UH turned Mauna Kea into a poorly managed industrial park

By Abigail Kinoiki Kekaulike Kawananakoa
Star Advertiser

The University of Hawaii was entrusted with Mauna Kea in 1968, being given a 65-year lease from the Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources.

In 1998, the state auditor submitted a meticulous analysis of the University of Hawaii's abysmal performance over the prior 20 years. In 2005, a follow-up analysis was done which was no less troubling. The most recent audit was last year, showing some improvement but continued failures. Taken together, these three independent reports document a continued breach of the UH's fundamental trust responsibility for over 45 years.

There is wide agreement regarding the importance of protecting Hawaii's unique cultural and environmental resources. Discussion and debate on the balance between preservation and development require an informed and objective analysis such as that provided by the state auditor.

From the start, the UH saw Mauna Kea as a vehicle to gain academic prestige and that has never changed. The effort to characterize this as science against culture — or worse, the past versus the future — completely misses the fundamental flaw.

The UH was never equipped to manage Mauna Kea. It measured success by the evanescent standards of academics: papers published, credit given and international accolades conferred by being connected to some degree to work performed by others because it came out of Mauna Kea.

The true economic value of observatory sites was never pursued and never realized. The protection of the environment has been secondary. Cultural and historical protections have been viewed as nuisances. The summit became a scientific industrial park of which the UH was a poor manager.

We now have the biggest of all the telescopes ready for construction. The Thirty Meter Telescope has reaped the bitter harvest of all that came before and Hawaii is very much in the world's attention because of this controversy. Our leaders seem paralyzed, while TMT opponents have demonstrated both conviction and tenacity in their protests. It seems that events are going to careen inevitably into destructive conflict, which will further polarize our communities and diminish Hawaii's credibility in many ways.

It is not too late to set things right. It seems that these unresolved issues from our past are the place to start. To ignore these transgressions is untenable.

The UH pursued international acclaim at the expense of its relationship with the community, which created it and supports it. DLNR allowed it. All of us who did not object long ago share in these failures.

For the good of our home, our leaders and their institutions must take the difficult but unavoidable step of acknowledging the failures with genuine contrition and implementing credible changes in the control and operations of Mauna Kea. We must definitively resolve the past issues that haunt the present discussion.

Progress will come when the UH is replaced by an independent entity that can properly balance the competing interests. Until then, I support the peaceful protesters impeding further construction on Mauna Kea.

We are Hawaii.

Hawaii is Mauna Kea.


Abigail Kinoiki Kekaulike Kawananakoa is a philanthropist, Campbell Estate heiress and descendant of Queen Kapiolani.

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