The University of Hawaii is investigating possible new management structures for governing Maunakea lands in an effort to improve its stewardship of the mountain.
After passing a resolution last year requiring the discussion of a reorganization of the university’s management of the mountain, the UH Board of Regents at a meeting earlier this month considered a possible model to improve the university’s internal management structure as well as the implications of other models that shift authority of the Maunakea Science Reserve away from UH entirely.
The theoretical new internal management structure, which the board will consider approving at a May meeting, differs from the current one primarily by its increased transparency, said Greg Chun, UH executive director of Maunakea stewardship.
Currently, UH’s Maunakea management model places two organizations governing activities on the mountain under the jurisdiction of two separate UH campuses: the Office of Maunakea Management — which formulated UH’s Comprehensive Management Plan — answers to the chancellor of UH-Hilo, while Maunakea Support Services — which operates Halepohaku, among other things — answers to the provost of UH-Manoa.
Under the restructured plan, both OMKM and MKSS would be reformulated into a single organization called the Center for Maunakea Stewardship, which would answer to the UH-Hilo chancellor.
“It’s not uncommon that the two different entities march to different beats, because they’re answering to different campuses,” Chun said, adding that the new plan would make the university’s governance more straightforward.
The board also discussed several possible broader governance structures that the state could implement to improve transparency, each of which would shift the Maunakea master lease away from UH’s control. None of those models were recommended or proposed, Chun said, as they are beyond the Board of Regents’ ability to implement.
Each of those possible models, however, would change UH’s relationship with astronomy on the mountain, Chun said.
“When UH becomes just a tenant, not the holder, of the master lease, it starts to erode at our relationships with the observatories up there,” Chun said. “The master lease was transferred to UH to create a world-class astronomy facility.”
Chun added that any model that removes UH from management of the mountain must also consider how to pay for the programs that UH currently funds, such as the Maunakea rangers.
However, removing UH from management of the mountain might be desirable for some.
Noe Noe Wong-Wilson, a leader of the anti-TMT protests on the Maunakea Access Road last year, said she is encouraged that UH is at least discussing the possibility of stepping back from managing Maunakea, although she added that she believes none of the models discussed go far enough.
“I think this process needs to get into the community in a different way,” Wong-Wilson said, explaining that community input is limited enough at Board of Regents meetings even during the best of times, and even more so now that the COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted public gatherings worldwide.
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