Yudof must exemplify ethical leadership

Last week, two telling events took place at the University that go to the heart of a significant decision for University President Mark Yudof.

First, “You are Here,” a site-specific public art performance produced by Charles Campbell and Steve Epley, made its debut at the Tate Lab of Physics on May 2. “Are they guilty for not knowing?” queries a character in the performance, critiquing University astronomers who first claimed ignorance and then chose to suppress and then fight Apache religious claims to Mount Graham.

The question, along with many others facing the University over the Mount Graham telescope controversy, is poignant and ironic. “You are Here” is a creative collage of mysteries wrapped in artistic riddles. It explores the symbolic “heart of the University” – the unkempt rooftop observatory – and delves into the issue of ethics in scientific inquiry, offering critical challenges to the heart and mind behind what drives research at the University.

That same night, at a banquet to honor student leaders, Yudof stated he looked for “ethical leadership” from the administrators he hires. Yudof told the guests that “values” were a top quality he sought when creating his administration. He offered the analogy of the circles created when you drop a pebble in a pond. The pebble creates rings that extend outward. Yudof’s point is that our decisions will impact those far away or impact people without our foresight. This borrows the “seventh generation” concept – that we need to plan ahead for seven generations, so our offspring, theirs and so on will be able to exist and not have to undo all of our mistakes.

In making this analogy, Yudof speaks to the role of the heart in humanity, but the question remains as to whether he is speaking from the heart. Today, in an historic meeting between President Yudof, a traditional Apache from Arizona and local American Indian leaders regarding the controversial Mount Graham telescope project, Yudof will be tested on this very matter.

For traditional Apaches, “Dzil Nchaa Si An” (Mount Graham) is central to their way of life. Since time immemorial, Western Apaches have performed ceremonies on Dzil Nchaa Si An and continue to use the mountain today for gathering healing herbs and water. Apache medicine men and women oppose telescope construction “because it will interfere with the ability of the Apache to practice their religion.”

Their 13-year opposition to the telescopes also includes numerous official resolutions from the San Carlos and White Mountain Apache Tribes and countless appeals from traditional religious practitioners and the foremost anthropological experts on Western Apache culture. Apache vigilance to preserve Dzil Nchaa Si An is critical to their cultural survival.

Yudof has all the information he needs to make the correct decision. This past Monday, a coalition of national conservation organizations, including the Center for Biological Diversity, Defenders of Wildlife, Earthjustice, Endangered Species Coalition, National Audubon Society, Natural Resources Defense Council and Sierra Club sent a letter to Yudof urging him to back away from the project. These groups, representing millions of members, added their support to a movement that includes more than 200 groups, organizations, universities and others opposing the destruction of this ecological treasure.

In Minnesota, the opposition to the University’s investment is equally deep and uncompromising. In the last six months, since the community was informed of the University’s astronomers’ intentions to join a project that desecrates Apache sacred land, strong protests against the plan have come from the Senate Social Concerns Committee and the American Indian Advisory. Note that these are the same organizations Yudof said he would listen to when making his decision.

The department of American Indian studies and the American Indian Student Cultural Center have also asked the University to back away from the project. The American Indian Movement and National Congress of American Indians have declared specific opposition to the University’s plans. Additionally, the 11 federally recognized tribes in Minnesota expressly opposed the plan to join in the Mount Graham project.

Yesterday, Yudof received over 70 letters from community leaders and students concerned about the critical choices the University makes regarding its research priorities. Today, Wendsler Nosie, founder of Apaches for Cultural Preservation, will address the University community about the Apache struggle for religious freedom on Mount Graham at a rally at noon in front of the Gateway alumni center.

Whether it is the genetic engineering of wild rice or the violation of holy land, the overall message is clear: Some things are sacred and need to be left alone. Yudof should heed this basic tenet in guiding University decisions that will have an impact for many generations to come.

We hope the readers of the Daily as well as the University community will examine both sides of the issue as they form their opinions regarding the value of this project. We welcome readers to find out more on the Web by visiting www.mountgraham.org.

Joel T. Helfrich is a graduate student in history. Dwight Metzger works with the Mount Graham Coalition. Send comments to [email protected]