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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, January 29, 2006

COMMENTARY
UARC would be a plus for UH

By Lisa Gibson and Mike Fitzgerald

Over the past year, the establishment of a University Affiliated Research Center at the University of Hawai'i-Manoa has been a contentious issue.

Initially, the UARC could provide about $50 million from the Navy over five years to UH researchers to pursue basic and applied research in oceanography, astronomy and engineering.

The university's participation in a UARC will be good both for the university and the community at large. We understand that the opponents of this program are sincere in their convictions, and we respect their views. However, we disagree that just because this program is associated with the Navy, it's somehow inherently evil, immoral or injurious to the University of Hawai'i.

We'd like to address the major points that some members of the community find troublesome.

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

    It's presumptuous to assume that any relationship with the military is automatically deleterious to our core values. Even if one finds a UARC a troubling proposition for UH, there is a distinction between military research and receiving funding from the military. In other words, military-funded research doesn't necessarily mean military research.

    If you examine the existing 60 Department of Defense grants used by UH (manoa.hawaii.edu/mco/initiatives_issues/uarc/pdf/DoD_research_contracts.pdf), the topics of research include optical sensing; telescopy; corrosion; nutritional and genetic determinants of early puberty; echo-location; underwater vehicles and diabetes treatment. This can hardly be construed as weapons development. The chance to expand these studies under the UARC should be viewed as an opportunity.

  • The UARC will create an environment where the research agenda is set by the military or corporations rather than by the faculty, and may involve weapons research or other nefarious activities.

    University researchers will not be compelled to participate in any project against their will. The Navy is not going to ask UH to build weapons of mass destruction. Even if UH researchers wanted to engage in such a project, they could not do it under the UARC rubric it would be outside the university's approved core competencies.

  • UH's relationship with the military will interfere with academic freedom and the unfettered exchange of knowledge and ideas vital to the principles of higher education.

    UH has been doing research with the military for more than four decades. Currently, there are no restrictions on publications from DOD-funded work, even that work that has become classified. Consider also that academic freedom cuts both ways. Academic freedom means the choice for faculty members to do work in areas that may not be popular or viewed by some sectors of society as politically correct.

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

    This notion is completely untrue. Nobody is handing the keys of the Manoa campus to the military. UH faculty not the military will manage and decide what UARC projects are undertaken.

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

    The research that would be funded under a UARC will not differ from any type of research that already exists at UH. Whether it's cloning mice or using remote sensing devices to study coral reefs, the UH researchers are not doing anything that will threaten the welfare of the community.

  • Isn't the UARC going to cost UH a great deal of money to implement? Given funding shortages, shouldn't our precious resources go toward classrooms, lecturers, etc.?

    Up to $3.5 million would be authorized for the UARC's start-up. It is anticipated that far less money will be necessary. Moreover, these funds will be from the Research and Training Revolving Fund, which is directed by state law to be used to promote research and training at UH. So in fact, if UH did not invest in a UARC, we would not be able to use these funds for classrooms, etc.

  • You can't have "aloha" with this type of research at our beautiful university. It will irrevocably harm our campus.

    The UARC has worked favorably with other learning institutions across the nation, such as the University of Washington, Johns Hopkins University, the University of Texas-Austin and Pennsylvania State University. All of these universities have had established UARCs for at least 60 years. They are all stellar centers of learning. They have all benefited from their UARC relationships by attracting first-rate science and engineering talent that in turn creates new technologies that can be applied to the civilian sector.

    For example, the concept of the Internet was originally funded as a military application, and it ended up in general use and changed the world.

    There are a host of other dual-use technologies in areas such as remote sensing, electro-optical systems, bathymetry, autonomous underwater vehicles, astronomical research, acoustic mapping and littoral topography, and advanced sonar and biosonar signal processing that could generate opportunities for Hawai'i.

    How would this occur? Developing new technologies means UH researchers could spin out new companies as has occurred at Stanford, UC-Berkeley, MIT, Johns Hopkins, the University of Washington and dozens of other institutions. These would produce high-quality, high-paying jobs for kama'aina and expatriates in Hawai'i.

    We believe a UARC will help get us there. The Board of Regents, in its capacity as keeper of the public trust, will soon have to decide whether to engage the Navy in this endeavor. In making the decision, the regents must look at the UARC controversy dispassionately. They must look beyond the hue and cry, and consider their ultimate responsibility to the greater community.