exchange. No one has assessed the impact of doing more military research on our international missions.

With an increase of classified, secret, proprietary and sensitive research, what will happen to our international graduates students and faculty and visitors to our campus?

Many people fear that this proposal reflects a fundamental shift in our priorities. The arts and sciences need to remain at the core of our university. Many believe that UARC is a harbinger of things to come. It's not just doing more military research that people object to. It is also the secret way in which this proposal has been advanced, without real consultation, public deliberation and convincing justification.

In more than two decades as a faculty member, researcher and administrator, I have seen this university in good times and bad. The best of times occur when we can come together as a community of scholars and thinkers to share diverse ideas and perspectives across boundaries, cultures, disciplines and backgrounds.

Education must be inclusive. Our major priorities must be directed toward broadly-based and supported initiatives that respect our unique location, history and connections.

We also have a responsibility to honor the indigenous people and promote social justice for Native Hawaiians.

We can build a positive future. We can celebrate our diversity and build on our strengths, including our unparalleled natural environment and tradition of outstanding Asia-Pacific scholarship.

We can, as the strategic plan approved by our Board of Regents states, "develop the Manoa campus into a Hawaiian place of learning, open to world culture, informed by principles of sustainability and respect for indigenous knowledges and practices ... "

And we can do it without the UARC.

Karl Kim is professor and chairman of urban and regional planning at the University of Hawai'i-Manoa, where he previously served as the vice chancellor for academic affairs. He wrote this commentary for The Advertiser.