Yes, we should look UARC gift horse in the mouth
What Gary Ostrander seems to be saying in his commentary about the proposed Navy University Affiliated Research Center
is, "Don't look this gift horse in the mouth."
In spite of repeated promises to openly discuss the benefits and costs and to consider the diversity of views and interests on the establishment of this controversial center, it appears instead that the University of Hawaii administration plans to conduct a war of words.
Instead of addressing the inconsistencies and problems identified by UH professor Beverly Keever (Oct. 2), Ostrander seems to be engaged in a "tit for tat" strategy.
That's unfortunate. Many in this community had expected more. We hoped for more than just "consultation" or "debate" with the usual suspects taking the usual positions. We had hoped for real dialogue and deliberation. We know already that Ostrander supports the creation of the UARC. We were looking for evidence that he not only understands the concerns, but also that the university has taken effective steps to adequately address the issues.
Part of the problem has been the heavy-handed and clumsy process that has been used.
Instead of releasing information earlier and more freely, the approach taken by the Manoa administration has been to sit on requests, thereby building up expectations and creating tensions and fostering an "us versus them" atmosphere.
Rather than identify specifics in terms of buildings, personnel, equipment and other resources that will be diverted to UARC uses, and to quantify how the university as a whole will be made better off under the terms of this "contracting vehicle," the administration seems to want us to simply accept all this on faith.
In accounting for the benefits to our local economy, it's important to know how many of our residents will get new jobs versus importing expensive new labor, or worse yet merely setting up specialized subcontracts with mainland vendors. Of the new equipment and materials that will be purchased, how much of it will be produced in Hawaii? What are the true economic benefits to our state?
Ostrander and company seem to be ignoring the opportunity costs associated with heavy investment in military research. What if instead the money and dollars were invested in alternative energy, agriculture, affordable housing, health, education and welfare and the protection of our fragile ecosystem? What direction will UARC take us in terms of research and education and scholarship? What will UARC do to our reputation as an international place of learning and exchange?
The much-touted business plan and contract details fail to deliver. After months of waiting on these crucial documents, they read like boiler-plated bureaucratic mumbo-jumbo or hastily thrown together term papers. Remember this is an academic community, where faculty and students are not just used to reading and writing papers, but also grading intellectual efforts. The consensus on campus is that while the contract papers may deserve a barely passing C-, the so-called revised "business plan" fails to make a passing grade.
The poor marks reflect both arrogance and a lack of understanding of how important these issues are. We all know that the state and the university face economic challenges and dilemmas. But we also need to find sustainable, culturally appropriate ways of developing and growing our university. We must honor our commitments to the native Hawaiian people. The thorny issues regarding classified research or the development of sensitive, proprietary and other secret information at a public institution need to be more fully addressed. The risks, hazards, threats and missed opportunities because we've lurched toward an economic opportunity need to be balanced against our longer-term interests and future.
We need to continue scrutinizing proposals such as UARC and encouraging real, open deliberation. We should set an example in terms of not just learning, but also developing processes for handling controversial subject matter.
This is, after all, our university.
Karl Kim is professor and chairman of urban & regional planning at the University of Hawaii-Manoa, where he has previously served as vice chancellor for academic affairs.