Oct. 11-24, 2002
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Michelango‘s art explored on Oct. 24
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Budget cuts implemented
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Making every drop count

LBT group offers compromise
15th annual Virginia Festival of Film
A voice for Africa
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Wylie’s ‘Stillwater’ runs through Oct. 27
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‘Waltzing the Reaper’
Infrastructure not glamorous but a vital part of bond package

Report of the Ad-hoc Committee to Advise the Provost on the Mount Graham Telescope Project
Sept. 12, 2002

IntroductionThe Ad Hoc Advisory Committee to study the University of Virginia's proposed participation in the Large Binocular Telescope (LBT) Project was formed in cooperation with the Faculty Senate at the request of the Provost as an independent body of faculty with the mission to review the collected information gathered over the past two years of UVa's consultation with interested parties and to advise the administration of the University on a course of action with regard to joining the telescope project. The primary question to be addressed is whether the University should take advantage of an opportunity to enter into an international scientific project, the Large Binocular Telescope, considering the opposition to that project from environmentalist and Native American groups.

The Ad Hoc Committee has read and considered large amounts of material prepared by both the proponents and the opponents of the project. It has also met directly with representatives of both groups. The controversy over the use of Mount Graham as a site for astronomical research began almost twenty years ago. The arguments over that use have often been heated, and it is extremely difficult, this late in such a long and emotional process, to determine the factual basis of many of those arguments. The Committee fully accepts, however, that both opponents and proponents of the project are deeply sincere in their beliefs. As it has studied the history of the controversy, the Committee has come to see that history as in many ways an unhappy sequence of miscommunications and missed opportunities on all sides. The University of Virginia, and this Committee, are clearly not in a position to go back and change that history.

However, the Committee firmly believes that this moment of decision for the University offers real possibilities for improving communication and relationship between those directly involved in the Mount Graham project and at least some of those opposed to the project. It also provides an important opportunity for the University to reevaluate its own relationship with Native Americans in Virginia and beyond.Background of the University of Virginia's Scientific Interest in the LBT ProjectFor nearly twenty years, the University of Virginia's Department of Astronomy has sought participation in a major ground-based telescope project to expand upon its traditional strengths in positional, theoretical and space astronomy. At present, UVa's Department of Astronomy is one of only two departments in the top twenty of the National Research Council (NRC) rankings without participation in a large, modern observational research facility. Lack of guaranteed access to such a facility puts UVa at a considerable disadvantage in several important ways:

• It is harder to recruit and retain the best faculty and students.

• It is difficult to train students in the construction and use of modern astronomical instrumentation.

• It seriously impairs the ability to engage in long term or large-scale research projects; it similarly handicaps a number of projects requiring the most advanced instrumentation.

• It places Virginia at a serious disadvantage in the competition for research funding in all these related areas.

In short, without guaranteed access to state-of-the-art observational facilities, the astronomy program at the University of Virginia can expect its national ranking to decline.

At least since 1984, the Astronomy Department has actively explored involvement in large telescope projects. These include: The Consortium to Build Telescopes (CBT; a 1980's consortium to build a 4-m class telescope); the Wisconsin-Indiana-Yale-NOAO (WIYN) consortium (a project to build a 3.5-m telescope on Kitt Peak in Arizona); a partnership with Colorado, Minnesota, Rutgers and NOAO to build two 2.4-m telescopes; a 1997 attempt to join the Magellan Project (twin 6.5-m telescopes at Las Campanas in Chile); two attempts to buy access to the smaller telescopes operated by the Carnegie Institution on Las Campanas, Chile; a consortium led by the University of Chicago and Boston University to build a 2-m telescope at the South Pole; the South Africa Large Telescope (9-m special-purpose multi-mirror design); SOAR (4-m telescope consortium led by the University of North Carolina and others); the Gran Canarias 10-m multi-mirror telescope; the Large Binocular Telescope Project; the Lowell 4-m telescope project; the Australian Wide Angle 6.5-m project; the Wide Field Multi-Object Spectrographic Telescope; the Cornell Atacama 15-m Telescope; and a 30-m transit telescope proposed by the University of Illinois.

