Yudof hears both sides in debate over telescope

by Tom Ford

Opponents of the University’s possible involvement with a controversial telescope observatory in Arizona will take their case to University President Mark Yudof on Friday.

After a rally outside the Gateway alumni center, American Indian advocates will ask Yudof to decline University partnership with the Mount Graham International Observatory.

Because of a $5 million grant in January 2001 from Stanley Hubbard, CEO of Hubbard Broadcasting, the University is able to purchase a 5 percent share of viewing time on the Large Binocular Telescope under construction at the observatory.

Critics say the observatory – which sits near the San Carlos Apache Reservation and is operated by the University of Arizona – desecrates local Apache community sacred areas.

But supporters of the purchase say the LBT will provide the University with limitless research possibilities.

Yudof has mulled over his recommendation to the Board of Regents, which is required to approve the purchase.

Dwight Metzger, a member of the Arizona-based Mount Graham Coalition – a group opposed to the observatory’s construction – said he’s pleased Yudof will hear
first-hand from Wendsler Nosie, a leader of the San Carlos tribe who will speak at the rally.

“It certainly is encouraging to us that he’s finally going to meet with a traditional Apache,” Metzger said.

University spokeswoman Amy Phenix said the meeting fulfills a promise to meet with Apache leaders Yudof made following a January protest outside his Eastcliff residence.

Phenix said Yudof is still gathering differing opinions on the issue before making his decision.

As part of that effort, she said Yudof intends to send a University delegation to Arizona in June to visit the observatory and meet with interested parties. Phenix said Yudof has not determined who the group will include or if he’ll join them.

Joining state and national American Indian organizations, several conservation groups – including the Sierra Club and National Audubon Society – sent a letter to Yudof this week urging against University involvement.

University sophomore Cheryl Goodman, an American Indian Student Cultural Center board member, said campus support for the Apaches will not diminish.

“For every American Indian student, who’re from all different places, it hits close to the heart,” Goodman said. “Everyone can relate to this issue. They all feel for how the Apaches feel.”

She said AISCC conducts weekly meetings about Mount Graham at its offices. She said the meetings have generated involvement from students and University classes.

But several University astronomy department students said gaining rights to the observatory provides unprecedented research prospects.

Graduate student Nathan Smith said the LBT will be more powerful than the Hubble telescope.

He said the LBT would provide sharper images and allow astronomers to see farther beyond what is now possible.

“Having access to that type of telescope is an important next step of astronomy,” Smith said.

Graduate student Eric Hollman said the concerns over the project are complex, and astronomers want to avoid alienating the community around Mount Graham.

Hollman said University officials have made efforts to meet with observatory opponents and discuss issues.

But he said Mount Graham critics have not taken much time to listen to the astronomers’ perspectives.

University graduate student Jim Lyke said involvement with the observatory will remove research constraints.

Under the possible partnership, the University would gain 17 viewing nights with the LBT. Those nights can be traded for time on other telescopes to which the University of Arizona has access.

Lyke said this arrangement guarantees time for the University, which wouldn’t have to compete for access to other telescopes or clearly define research goals.

“Our research could be free and more exploratory,” he said.

Tom Ford welcomes comments at [email protected]