Joe Turner
Apr 22, 2015 · 4 min read

April 21, 2015

Colleagues,

I would like to more formally apologize for sending Professor Sandy
Faber’s original message yesterday about signing a thoughtful
petition written by a native Hawaiian high-school student, Mailani
Neal: http://www.gopetition.com/petitions/wesupporttmt.html .

I had meant to bring the petition to your attention and encourage you
to consider signing it — and I still hope that you will sign it.
However, because at that moment I was attending (and trying to pay
close attention to) an important administrative meeting, I sent the
message before carefully reading Prof. Faber’s specific wording.
My brief preface, “I support what she says,” was intended to be “I
support the petition.” I fully agree with those who have pointed out
that the choice of words in both cases was unfortunate, showing a lack
of respect for the views of the demonstrators who do not support the
construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) on Mauna Kea. Their
concerns are real, and they have every right to be heard. The message
was insensitive and inflammatory to them. It was also lacking in
awareness of the painful history of dehumanizing treatment experienced
by many indigenous peoples.

Thank you for your thoughtful and valuable feedback. It was not myintention to propagate the original wording, nor to imply in my
apology (hastily written on my iPhone) that simple editing would have
sufficed. A note to me from Prof. Faber indicates that she, too,
regrets this poor phrasing. She wrote a private, ill-considered
message, at a time of much frustration to those astronomers who had
been looking forward to making progress on TMT construction.

I also regret that this happened while UC Berkeley is working to
improve campus climate; this incident is exactly the sort of thing
we hope to avoid in the future. I encourage attempts to bring the
astronomical and Native communities together to process what happened
and learn from each other. Even when there are disagreements, we must
have a civil and respectful dialog. Everyone deserves to have
their voice heard and thoughtfully considered, not in a dismissive,
trivializing, or denigrating manner. The astronomy community still
has a long way to go in our efforts to be inclusive, equitable, and
welcoming to all. Even in private conversations, we should strive
to avoid disrespectful language and feelings of entitlement.

Hawaii provides the very best astronomical observing conditions in the
northern hemisphere. We have good reasons for not building all major
telescopes in the southern hemisphere. There have been many years of
thoughtful, inclusive, informed debate regarding telescopes on Mauna
Kea and specifically TMT, taking into account the views, feelings, and
desires of the various constituencies. As with many issues, there are
pros and cons. All of the negotiations with native Hawaiians were done
in good faith, with no attempt to exploit anyone, in a way that was
respectful and legal in bringing all parties to the table. A legal
agreement, with compromises made by both sides, was reached in 2013.

The protestors represent the opinions of only a small minority.
Most citizens of Hawaii (including most native Hawaiians) favor
the observatories, understanding that having some of the world’s
greatest telescopes that explore the Universe and our origins can
be considered one of the finest ways in which to honor both their
ancestors and their sacred mountain. Many astronomical research
papers resulting from data collected on Mauna Kea contain the
following genuine and heartfelt acknowledgment: “We wish to extend
special thanks to those of Hawaiian ancestry on whose sacred mountain
we are privileged to be guests.” Moreover, the observatories bring
considerable prestige to the state of Hawaii, and they strengthen the
economy of Hawaii through employment of citizens and direct spending
associated with tourism, scientific visits by astronomers and others,
capital spending, and operating expenses. TMT will also provide
substantial payments to Hawaii for educational, conservation, and
other purposes.

We recognize that Mauna Kea is a very special place to both native
Hawaiians and environmentalists, and we respect their views.
Specifically, the TMT site is not on the summit, and not nearany of the most sacred locations. It is also being built in a way that
will not make it obvious or obtrusive as seen from the Kona coast. Its
footprint is quite small relative to the overall mountain. Most (if
not all) astronomers are quite sensitive to environmental issues; we
want to keep the site as pristine as possible, free of other buildings
or construction projects, and not harmful to native animal and plant
species or to unique geological formations.

Again, I’m sorry. The message was insensitive and does not represent
my true sentiments. Those in favor of building and operating the TMT
listen to and value the opinions of those who are not. But it goes
both ways; the demonstrators need to recognize that there have been
many years of negotiations, and that a democracy requires compromises
that are reached in a respectful, civil, orderly fashion. Together, I
believe we can find ways to continue to coexist on the wonderful Mauna
Kea volcano, as we have already done for decades.

Sincerely,

Alex Filippenko
Professor of Astronomy
University of California, Berkeley

    Joe Turner

    Written by

    I’m just some guy who tries hard. Interested in science, philosophy and other random things http://joetnr.net http://twitter.com/bucksci

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