In many of these cases, project leaders were invited to Charlottesville for discussions, or UVa faculty visited the project itself. In several (e.g., CBT and the Cornell Atacama project), the Department committed "earnest money." But none of these potential UVa projects came to fruition. In some cases the projects failed because other partners withdrew. Some have made little significant progress or face serious technical difficulties. In others, the fit of the project to the Department's scientific interests and plans was poor. But in all pre-2000 attempts, lack of funding for UVa participation played a prominent role.

In its decadal Program Review, submitted to the Provost and the Shannon Center in 1998, the Department identified participation in a large telescope project as its highest priority for the period 1998-2008. The Review included a cost-benefit and departmental suitability analysis of several then-viable projects. The Department's plans were strongly endorsed by an external Visiting Committee (chaired by Roger Blandford, Tolman Professor of Theoretical Astrophysics at the California Institute of Technology) and by two other internal review committees established by the Provost.

In 2000, Frank and Wynette Levinson, as part of a $20 million gift to the University of Virginia, committed $10 million to the Department of Astronomy with the goal and charge of increasing the department's national stature. With this gift, a primary obstacle to UVa's participation in a telescope project was overcome. In the charge to the Department, the Levinsons stipulated a desire for UVa astronomers to consider entry, in the near term, into a project at the forefront of available technology.

In a survey of realistic and available options, the Department of Astronomy identified the Large Binocular Telescope Project as a unique opportunity and the project that best matched its interests, goals, and timetable. In addition, a small share of the project had just become available through The Research Corporation. Under a cooperative arrangement with the University of Arizona (UA), this share would expand not only to access to the LBT itself, but also access to other Steward Observatory facilities, including the Magellan twin 6.5 telescope in Chile, and the MMT 6.5-m, Bok 2.3-m, VATT 1.8-m, and the Hertz 10-m submillimeter telescopes in Arizona.

Several important reasons led the Department to conclude that this arrangement would serve as the best option, by far, for University of Virginia scientists and students:

• With a single agreement, Virginia faculty and students would gain access to a variety of apertures, instruments, and wavelength capabilities matching existing scientific strengths in the department and at a level of many peer institutions. Currently, even some institutions ranked lower than UVa by the National Research Council have such access.

• Access to all facilities is immediate or imminent, unlike most of the other "open" projects, which are unlikely to be completed before 2010.

• With access to the twin Magellan facility in Chile, observing in both Northern and Southern hemispheres would be possible.

• Several of the Steward Observatory telescopes are indeed at the forefront of available technology. The LBT is the most advanced telescope design, with unparalleled possibilities. It will be the equivalent of a 23-m telescope in terms of optical sharpness and will offer high resolution imaging over fields of view unmatched by other telescopes.

• The project involves world-class partners and the premier research group for large telescope optics, the Arizona Mirror Laboratory.

No other option with the overwhelming advantages of the LBT/Steward Observatory plan is available, or even foreseeable. Moreover, the University of Virginia's proposed agreement with the Research Corporation has been endorsed by the Department of Astronomy Board of Trustees, which includes University of Virginia alumni and two members of the National Academy of Sciences.

Background of the University of Virginia's Consultation with Interested Parties

Consultation with Steward Observatory and The Research Corporation began in November 2000, with a deadline for a firm commitment by the University of Virginia set at February 28, 2001. Subsequent events have delayed UVa's entry into this agreement, and the deadline for a commitment has been extended by more than a year and a half. Recent communication from The Research Corporation indicates that further extensions may be impossible.

In October 2001, the University became aware of opposition to UVa's entry into the LBT project on the part of a group called the Mount Graham Coalition. The intensity of this opposition was unanticipated: the Mount Graham International Observatory (MGIO) had already been established with two fully operational telescopes on Mount Graham; the enclosure for the LBT and all supporting infrastructure was already in place; and the telescope itself was nearly completed. Moreover, the small share-2%-of the LBT's time under negotiation by Virginia was not essential for the completion of the project. University of Virginia astronomers, who had heard little of Mount Graham protests since the early 1990s, believed, incorrectly, that the debate over Mount Graham had long since been resolved and that opposition had focused primarily on the environmental status of the red squirrel population on the mountain, a population which apparently had increased considerably after the establishment of the MGIO.

