of the Ad-hoc Committee to Advise the Provost on the Mount Graham
Sept. 12, 2002
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
of the University of Virginia's Consultation with Interested Parties
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
University of Arizona to resolve its differences with the Apaches.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 determinenot 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
balance, then, we make the following, related recommendations
to the Provost:
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.
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.
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
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.
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)
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