McClain gives nod to Navy project
Other UH-Manoa officials, citing objections, urge the regents to reject the plan
OPPONENTS of a proposed Navy research center at the University of Hawaii vowed to continue their struggle after UH interim President David McClain recommended yesterday that the Board of Regents proceed with the project.
McClain said his recommendation over the objections of some faculty and student protesters is "a question of balance."
"The proposed contract ... is neither as flawed as its opponents assert, nor is it as promising as its supporters claim," McClain said.
The recommendation now goes to the regents, who will likely discuss it at their next meeting on March 16 at Leeward Community College.
UARC RECOMMENDED WITH PRESIDENT'S REVISIONS
UH interim President David McClain's recommendation to the Board of Regents:
» Accept UH-Manoa Chancellor Denise Konan's recommendation not to proceed with the Navy University Affiliated Research Center on the Manoa campus.
» Establish the UARC as an administrative unit attached to the UH system under Vice President for Research Jim Gaines in an arrangement similar to the Maui High Performance Computer Center and other contracts.
» The UARC will not perform classified research during its first three years of operation.
» The UARC would have the option to end a task order if the research involved becomes classified after it begins.
» UH will evaluate the UARC during the third year of the contract. If UH and the Navy both believe the center is worthwhile, the contract can be renewed for two more years.
MCCLAIN, reading from a statement, told the Board of Regents that he is recommending a Navy University Affiliated Research Center be set up and administered by the UH system, rather than the UH-Manoa campus, which was originally proposed.
However, UARC research could still take place on campus.
The UH-Manoa Faculty Senate, a native Hawaiian organization on campus, and the undergraduate student association passed formal resolutions against the UARC at UH-Manoa.
Citing those objections, UH-Manoa Chancellor Denise Konan also recommended against proceeding with the UARC.
McClain said one factor in his decision is academic freedom and the right of researchers to pursue unpopular studies even if a majority of faculty and students feel it is against the university's mission.
"I tend to be biased in favor of measures to support the individual scholar no matter how popular -- or even more importantly, how unpopular -- his or her research interests," McClain said.
But Robert Bley-Vroman, the chairman of the UH-Manoa Faculty Senate, said academic freedom and the ability of researchers to pursue Defense Department money will still occur without a UARC.
"The university does not have an obligation to provide funding structures for you," he said.
McClain said he also believes objections to the UARC over classified research can be avoided by not conducting classified research during the first three years of the contract. If research becomes classified after the contract has begun, then it would be moved off-campus and the university would have the right to terminate it, he recommended.
Opponents said McClain's decision shows he did not listen to the majority of faculty and students who are against the center.
"I think he's playing word games with us," said Ikaika Hussey, one of the leaders of the Save UH/Stop UARC coalition that occupied McClain's office for a week last May to demand UH abandon plans for the research center.
"This is a day of infamy," said Joel Fischer, a professor in the School of Social Work.
He told the regents McClain should resign and that the UH president has "sold out the university and its desire for autonomy for business interests and political interests."
Bley-Vroman said he believes McClain's recommendation goes against the UH-Manoa Faculty Senate vote not to proceed with the UARC.
"Changing where it sits on the organizational chart does not make any difference at all," he said.
UARC supporters said they were surprised and pleased with the recommendation.
"The money will help our graduate programs and recruiting good students and faculty; all these are the bottom lines," said Wai Fah Chen, the dean of the College of Engineering at UH-Manoa. It will also help develop a high-technology industry in Hawaii, he said.
Chen, who did not attend yesterday's regents' meeting, said he did not expect UARC supporters to hold public rallies in favor of the project. That's not the way engineers do things, he said.
"We don't go there to stand up and raise voices. We simply provide data for a rational argument" Chen said. "We talk about numbers. We're data-driven engineers."
McClain said he has not spoken to the Navy about the changes he is proposing to the UARC contract.
Pat Dolan, deputy director for the Navy Sea Systems Command, told the Associated Press that the Navy will review the proposal to check whether it is practicable.
Board Chairwoman Kitty Lagareta said she and the other regents have not spoken with each other about the issue and she has not made up her mind on whether she would approve or reject the recommendation.
During yesterday's meeting, regent Alvin Tanaka recused himself from the UARC discussion, saying he had a potential conflict of interest. However, he did not disclose the conflict.
Only five of the 11 current members of the board voted in favor of the UARC at that meeting. Regent Byron Bender abstained from the vote and two other current regents were absent. Three new regents have also been appointed to the board.
The Navy has research centers at the University of Washington, Pennsylvania State University, Johns Hopkins University and the University of Texas at Austin. Hawaii was recommended as the fifth center in July 2004. If approved, it would be the first new Navy research center at a university in 50 years.
WHAT IS A UARC?
UARC stands for University Affiliated Research Center. The proposed center would allow the Navy to contract directly with the University of Hawaii to do research without going through a competitive bidding process through what are called "task orders."
UH-Manoa has expertise in four areas of interest to the Navy: oceanography; astronomical research; the development of optics, sensors and instruments; and electrical engineering.
Proponents say the UARC could bring the university up to $10 million a year in research contracts, but the amount is not guaranteed.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.