In late 2001, the President, the Provost, and the Department of Astronomy began receiving letters of protest from members of the Mount Graham Coalition and other parties opposed to the project on the basis of concern over the environmental impact of the observatory as well as the cultural and religious significance of the mountain to the Western Apache. Representatives of the Mount Graham Coalition met with the Provost and the Chair of the Department of Astronomy on several occasions and sponsored several peaceful demonstrations on grounds. Members of the Mount Graham Coalition have also met with this committee. The issue has also been debated in letters to the editor in university and local newspapers. Similar events have occurred at other institutions, most recently the University of Minnesota, that have considered or are considering participation in the project. In the spring of 2002, the undergraduate Student Council heard presentations from both the Mount Graham Coalition and the Astronomy Department, and elected to take no action on the issue. However, in February 2002, the Graduate Student Council passed a resolution endorsing the University of Virginia's entry into the LBT project.

In April 2002, a committee of faculty, including two members of the Anthropology Department and two members of the Astronomy Department, traveled with the Provost to Arizona on a fact-finding mission; the present committee contains two members of that April delegation. The delegation met with members of the San Carlos and White Mountain Apache Tribes, including substantial sessions with those opposed to the telescope project. The group also traveled to Mount Graham itself, and visited with representatives of the University of Arizona and with the mayor of the town of Safford, another community with a vested interest in the Mount Graham issue. This visit was a critical step towards a first-hand understanding of the complexities of the Mount Graham controversy, which is long-standing and deep. The UVa delegation was encouraged by lines of communication that were opened during this visit, and came to believe that a fruitful and positive new dialogue among all interested parties could occur. The visit by the UVa delegation was in fact followed by similar visits by a group from the University of Minnesota and by representatives of the University of Arizona. In addition, Arizona's new president has met since then with Apache representatives.

The Character of Native American Opposition to the Project

The influential anthropologist David Mayberry-Lewis has written that "American Indian religions consider the earth as sacred, whereas the secular culture that surrounds them considers the earth to be real estate." This difference in perception lies at the heart of much of the Mount Graham controversy, and is also the source of many of the miscommunications that have marked that controversy throughout its long and painful history. This Committee recognizes the importance of Apache beliefs regarding Mount Graham, and believes it is worth setting forth those beliefs in some detail. The Committee also recognizes that it cannot claim to speak authoritatively about these beliefs, but only about its (imperfect) understanding of them.

Mount Graham has played a significant role in traditional Western Apache religion for generations. This is attested both in Apache oral traditions and in some published materials and records that date back at least to the 1930s, and it has been acknowledged more recently by the addition of Mount Graham to the National Registry of Historic Places as a traditional cultural property. Construction of the telescopes and associated roads and power lines is seen by at least some Apaches as disrespect for the mountain and disruption of its spiritual power, with potentially harmful effects on Apache well being.

For a number of reasons it is difficult for outsiders to ascertain the exact nature of the spiritual power of Mount Graham and associated religious practices. Religious practice among the Apache is based on culturally specific concepts of healing and takes the form of performances of memorized songs, stories, and ceremonies. Broader religious meanings are embedded in these forms and are passed from one generation of religious specialists to another through relations of apprenticeship. While many Apache people participate in traditional ceremonies, authoritative knowledge of prayers, ceremonies, healing and other spiritual matters is not given to all people but is the province of ritual specialists known as dighin ("medicine men" or "medicine women" in English), who alone have expertise in these matters and to whom other Apaches defer. Also, given the bitter history of relations between the Apache and Euro-Americans, ritual specialists are understandably reluctant to discuss spiritual matters with outsiders.

Nevertheless, certain aspects of the religious significance of Mount Graham have been described by anthropologists and by Apaches who met with the University of Virginia delegation that visited Arizona in April 2002, and may be summarized as follows. Mount Graham is one of four "Holy" mountains that represent the four cardinal directions defining the boundaries of the traditional Western Apache lands. Mount Graham, representing the South, together with Mount Baldy, located on the White Mountain Reservation and representing the East, have retained special importance for contemporary Apaches, particularly those who belong to the White Mountain subgroup. (This includes both members of the White Mountain Apache Tribe and tribal members from San Carlos with historical ties to the White Mountain group, who were divided from them by the reservation boundaries set by the U.S. government in the 19th century). The mountain is thought to have inherent, life-giving power, and is also the source of other powerful life-forms found there: animals, medicinal plants, waters, and minerals that are used in religious ceremonies. The power of the four sacred mountains is invoked in song, prayer, and ceremony, notably in the Sunrise Ceremony, a puberty ritual for girls that is widely practiced by contemporary Apaches. Ritual specialists and others go to Mount Graham to meditate and pray, and, most importantly, the four sacred mountains are the source of the ga'an, a group of mountain spirits who originally gave medicine men their power and who enter and leave the world through the tops of the mountains, which are the contact points between the earth and the rest of the universe. The top of the mountain is therefore especially sacred. The erection of any man-made structure, especially one containing metal, on the mountain peak is thought to harm the balance of life-giving forces in the world and to interfere with the efficacy of prayers, ultimately causing great misfortune.

