HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - Tensions were high at a University of Hawaii Board of Regents meeting Friday, where scores turned out to testify against the Thirty Meter Telescope project.
TMT wasn’t on the agenda at the meeting, which lasted more than five hours, but regents did create a “permitted interaction group” to discuss the university’s management of Mauna Kea.
Much of the testimony at the meeting, though, centered instead on the $1.4 billion Thirty Meter Telescope. In written testimony, some TMT supporters said the project was important for the university to pursue.
Opponents called on the board to get involved and stop the project.
“You should only be meeting to stop the TMT, not matters of governance under what authority,” said UH professor Cynthia Franklin. “How can you do anything at this point other than apologize to the people that you subjected to state violence?”
UH Professor Kaleikoa Kaeo, meanwhile, testified that University of Hawaii President David Lassner should resign over the arrests of 38 people, mostly kupuna, at the TMT protest on the base of Mauna Kea.
“Yes, I hope David Lassner resigns,” Kaeo told the board. “In fact, I challenge Mr. Lassner to a public debate on whether or not this institution is a system of racism."
Lassner told Hawaii News Now earlier this week that he has no plans to resign.
He also said the conflict on Mauna Kea is the greatest challenge he’s faced as UH president.
“I know there are a lot of people, friends disappointed in me from their perspective. They wish I had gone another way," Lassner said. “I also have many friends and community members who are incredibly supportive" of the project.
The meeting comes on the 19th day of a large protest at Mauna Kea, aimed at stopping TMT construction vehicles from ascending the only access road to the summit.
The protest has swelled to more than 1,000 people some days, and has included a number of University of Hawaii professors, students and researchers.
As the University of Hawaii prepares to return to class for the fall semester, professors are offering distance learning to students who want to be on Mauna Kea when school starts in three weeks.
A list of available courses started circulating Thursday with more than 100 faculty with diverse subjects including Hawaiian, English, economics, ethnic studies, pharmacology, American pop music and African American literature.
“This is an opportunity of a lifetime to learn directly on the Mauna, gain experience that you can’t otherwise gain through being on the land, working with the community who’s come together to support each other,” said UH Ethnic Studies Professor Daviana McGregor.
UH Professor Noelani Goodyear-Kaopua was one of the protesters who tied themselves to a cattle guard at Mauna Kea for nearly 12 hours. She’s offering distance learning and says about a dozen students have responded so far to her call on social media.
“You must go and visit the kupuna to see what your students are doing there. They are locking themselves to the cattle guard. They are standing as kakoo to the kupuna who were arrested,” she said.
A spokesman says it’s not unusual to offer long-distance learning and it’s not known how many students will sign up. UH says credited courses will receive credit.