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Gathering Place
John Madey

Saturday, May 14, 2005

UARCs support U.S.
universities’ objectives

A bit of background on the kinds of research done by universities for the Department of Defense might prove helpful to your readers as they follow the proposal to establish a NAVSEA University Affiliated Research Center at the University of Hawaii.

The DoD currently funds a broad range of basic and exploratory research programs at UH. This research is most typically initiated by faculty members in fields of interest to them through competitively reviewed proposals to the DoD agencies responsible for support of those fields, and funded by those agencies as part of their "technology base programs" dedicated to promote the advancement of scientific knowledge and engineering capabilities.

DoD research of this kind is generally indistinguishable from the research supported by the government's civilian science agencies (such as NASA and the National Institutes of Health), provides extensive opportunities for undergraduate and graduate training and research, and has come to constitute a fundamental component of the academic programs at UH and other U.S. universities. As such, the defense research currently conducted at UH is part of the continuum of scholarly research and teaching that UH faculty members perform in support of the university's basic mission to promote Hawaii's competence, capabilities and competitiveness in all the fields in which the university offers instruction.

A number of new initiatives, including the proposed UARC, are now under consideration at UH as means to enhance or extend the services that UH provides to the state. Though these initiatives differ in purpose and detail, in each case they must be evaluated on the basis of their impact on the university's ability to fulfill its basic missions in teaching and scholarship.

Though all of the UARCs established to date have been associated with universities, they have historically performed a rather different set of functions for the DoD, focusing (at the direction of the sponsoring agency) on weapons development and upgrades, on the analysis and optimization of military operations, and as the government's "trusted agent" in procurements in which the required technical expertise is not available within the government. Consistent with these distinct and specialized functions, all UARCs established to date have operated as independent units of their sponsoring universities with separate facilities, staff, budgets, etc.

The evaluation process for the proposed UARC has just begun at UH, with the first steps being taken by the Faculty Senate last month to address the issue of the classified research that has constituted a central part of the research conducted at the previously established UARCs. The Senate voted on the basis of the university's broader commitments to open scholarly research and teaching to prohibit all research whose results could not be published on a timely basis. But many other issues remain to be considered, including those following from UH's decision to integrate the proposed UARC as part of its regular academic and research programs, and also the constraints on competition, technology transfer and collaboration with local businesses that accompany UARCs' receipt of uncompeted funding in their special role as trusted agents of the government.

It is critical that all of these issues now be addressed in a thorough and timely manner on the basis of the proposed UARC's consistency with and benefits to the university's pre-eminent missions in scholarship and teaching that constitute our most fundamental obligation to the people and armed services of the United States.

John Madey is a professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Hawaii-Manoa.

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