For the past several years Apaches who wanted access to Mount Graham have had to apply in advance for a permit from the Forest Service, which controls most of the land on Mount Graham. Anyone who wishes, in addition, to use the road to the observatory must get a second permit from the University of Arizona. These restrictions on access apply to everyone and are due mainly to the designation of Mount Graham as a refuge for the endangered red squirrel, and more recently to the danger of forest fires, and not to the existence of the telescopes. Nonetheless, the result is that the Apaches must petition the "Whiteman" for access to their ancestral land to practice their traditional religion. They deeply resent these restrictions.

It is probably impossible to assess how widespread the abovementioned beliefs are among the contemporary Apache, and indeed such a question may well be irrelevant. Many people who describe themselves as Christians still participate in the Sunrise Ceremonies, for example. And even if only a minority still follow traditional religious beliefs, this would not justify contributing to their demise, or being perceived as doing so. Although some Apaches may be truly indifferent to the telescope issue, or more concerned with pressing problems such as poverty, health or unemployment, others who do not share traditional beliefs have nevertheless come to see the construction of the MGIO in the face of a decade of Apache protests as a further example of Euro-Americans' historical encroachment on Apache lands and culture. This has resonated with other Native American groups, including some in Virginia, who have gone on record protesting the observatory and urging the University of Virginia not to join it, on the grounds that UVa's participation would constitute tacit complicity in this history of oppression. Activists argue that the University of Virginia's withdrawal from the project would be seen as a valuable symbolic gesture on behalf of Native American rights, and as a way of putting greater pressure on the
University of Arizona to resolve its differences with the Apaches.

Environmental Concerns

Other objections to the Mount Graham project have focused on its environmental impact. The debate on this issue has played out in both the public and legal forum and the Committee cannot enter this long controversy. We do understand that Mount Graham presents an unusual ecosystem, owing to its great elevation compared with its immediate surroundings. Its upper reaches are equivalent in climate to much higher latitudes, and the vegetation is termed "Boreal." Cut off from areas of similar climate by low-altitude desert, it offers a site for evolutionary divergence. The Mount Graham red squirrel, to take the key example, is claimed to be unique to the region. Early objections to the construction of telescopes in the upper reaches of Mount Graham cited the possible threat to habitat of the squirrel.

In a 1988 Biological Opinion, biologists of the United States Wildlife Service set out a series of substantial and costly requirements that the observatory would have to abide by in order to ensure that it would have minimal environmental impact on the mountain wildlife and the red squirrel population in particular. These requirements were met by the observatory. Thereafter, legal challenges to construction of the telescopes on environmental grounds have failed; at the same time additional accommodations have been made to minimize the environmental impact of the project. The population of the squirrel has fluctuated considerably in the past few decades, in ways that seem to be independent of the presence of the telescope or other development on the mountain. The threat to fauna and flora would seem to be modest, and several factors combine to suggest that the goal of minimizing the environmental impact of project has been realized: the observatory itself occupies a small area of land; traffic to and from the facility by observatory personnel is light; finally, the presence of the observatory inhibits further development on the mountain.

Summary and Recommendations

The decision before the University of Virginia is whether to invest in the Large Binocular Telescope, a dual 8-meter instrument now nearing completion, and sited at Mount Graham, Arizona. A private donation would permit the University's purchase of a 2% time-share of the LBT and additional time on other Steward Observatory facilities at the University of Arizona.

