Regents Face Tests on Mount Graham

The regents’ divided and contentious decision now begs a transparent and inclusive review.

By Dwight Metzger

Just as good science requires more than a litmus test, good policy at the University should be accountable to review by many factors. In the wake of the Board of Regents’ approval of closing General College, we would be wise to take a look at another controversial policy that has failed to pass such tests.

In October of 2002, when the Board of Regents voted to join in the Mount Graham telescope project, against the objections of Western Apache people to whom the mountain is sacred, it imposed a set of “conditions” to salve its guilt. It suggested that Minnesota would help the Apache people and that their “conditions” could somehow mitigate the long-endured harm caused by the telescopes, a situation identified by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights as one of the most egregious examples of religious intolerance by government in the United States. The regents’ divided and contentious decision now begs a transparent and inclusive review, having completely failed its conditional criteria.

In nearly three years since the University committed $10 million to the telescope ($5 million from billionaire Stanley Hubbard and $5 million of public funds yet to be realized), the paltry and disingenuous efforts by the University of Arizona to follow through on the apparently good intentions of the regents have fallen flat.

In April 2004, the San Carlos Apache Tribe rejected as bribery the universities’ offer of cash designed to get tribal buy-in to the development of their sacred peaks. This tactic is not unfamiliar to the Apache people, who, since 1992, have resisted similar overtures by the University of Arizona lawyers and public relations flaks who would stop at nothing to convert Mount Graham’s relic old-growth forests into a telescope city. In that year, when Mount Graham was a raging international scandal, the University of Arizona initiated a strategy to divide and conquer the Apaches by offering money to the tribe and painting the traditional religious practitioners as “isolated outliers” or outcasts.

The Apaches have never sold out their religious beliefs, and the tribal councils of the Western Apache tribes still stand united today in defense of their religious freedom and protection of their southern sacred mountain, Dzil Nchaa Si’an, or Mount Graham. This solidarity has been expressed again last week and explicitly to the University of Minnesota Board of Regents.

In a letter sent to the regents Thursday, White Mountain Apache Tribal Chairman Dallas Massey Sr., takes the University of Minnesota to task for following the lead of University of Arizona lawyer Rob Williams, thereby perpetuating misinformation and misrepresenting the bad faith efforts of the University of Arizona. Massey cites recent “gross misstatements” by University of Minnesota administrators that spin a completely inaccurate picture of the failure of the University of Minnesota and University of Arizona and their collaborators to address the issues. That the University of Minnesota would adopt these harmful practices might underscore its desperation after yet another failure this spring.

On March 31, the San Carlos Apache Tribal Council cancelled a proposed “Apache Summit,” a concept crafted by the University of Arizona to give the impression of addressing Apache grievances as called for by the regents. The “summit” was a ploy by outgoing University of Arizona President Peter Likins and University of Arizona astronomers to seek tacit approval from the Tribes for further development of more telescopes on the mountain, by their participation and acceptance of a set of offers. This Trojan horse would have benefited the University of Arizona’s development plans by both paying lip service to University of Minnesota regents, thereby assuring the continued cash flow from the University of Minnesota, and by getting the Apaches to consent to the prospect of more telescopes being built on Mount Graham.

For too long, the University of Arizona has lied and cheated its way toward placing telescopes on Mount Graham. Massey’s letter sets the record straight on what is really happening in Arizona, and the University of Minnesota Board of Regents would do well to heed his words. He calls on the regents to review their “opt-out clause,” (as the telescope sits still unfinished) “which allows the University of Minnesota to divest from the Mount Graham observatory without penalty.” As important as it would be for the regents to find a way to make decisions based on honest information and to scrutinize the impacts of their actions from a number of indicators, in the case of Mount Graham, that must include participation from the Apache people. University of Minnesota regents now face the test of the integrity of their own process and of their own words.

Dwight Metzger is a member of the Mount Graham Coalition. Please send comments to