Sponsored by:

Comment, blog & share photos

Log in | Become a member
The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Monday, February 6, 2006

To understand UARC, study the contract

By Joel Fischer

The arguments in the opinion piece by Lisa Gibson and Mike Fitzgerald (Jan. 29) are undermined by two facts. They have not been part of the discussions at the University of Hawai'i about the university-affiliated research center that have been ongoing since November 2004. If they had been, they would realize that all their arguments have been thoroughly discussed and refuted.

And they apparently have not studied the UARC contract. If they did, they would realize just how flimsy their arguments are.

I will address each of their points.

• UARC is not consistent with the values and core commitments of the university.

Gibson and Fitzgerald believe that argument is rubbish. Those of us who have studied the contract and conditions for the UARC believe just the opposite. The core commitments of the UH are spelled out in our mission statement and Strategic Plan and they include "creating a Hawaiian place of learning" and to place as our highest value, the motto of the university, "Above all Nations, Humanity."

Of course, our core commitments have nothing to do with the military or defense contracts one way or another. Testimony by opponents of the UARC, including my own, was very supportive of defense funding for research at UH.

The opposition is to this proposal, not all defense funding. UARC would institutionalize the relationship between the Navy and the UH in a way that is different from all other defense funding currently at UH.

It is that institutional relationship that is at the heart of the opposition, not the funding source.

If UH accepts such an institutional relationship, it will, indeed, change the very heart and soul of our university, possibly forever.

• The UARC will create an environment where the research agenda is set by the military and may involve weapons research.

Gibson and Fitzgerald say that researchers will not be compelled to participate in any project against their will and also state that the Navy won't ask UH to build weapons of mass destruction.

Unfortunately again, they are simply inaccurate in their analysis.

First, there is not a word in the contract that allows any worker to opt out of a task order, all of which are provided by the Navy (researchers do not get funding for their own research; funding is strictly limited to the orders provided by the Navy).

In fact, the Defense Priorities and Allocation System ratings of the work of this UARC specifically state that the contractor is required to accept a task order and that a person or instituition that does not accept such an order could result in a $10,000 fine, one year in prison, or both.

How do Gibson and Fitzgerald know in advance what products the UARC will develop? Wea-pons research will be labeled as "sensitive," so that the public and rest of the faculty will never know what the UARC produces.

Not weapons? A July 2004 memo from the Navy, widely available, specifically states that this UARC will be devoted to improving "systems performance of Department of Defense weapon systems."

• UARC research would, in effect, hand access to our resources, facilities and intellectual power to the Pentagon.

Gibson and Fitzgerald say that is "completely untrue." The contract and Federal regulations say otherwise.

There are legitimate concerns about the health, safety and welfare of our community.

Gibson and Fitzgerald argue that we shouldn't worry because UARC research would be the same as any other type of reseach that already exists at UH.

Not true. Read the contract. The UARC will be funding weapons-related research that the Navy wants conducted. Any UARC research can be classified so that the public and UH community will not have access to it.

Gibson and Fitzgerald must read the contract and the other federal regulations that underlie it. We may never know what research a UARC undertakes.

• Isn't the UARC going to cost UH a great deal of money to implement?

Gibson and Fitzgerald acknowledge that UH may have to put up $3.5 million in start-up costs. What do we get in return? The contract is completely mute on that topic.

The Navy is not going to guarantee a single cent in return for our start-up funds — not $50 million, not $10 million, not 10 cents!

To sign such a contract would breach the fiduciary duty of the university to the public and state funding bodies, particularly the legislature. Yes indeed, that $3.5 million would address many other needs at UH.

• You can't have "aloha" with this type of research at our beautiful campus.

Sadly, as someone at the Board of Regents hearing said, "this aloha thing is overdone." I assume from their comments that Gibson and Fitzgerald may be echoing that sentiment.

After all, what place is there for aloha at a university in Hawai'i, on lands that were once owned by the Native Hawaiian government, with a strategic plan that calls for perpetuating Hawaiian culture and values?

It is not for me to say what aloha means to the native people or to our university. But it is important to note that every Native Hawaiian group, including the Kuali'i Council representing Native faculty and staff, unanimously opposes the UARC. No aloha, no Hawai'i.

Because of many limits on sharing UARC knowledge with the community and even with other researchers, as specified in the contract, it is very likely that the UARC will not benefit our community, nor will it add to innovation here.

In fact, there are empirical data available that show a drop in innovation research in direct correlation with an increase in military research.

Such is the state of the debate on the UARC. The UH would do well to put this whole issue behind us and spend our time more productively seeking ways to continue as one of the primary economic engines of Hawai'i and as a beacon of hope and relevant knowledge for our people.

Joel Fischer is a professor at the University of Hawai'i School of Social Work. He wrote this commentary for The Advertiser.