U Senate reviews disputed Mount Graham participation

by Angela Delmedico

The debate over a University-sponsored telescope on land some consider sacred reignited at the University’s Senate meeting Thursday.

Although the Board of Regents voted in October 2002 to purchase a 5 percent share in the Mount Graham International Observatory project – scheduled for completion in spring 2004 – the University Senate’s Social Concerns Committee decided to bring the issue before the Senate to increase awareness, the committee chairwoman said.

The Social Concerns Committee passed a resolution May 5 stating the University should end participation in the Mount Graham International Observatory project. The committee brought the resolution to the University Senate, University president and Board of Regents.

The San Carlos Apache Indian tribe and the White Mountain Apache tribe consider the land in the Pinaleno Mountain Range in southeastern Arizona sacred and use the mountain for spiritual purposes.

Ola Cassadore Davis, chairwoman of the Apache Survivor Coalition, traveled to Minnesota on Thursday to speak for the Apache people at the Senate debate. The 80-year-old woman said she was grateful for the two minutes she could speak but wished she had more time.

“What I have heard and seen makes sadness in my heart. The Apache people strongly believe in upholding their religion,” she said.

Astronomy department Chairman Leonard Kuhi said the Large Binocular Telescope project will give the department an opportunity to join the ranks of the best astronomy departments in the country.

According to the Mount Graham Coalition Web site, 22 of the leading astronomy universities funded by the National Optical Astronomy Observatories – including the California Institute of Technology, Harvard University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Yale University – have dropped out of the project, citing cultural, environmental and quality concerns after reports of poor visibility on Mount Graham. The Mount Graham Coalition opposes telescopes on the mountain.

Social Concerns Committee Chairwoman Margaret Kuchenreuther said the group decided to bring the issue to the Senate to raise the University community’s awareness of the issue.

The committee believes the regents’ decision was unwise, and they would like a formal discussion on the issue.

“It may be that enough people at the University will become concerned about this, and they will want us to forward this to the senate for action in December,” said Kuchenreuther.

American Indian studies department Chairwoman Patricia Albers said she strongly believes an issue such as this should be open to public deliberation.

The Social Concerns Committee is a group within the University Senate primarily concerned with the University’s relationship with the broader community, according to the University Senate Web site. The committee is composed of seven faculty members, three academic professional members, seven students, three civil-service staff members and three alumni representatives.

University Senate is an elected group of faculty, academic-professional and student representatives from four University campuses. Its role is to discuss and approve issues that affect the University, according to its Web site.