UC Students Call for Divestment from Mauna Kea Project

The Associated Students of UC San Diego’s Office of External Affairs penned a statement to the UC Board of Regents on July 6, calling for the UC system to divest from the Thirty Meter Telescope project located at Mauna Kea, Hawaii. The project aims to build the largest visible-light telescope in the world with its 30-meter prime mirror diameter and provide new observations in the field of astronomy.  

The statement claimed that the TMT poses a religious and cultural threat to the native Hawaiian people, who regard the mountain of Mauna Kea as a sacred place.

“The project stands in blatant violation of multiple articles in the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples,” the statement reads. “The UC partnership and participation in the TMT project not only violates these provisions, but also underscores the University of California’s continued disregard towards indigenous populations.” 

The statement was shared across UC campuses and has received hundreds of endorsements from individual students and campus organizations.

“We were asked to make a statement by the Mauna Kea Protectors, which is what caused the creation of this open letter,” Vice President of External Affairs Alisha Saxena said. “The Mauna Kea Protectors need our support in any way possible, and we thought that bringing student support in one place would make that impact statement to really force the UC Board of Regents to reconsider their investment.”

Despite numerous lawsuits by Native Hawaiian cultural practitioners such as the Mauna Kea Anaina Hou, the Supreme Court of Hawaii permitted the construction of TMT on top of Mauna Kea in October 2018 — site construction began in July 2019. According to the statement, the UC system has pledged more than $68 million for the project while the project is anticipated to cost $2.4 billion dollars. 

“The UC needs to reconsider its actions pertaining to indigenous peoples in California obviously, but also beyond,” said Sixth College Senator Zaccary Bradt. “This [divestment] would represent a turning point for the UC and a start to respecting the lands and rights of indigenous peoples.”

Mauna Kea was chosen as a preferred site by the Thirty Meter Telescope International Observatory for a TMT in 2009 after a thorough evaluation of the site’s quality and the atmospheric properties that were deemed crucial for the performance of the telescope, including water vapor and wind speed. The TMT’s construction is expected to be completed in July 2027.

The Office of External Affairs’s statement will be sent to the UC Regents on Saturday, July 11 after endorsements close on the evening of Friday, July 10. 

Picture taken by Caleb Jones for the Associated Press.