February 5, 2002
Present: Robert Grainger, Michael Smith, Patricia Werhane, Kathryn Neeley, Robert O'Connell, Rebecca Kneedler, Houston Wood, III, George Cohen, Michael Levenson, Julian Connolly, David Brautigan, Susan Perry, Robert Davis, Gene Block
Guests: Ellen Contini-Morava, Anthropology Department
Joan Fry, Special Assistant to the President
Charles Kaut, Anthropology Department
Peter Metcalf, Anthropology Department
Robert Rood, Astronomy Department
Robert Grainger, Chair of the Faculty Senate, called the meeting to order. Introductions were made. The main agenda item for the meeting was a discussion of the Large Binocular Telescope Project in Arizona and the controversy surrounding the project.
Binocular Telescope Project in Arizona
Gene Block, Vice President and Provost, gave a brief overview of the project and why it is controversial.
Robert Rood, Professor of Astronomy, gave a slide presentation on the telescope project and why it is beneficial to the University of Virginia for the Astronomy Department to become a member of the Telescope Consortium in Arizona. He said that guaranteed access to state-of-the-art optical telescopes is essential, and much consideration was put into developing the project. It usually takes 10-15 years to complete such a project.
The Large Binocular Telescope (LBT) has twin 8.4m mirrors in a binocular mount. It is located at the Mt. Graham Observatory and has the largest collecting area of any single telescope. (There are two other observatories on the Mt. Graham site.) Mr. Rood said the LBT, with its initial suite of instruments, is a $120 million project that began in 1983. UVA will be joining the project late in its development and will be a minor partner at the 4% level. Mr. Rood also noted that the project would move forward even if UVA drops out and that others will take our place in the consortium if we decide not to join. He also noted that Mt. Graham is probably the best observatory site in the continental U.S. and that Mt. Graham is not a pristine area and does not qualify as part of the wilderness.
Mr. Rood said that the Apache objections to the Mt. Graham facility began to be raised in earnest in 1989. The Apache objections grow out of religious concerns but are also closely linked with those of environmental groups. Mr. Rood mentioned one endangered species at Mt. Graham (the Mt. Graham Red Squirrel) and two threatened species (the Mexican Spotted Owl and the Apache Trout). He reported that Forest Services studies showed minimal impact from the LBT on the squirrel population. Regarding the religious issues, Mr. Rood indicated that there is a tradition of astronomers cooperating with Native Americans in the southwest (Kitt Peak National Observatory is an example) and that he believes there was a diligent, good-faith effort made to take Native American cultural and religious issues into account as plans for the Mt. Graham observatory proceeded.
In her comments, Ms. Contini-Morava stated that the available information suggests that there are questions about whether the University of Arizona did a good job of investigating the feelings of the Apache Indians with regard to placing the observatory on Mt. Graham. She explained that Mt. Graham is sacred to a group of Apaches who see it as home to spiritual beings and powers that are important in their system of religious belief. One complicating factor is that the members of the Apache community who are most connected to the mountain spiritually do not live next to the mountain. Ms. Contini-Morava reported that some Native Americans consider the telescope project to be yet another trampling on the religious freedom of native people and that no one has really tried to work with them. The controversy at Mt. Graham has come to be viewed as symbolic of the historical treatment of Native Americans.
Subsequent comments by other members of the Anthropology Department revealed a number of facts and concerns. For example, the Apache do not tend to organize themselves into political action groups, which means that their voices are fragmented and that gauging opinion among the Apache is more difficult than it would be otherwise. Many of the Apache objections arise not so much with regard to the telescope facility itself but rather with the way the process has been handled. There are questions about whether the negotiators for the University of Arizona have picked out the Apache they want to talk to rather than seeking a broad range of input. It also seems that there ought to have been grounds for compromise that have not been explored. Beyond these specific issues, members of the Anthropology Department are also concerned with how UVA's handling of the controversy and the ethical issues associated with it will be perceived by their professional colleagues in the American Anthropological Association and elsewhere.
It was suggested that University representatives should travel to Arizona and meet with the Apache leaders and other interested parties to discuss the issues and try to find a suitable compromise. There were questions and answers among the Council members and the representatives from Astronomy and Anthropology, who agreed that the idea of University representatives traveling to Arizona for a face-to-face meeting with the San Carlos Apache tribe and other groups seemed like a promising approach. The members of the Executive Council will revisit the issue at a later date.
State Budget Cuts
Mr. Grainger spoke to the group regarding Virginia's budget cuts and the impact on Higher Education in Virginia. Mr. Grainger has written letters to legislators and has initiated a letter writing campaign among concerned University faculty members. He has also met with administrators to discuss the Senate's concerns with the budget cuts, which could lead to loss of faculty and seem certain to have a negative effect on faculty morale. It was noted that it would be useful for the faculty to have a better understanding of the University's budget processes. The Council also made a number of other suggestions for Mr. Grainger to pass along at an upcoming meeting with University administrators.
Proposed Changes to Faculty Discipline Procedures
Rob Grainger, Michael Smith, David Brautigan, Gene Block, and Paul Forch are developing a formal policy on faculty discipline procedures. More details will be provided at a future meeting of the council.
Student Council Proposal for Online Course Evaluations
t was decided that the Faculty Senate Research and Scholarship Committee would address the issue, starting with a meeting with some members of Student Council.
The meeting adjourned at 5:20 p.m.
Submitted by Kathryn Neeley, Secretary of the Faculty Senate