In My View
UARC would not bring big money, just big secrecy
Before two whirring video cameras and a standing-room-only audience of nearly 100 students, faculty and Hawaiian community representatives, the University of Hawaii's most visible advocate fielded questions Sept. 21 from the Manoa Faculty Senate and others on the contentious proposal to establish a university-affiliated research center on the flagship campus.
The one-hour exchange revealed a multitude of faculty misgivings about UH entering into a contract with the war-fighting arm of the U.S. Navy. The session was cordial until the end. But then native Hawaiian graduate student Keli'i Collier demanded answers about the UARC's social costs and environmental degradation from Gary Ostrander, Manoa's vice chancellor of research and graduate education who serves as UH's chief spokesman for the proposal. Ostrander shouted back but declined to answer Collier's questions and left.
Ostrander began by highlighting the historic nature of the pending contract with the Navy. "This is the first time this has been negotiated between the Navy and a university in 58 years," he explained. Unlike the four sprawling research centers that the Navy established during the World War II era and maintained and staffed for decades, Manoa's guinea-pig UARC will be integrated into and utilize, if not usurp, the campus research infrastructure of buildings and personnel that Hawaii's taxpayers have funded for years.
Pointing out that he has been in his job for only nine months, Ostrander reviewed the recently released 16-page business/management plan that provided for the first time a side-by-side comparison of two case studies. Ostrander said the comparison demonstrated that establishing the UARC would bring $10 million more to UH over five years than would the model of traditional research currently being conducted.
Before long, however, Ostrander's arithmetic was picked apart by mathematics professor William Lampe, who represents the College of Natural Sciences in the Faculty Senate. "That's not a $10 million gain," Lampe argued; that's $10 million spread over five years minus the costs of maintaining a bureaucratic superstructure of a Pentagon-approved executive director, business director, four program directors and rental of a facility.
Ostrander agreed. He then made a "back of the envelope" calculation. The $10 million over five years, he began, breaks down into about $2.4 million in revenue in the first year.
"If you hired an executive director, high level with fringe benefits, let's say $150,000, and you added onto that secretary, finance, let's call it a quarter of a million dollars," he said. "You add space on top of that. You've got ... 1,000 square feet at $30-$40 a square foot. ... Let's run that up to $300,000. Add on top of that another $100,000 for travel, what have you, so you've got $400,000 out of the $2.4 million. That still will leave you with $2 million."
Lampe responded, "Your rounding is generous."
Ostrander interjected, "Well, $500,000, I'm fine with that. That still means $1.8 million" as a UH gain.
But even so, Ostrander agreed, his $1.8 million gain also had omitted the costs of salaries paid to UH researchers who might serve as one of the UARC's four program directors for several months annually; two have already been nominated. Other faculty noted that Ostrander's statistics were suspect by allotting annually only about $200,000 for equipment, a fraction of the cost of just one hi-tech marvel used by some of Manoa's researchers.
More than just math was questioned. Who would manage this bureaucracy? The business/management plan calls for an executive director, aided by a director of business and administration to oversee day-to-day operations and four program directors to oversee the research of Manoa's four specialty areas.
Ostrander pointed out that the executive director would be a civilian. Lampe asked, "A retired Navy admiral is a civilian, is that correct?" Ostrander replied that someone with significant contracting and program experience with the Navy would be hired.
"Task orders" from the Navy -- perhaps as many as 250 of them annually -- would be reviewed by a committee appointed by the Faculty Senate Executive Committee to see if they conformed to UH's policies, he said. This committee would decide about research for weapons systems development, which Navy memos have indicated is the purpose of the UARC, Ostrander said in response to a question by ethnic studies professor Noel Kent.
Beyond the Navy-practiced executive director, however, Manoa's committee members also could wind up marching to a military tempo because the business/management plan gives them only five working days to review the Navy's "task orders."
The UARC's administrative headquarters would be housed at the Manoa Innovation Center, Ostrander said. Sitting near the Noelani School and Manoa Marketplace on Woodlawn Drive, that center already is being renovated for securing classified information with installation of sensors, surveillance cameras and safes.
Directors would need military security clearances, as would the janitors, fiscal officers and guards working there. In effect, much of what Ostrander described as UH's $10 million gain over five years would be used to build and maintain a new bureaucracy-within-a-bureaucracy at the tip of Manoa's ivory tower.
Any future research developing from the center, because it is based on classified or privileged information, will, in turn, be encased in a virtual firewall that prevents its being shared with private industry, students and faculty without proper security clearance. UARC researchers given access to this strategic insider information are subjected to post-employment restrictions to avoid the Pentagon's conflict-of-interest regulations.
Ironically, Manoa's center that was established as an incubator for innovative small businesses and fledgling entrepreneurs is now being transformed into a lock-down facility for secret research that might affect Hawaii and the Pacific for years, perhaps in unknown ways.
Beverly Deepe Keever is a University of Hawaii-Manoa professor of journalism. She discusses federal information policies on U.S. Pacific nuclear weapons tests in her book, "News Zero: The New York Times and the Bomb."