Not since the Vietnam War and other protests of 40 years ago had the Manoa campus seen anything like the furor that erupted in opposition to establishing a military research laboratory at the University of Hawaii.

Students and faculty sounded off with blowhorns at assemblies, hung banners from rooftops, held nighttime vigils at the UH President’s mansion and petitioned the Board of Regents at a marathon, six-hour hearing. With backpacks and sleeping rolls, they swooped up the stairs of Bachman Hall, invaded the president’s office, and settled in for a six-day sit-in and sleep-in that garnered negative headlines around the globe and lured the nation’s leading academic newspaper to send its own staff reporter to the scene.

“The last time the U.S. Navy built a laboratory on a university campus, Franklin D. Roosevelt was president and the United States was a war with Axis powers,” Kelly Field reported to the Chronicle of Higher Education. “Sixty years later, as the nation battles terrorism and an insurgency in Iraq, the Navy is encountering fierce resistance at home over its plans to develop a laboratory here at the University of Hawaii-Manoa.”

The plans began in 2003 when the Navy agreed to fund a proposal made by UH administrators and then-Senator Daniel Inouye. The reporter quoted a Navy official saying, “Inouye did very good job pointing out to the Navy that Hawaii is a very strategic university.”

So, in mid-2008, UH signed a five-year contract to embed in campus facilities the Navy’s first Applied Research Laboratory (ARL) in 58 years. By its signing, UH ignored the “fierce resistance” voiced by the Kuali’i Council representing Hawaiians and Hawaiian-serving programs, arguing an ARC would destroy the flagship Manoa campus—which is sitting on ceded lands gained when U.S. military overthrew their Queen Liliuokalani—as a “Hawaiian place of learning” that is promised in its strategic plan.

UH also ignored the opposition of the Manoa Chancellor, the Manoa Faculty Senate, Manoa’s undergraduate student association and hundreds of citizens in the community, who argued the ARL’s censorship of and property rights to all UH research would hijack the university’s core value essential for the free flow of ideas and innovation needed for creating knowledge and disseminating it to students, other scholars and the public, including commercial enterprises.

Now, fast-forwarding to five years later, Senator Inouye has passed on and on July 14, the UH’s contract expires with the U.S. Navy’s Sea Systems Command, its war-fighting, weapons-development arm.

Without discussion by or disclosure to the public, UH is set to sign a new contract with the Navy. “Because there are no planned changes to the contract other than the timeframe, this modification would be signed by the Vice President for Research with the approval of the President,” according to the response to my e-mail made by a representative of Lynne T. Waters, UH’s associate vice president for external affairs and university relations. UH is now selecting replacements for both the Vice President for Research and for the President.

Before UH administrators sign the new contract, however, the Board of Regents has been urged to have a designated UH administrator explain fully the amount, scope, costs, revenues, locations, outcomes of UH’s ARL-conducted research and the kinds of censorship placed on dissemination of all research results. The Board is scheduled to meet on July 18 at the UH Cancer Center in Kaka`ako.

“Plans for the next steps have been under discussion with the Navy,” UH’s response added. The Navy would also have to sign the contract at a time when U.S. military funding is being slashed in many areas.

UH’s response also stated that no classified military research was conducted under this five-year ARL contract.

However, just what was conducted under the ARL contract is still largely shrouded in secrecy. When the contract was first finalized in July 2008, UH announced three defense-related contracts–totaling less than $2 million. But since then neither UH nor the Navy has produced requested documents that could inform the public about the amount, nature, scope, location of or funding figures for ARL-generated research. Those three announced contracts were for:

  • $5,000 for updating for ARL UH’s plan for converting into a lockdown facility the Manoa Innovation Center situated near Noelani School for securing classified information by installing sensors, surveillance cameras, safes and designing badges for directors and even janitors who must hold special clearances,
  • $850,000, for which UH received $43,548 in fixed fees, to investigate effects on health and the environment of 15 million-plus pounds of chemical weapons secretly dumped in Hawaiian coastal waters off the Waianae Ordnance Reef during or after World War II,
  • $980,334, for which UH received $50,226 in fixed fees, to develop technologies for detecting improvised explosive devices (IEDs), which wounded many U.S. military in Iraq and Afghanistan.

UH responded to my request for copies of its ARL contracts or “task orders” (Navy language for assignments) by telling me to contact a Navy representative in Washington, D. C. There, my Freedom of Information Act request to the Navy, dated Feb. 19, 2013, received a response three weeks later.

That response cited “unusual circumstances” in going beyond the 20-day legal requirement for releasing a requested U.S. government record. It stated that under President Executive Order 12600 the Navy gives notice to contractors, asking them “to review contractual information and to identify portions considered to be propriety.” The response added that a decision about releasing my requested records will be made “in the most prompt manner possible.” None has been received.

Even without these requested records, however, UH seems to have failed to garner the $50 million over the five years of the contract that its administrators had touted as a reason for establishing the ARL in the first place. Summaries of departmental and unit research listed in annual reports for this period shows that the ARL pulled in only $6.75 million. And UH gained only a fraction of that amount in fixed fees to cover such costs as providing electricity and office space.

These summaries also listed only eight researchers as being awarded ARL’s “task orders.” This number is significantly fewer than the 250 possible awardees touted to the Manoa Faculty Senate in September 2004 by Gary Ostrander, then UH’s most visible advocate when he was Manoa’s vice chancellor of research and graduate education.

Unlike the four sprawling research centers that the Navy established during the World War II era and maintained and staffed for decades, Manoa’s unique, guinea-pig ARL calls for it to be embedded into and utilize, if not usurp, UH’s campus research infrastructure of buildings and personnel that Hawaii’s taxpayers have funded for years.

The current contract also calls for hiring a number of Navy-mandated and -approved officials to manage this secret bureaucracy embedded in UH’s existing ivory-tower bureaucracy.


About the author: Professor Emerita Beverly Deepe Keever is the author of the recently released “Death Zones and Darling Spies: Seven Years of Vietnam War Reporting.”


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