UC invests $68M into Thirty Meter Telescope on Maunakea

UC regents meeting public comment PRA request UC contributed 68 million to thirty meter telescope project on Mauna Kea October 2016
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The UC system has invested more than $68 million into the Thirty Meter Telescope, or TMT, project as of April 30, according to a financial report from the UC Office of the President, or UCOP.

Campus activist organization Mauna Kea Protectors at UC Berkeley obtained the report May 1, about four months after the initial request using the California Public Records Act. The document shows the UC system’s monetary contributions to TMT since 2014, divided between the UC system’s private contributions and grant funding received from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, or GBMF.

“As the nation’s premier research institution, UC feels it is important to support the scientific mission of TMT to peer deep into space for answers to fundamental questions about the universe,” said UCOP spokesperson Stett Holbrook in an email. “It will enable a new frontier of discoveries about the contents, nature and evolution of the universe including the search for life on other planets.”

About $30 million of the total UC system investment thus far was pulled from “UC’s own funds,” as the line-item summary reads, starting with a $10 million investment in October 2016. Separate from the GBMF grant funding, this private payment was followed by seven additional direct UC financial contributions noted between June 2017 and February 2020.

On Feb. 11, $5 million was contributed from UC funds, less than three weeks after UC Board of Regents chair John Pérez informed attendees of the Jan. 23 regents meeting that he intended to facilitate a full discussion regarding the UC system’s involvement with TMT as soon as possible. This conversation has yet to be facilitated, UC Berkeley students and organizers alleged at a press conference hosted by the activist organization Uprooted and Rising on Thursday.

“I was looking forward to those opportunities where you get to learn about yourself, but I am finding myself fighting to preserve my native Hawaiian ancestry,” said Celeste Rodriguez, a UC Berkeley rising sophomore and Mauna Kea Protectors at UC Berkeley organizer, during the press conference.

Several Maunakea activists also made public comments regarding UC investment into the TMT project at the UC Board of Regents meeting Tuesday.

“This is a terrible investment for the UC to be involved with,” alleged Puanani Apoliona-Brown, a Native Hawaiian rights activist and Harvard University master’s graduate, at the meeting. “There’s no guarantee that this project will ever see completion without forcefully pushing it through with violence against indigenous people and the protectors of Maunakea.”

The TMT project is funded primarily by a $250 million GBMF grant shared by the UC system and the California Institute of Technology, or Caltech, according to a March 2014 UC regents meeting report. The report also states that the UC system and Caltech would be raising funds jointly through philanthropic support to supplement the GBMF contribution with an additional $100 million.

Holbrook added that TMT is committed to integrating science and culture, providing the best possible stewardship of Maunakea, enriching Hawaiian culture and heritage and supporting global educational collaboration opportunities centered in Hawaii.

Activists at the press conference alleged that the TMT project is “an ongoing example of colonialism” and that the UC system is contradicting itself by investing in a project against the warnings of indigenous peoples.

“Now is the time the UC community needs the UC Board of Regents and (UC President Janet) Napolitano to prioritize them, and the native Hawaiian people need (the university) to essentially back down,” said Bria Puanani Tennyson, a recent UC Berkeley graduate and founding member of Mauna Kea Protectors at UC Berkeley. “There couldn’t be a more perfect time for this to happen and for the Board of Regents to really state and show where their priorities lie.”

Contact Skylar De Paul at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @skylardepaul.