STAR GATE

Five years after Congress approved the project, the protracted battle over the Mount Graham International Observatory has extended well beyond the mountain, Tucson and Washington, D.C. There have been demonstrations against the telescopes on other U.S. campuses and even in Germany and at the Vatican.

It has become a test of nerves, and both sides are showing signs of strain. Many foes of the project have been worn to mental and physical exhaustion. The opposition torch has been passed on from one group to another as time, money and frustration take their toll.

The work of the protesters has not gone unnoticed by UofA. The university's desperation to keep the project alive has led to undercover operations, a top astronomer requesting the destruction of documents related to the project, and misleading statements to Congress.

The university sees itself as no different from any other business seeking approval of a controversial project. If an exemption is needed from a federal law, then there is no reason UofA shouldn't do what any corporation or special interest would do. "There is nothing unique about us in this situation," says UofA's Cusanovich.

If circumventing the nation's environmental laws in 1988 was the first indication of the extent to which the university was willing to play hardball, it was hardly the most alarming.

More recently, UofA administrators tried to deceive their own Board of Regents in an action that one regent branded as "unconscionable."

@rule:
@body:Not long after UofA President Manuel Pacheco took office in July 1991, he approved a no-bid contract for Booz, Allen & Hamilton Inc., an international management consulting firm, to conduct a $37,000 study on the university's role in the Mount Graham telescope project. The goal of the study was to provide Pacheco with an independent assessment.

The report was completed on October 23, 1991, and two months later, a Phoenix environmentalist, Dr. Robin Silver, filed a public records request seeking a copy. UofA released a heavily edited copy of the report to Silver on January 13, 1992. Four days later, a different, but still heavily condensed, version of the Booz report was presented to the Board of Regents as the regents were preparing to decide whether to continue supporting the telescope project.

University officials told the regents they couldn't release all the information contained in the Booz report because it would be damaging to UofA in several pending lawsuits filed by the San Carlos Apaches, the Sierra Club and to ongoing negotiations concerning Ohio State University's desire to withdraw as a partner in the LBT. The board accepted that explanation, except for state Superintendent of Public Instruction C. Diane Bishop.

What UofA gave the regents was a 12-page, sanitized, upbeat version of what was really going on. The full story didn't come out until March 1993, when the complete, uncensored, 42-page Booz report finally was released under court order to Silver, who had sued UofA for full disclosure. The uncensored report--while recommending that UofA move forward with the telescope project--portrays an administrative fiasco with serious problems including:

"The project's reputation is quite damaged--many scientists believe it is all but dead."

There are "financial risks associated with the mirror lab," which builds the optics for the telescopes, including the necessity to secure "cash flow to fund mirror casting."

There is "potential for a national-scale Indian battle" over native rights and beliefs.

The "fund-raising plan for [the LBT] must be revamped." Data provided to the regents in the condensed report are occasionally contradicted by the full Booz document. For example, the condensed version given to the regents states that UofA's "mirror technology should produce larger mirrors at lower cost than alternative means." The full report raises serious questions of whether the mirror lab could produce the large mirrors at the projected costs and notes "if the costs are out of line with expectations, your exposure could be quite high--as you have contracted to provide the mirror and have not agreed to share any cost overruns."

Bishop remains outraged by the university's presentation of a one-sided report. "I think it was unconscionable. I think it was unethical," Bishop says.

The regents, she says, were not given adequate information prior to voting 8-2 to continue the project. She believes the vote might have been different if the university had laid all its cards on the table.

Other regents disagree with Bishop's harsh assessment. Board president Andrew Hurwitz said the university's reasons for withholding the information were valid. He also said the full report was available to regents to review in closed session.

Regent Eddie Basha calls the university's censorship of the report "ludicrous" and "a mistake," but he still favors the telescopes. "I think it is still very viable," he says.

Perhaps the most damaging item withheld from the regents and the public was unearthed by Silver's lawsuit: Booz, Allen & Hamilton expressed concern that UofA's financing plan for the LBT was "possibly illegal."

@rule:
@body:Days before the university presented its doctored Booz report to the Board of Regents in January 1992, UofA special counsel Jacqueline Schneider asked the university's bond counsel and financial advisers to review portions of the full report. Schneider was particularly concerned about references in the Booz document to an illegal bond plan.

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