The Committee is convinced that the project is of vital importance to the University of Virginia astronomy program. An exhaustive review of opportunities to take part in the programs for other large telescope projects reveals no opportunity combining the LBT's capabilities generally and the match of its specific instrumentation to the research interests of the faculty. Frequent student and faculty access to the LBT and, as part of the same program, to other telescopes with different capabilities conveniently located in the continental US, is another especially appealing feature of the program.

The Committee also notes that a variety of serious objections, on environmental and cultural
grounds, have been made to the completion of the LBT construction in the higher reaches of Mount Graham. We consider essential the respectful hearing of such objections, and have tried ourselves to listen and learn from all parties to this dispute.

At the same time, we emphasize that a withdrawal by the University of Virginia at this late stage in the project would be entirely symbolic. Indeed, opponents to our participation cast the decision faced by the University in precisely these terms. The telescope will remain on the mountain; another university or research consortium will claim the brief time-share our astronomers are seeking. The question, then, is how to weigh the impact of a symbolic withdrawal against the very real costs and potential benefits to our researchers, and indeed to the wider scientific research community. We are persuaded that the cost of a withdrawal to the research program of the Virginia astronomy department would likely be devastating. The question of the positive impact of a symbolic withdrawal is more difficult to determine—not least because there is already some evidence that the universities concerned have begun to change for the better their relations with Native American communities. The goal must be to enhance a process of mutually respectful consultation and consideration.

On balance, then, we make the following, related recommendations to the Provost:

We urge the University of Arizona to include representatives of concerned Native Americans in all groups who make recommendations and decisions that bear on University of Arizona use of lands significant to them. In particular, the University of Virginia, in concert with the University of Minnesota, should request that the University of Arizona agree to the creation of a Native American Advisory Committee to guide any potential future development of the Mount Graham site. This Committee should include Apache Elders and spiritual leaders of the San Carlos and White Mountain Tribes. Consideration of Native American concerns should play a prominent role in observatory operations and development. We also recommend that all participants in the observatory make every effort to provide significant and consistent educational and employment opportunities for Native Americans at the observatory and at their respective universities. We at the University of Virginia should seek to develop cultural and educational exchanges involving our students and faculty and members of the San Carlos and White Mountain Tribes. Finally, we urge that all parties to the observatory project work with the Forest Service to facilitate access to the mountain by any Apaches who wish to go there.

Committee members note that this decision presents serious, and not easily negotiated, issues of competing values based, often, on different cultural assumptions. And it occurs in the context of the long and unhappy history of the encounters between Native and Euro-Americans. The distinguished Franco-Rumanian scholar Tzvetan Todorov has written that "the best result of the contacts among cultures is often the critical gaze one turns back on oneself." In light of this insight, and independent of the Mount Graham project, we recommend that the University of Virginia take careful note of the needs of the Native Americans in Virginia, in particular the Monacan Nation, on whose ancestral lands the University rests. We therefore further recommend that the University of Virginia make determined and significant efforts to enhance its Native American presence, including, but not limited to, increased representation in the student body, and enhanced scholarly research in Native American Studies that builds upon faculty and research strengths that already exist.

More specifically,

• The Office of Admissions should be encouraged to move aggressively to identify and recruit potential undergraduates from Virginia's Native American tribes and groups, perhaps including such potential students in the summer Upward Bound program. Private funding might be sought for undergraduate scholarships dedicated to Native Americans in Virginia.

• Those charged with admissions to the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences should be similarly encouraged to recruit potential Native American applicants from Virginia and beyond; in particular, the existing relationship with the Andover Institute for the Recruitment of Teachers, currently utilized to recruit African Americans, should include Native Americans.

• Search committees should increase their efforts to recruit Native American faculty members to the University of Virginia.

Given assurance of agreement by the University of Arizona to our recommendations above, and assurance of a serious commitment by the University of Virginia to the measures stated, we recommend that the Provost and President approve the participation of the University of Virginia's Department of Astronomy in the Mount Graham International Observatory Project. It is our hope that this participation might lead not only to greater scientific understanding, but also to a spirit of renewal and understanding among the many communities affected by the project.Michael J. Smith, Department of Politics (Chair)

Ellen Contini-Morava, Department of Anthropology
David T. Haberly, Department of Spanish, Italian and Portuguese
Steven R. Majewski, Department of Astronomy
Carl O. Trindle, Department of Chemistry

 


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