Saturday, August 17, 2019

Waiting for Result

Whatever happened to the Harvard admissions lawsuit? Blog readers - and others - will recall that last fall there was a high-profile trial in which the allegation was that Harvard discriminated against Asian Americans in its admissions procedures. The lawsuit was brought by a group which is anxious to bring the issue of affirmative action to the U.S. Supreme Court (which it believes - with new conservative justices - might reverse its previous decisions allowing affirmative action under limited circumstances).

After the trial concluded in February 2019, the outcome has been awaited and awaited and awaited - and is still being awaited. At the time the trial ended, the Boston Globe said a decision was due "in the coming months." The last reference yours truly found was a Time magazine article from March 2019 indicating that a decision was likely "in coming weeks."*

Yours truly is not sure what the duration of "coming weeks" is, but whatever it is, it has come and gone without a decision. And we surely must be near the end of "coming months." Meanwhile, a separate lawsuit against the Harvard Law Review regarding its selection of student staff members - effectively another challenge to affirmative action - was recently dismissed in technical grounds.**

So we await. As blog readers will know, UC admissions are governed by state law under Proposition 209 which bans affirmative action. But - depending on the Harvard case (or maybe some other) - an eventual decision by the U.S. Supreme Court could have some impact locally.***
* and We last referenced the case at:
***One possibility is that the judge could ultimately dismiss the case on the grounds that no specific person who alleges he/she was harmed by the Harvard admission procedures was produced. UCLA law Professor Richard Sander has challenged UC regarding its admissions data in a related matter:

Friday, August 16, 2019

Telescope - The Silence of UC Continues

We noted yesterday that UC has an academic and financial interest in the proposed Hawaiian telescope, but has remained silent as the controversy unfolds. This kind of political-cultural dispute is not the type of controversy astronomers have expertise in. (Note: Yours truly can {dimly to be sure} remember a discussion of the telescope proposal decades ago at the Academic Council, so this is not a matter involving UC that arose only in the last few years.) The UC prez has not been shy about expressing opinions about other matters of public import.

There is obvious UC interest in the telescope controversy, since UC Daily News Clips keeps featuring it. Here's today's sample (one of three links provided):

TMT supporters hold rally

Michael Brestovansky | Hawaii Tribune-Herald | August 16, 2019 |

Approximately 100 people gathered along Kanoelehua Avenue Thursday afternoon to show support for the Thirty Meter Telescope project, while hundreds more drivers gave appreciative honks in agreement.

The sign-waving crowd was the third such rally at Kanoelehua Avenue in support of the controversial project, and drew a comparable number of supporters to the last one, which took place July 25.

“A picture’s worth a thousand words,” said Jason Chu, a post-doctoral fellow with Gemini Observatory. “We want to show [Gov. David] Ige and [Mayor Harry] Kim that we are 100 percent behind them in supporting the law.”

Chu, whose wife Laurie Chu organized both the July 25 and Thursday’s rallies, said the previous rally was a morale booster for TMT supporters who may feel as though their position is unpopular.

“I’m not without sympathy for the sovereignty movement, and how the Hawaiian people have been treated,” said Hilo resident Sylvia Dahlby. “I do believe [Maunakea] is a holy place, a sacred place. It’s a portal to the universe.”

On the mountain, Dahlby said, nations from all around the world work together in peace to better humanity’s understanding of the universe.

“It’s the most noble project we can be a part of,” Dahlby said.

Alyssa Grace, a Gemini outreach assistant, said she knows friends and family who support the construction of the telescope, but have received aggressive, sometimes threatening backlash online for voicing that support.

“We want people to not be afraid of saying what they believe,” Grace said.

That said, Hilo resident Theresa De Mello said the majority of people she interacts with also support the project, even if they aren’t vocal about it. And even those who disagree with her — including her granddaughter — remain respectful and friendly with her.

But even if the majority of Hawaii residents do support the TMT project, the turnout on Thursday was a fraction of the typical daily attendance of the protest opposing the project at Maunakea Access Road, which has continued uninterrupted for an entire month and regularly sees over a thousand participants.

“Other than reasons like people having to work, you have to remember that there’s fewer people here because it’s supporting the law,” Jason Chu said. “It’s like holding a rally saying ‘let’s enforce the speed limit.’ Not a lot of people are going to come to that.”

Grace said similar rallies will continue in the future, possibly on a bi-weekly or monthly basis.

“But even without the rallies, there are other ways to show support,” Grace said, mentioning social media groups and other astronomy events.


Thursday, August 15, 2019

Telescope - The Saga Continues

UC has a scientific and financial interest in the proposed Hawaiian telescope - but has been silent about recent events regarding it. UC hasn't been publicly silent about other issues in the news, notably immigration policy. Do the Regents have any opinions? The UC prez?

Telescopes in Hawaii reopen after deal with protesters

By Daniel Clery, Aug. 13, 2019, Science

Astronomers at the 12 observatories atop Mauna Kea in Hawaii returned to work on 10 August, after a deal was made with protesters blocking construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT).

State authorities brokered the deal, which includes the construction of a temporary roadway built across hardened lava around the protesters’ camp on the summit access road. Law enforcement will give protesters an advance list of all vehicles going up and down—to show that they are not associated with the TMT.

Astronomers are grateful for an end to the 4-week shutdown of the existing observatories—the longest in the 5-decade history of the Mauna Kea observatories. “It was very far-reaching,” says Sarah Bosman of University College London, who lost 3 nights of time to observe distant galaxies with the twin W. M. Keck Observatory telescopes. “Every area of astronomy was affected by this.”

The Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope (CFHT) reported that on its first night back in operation, it located an asteroid called 2006 QV89 that was potentially on a collision course with Earth. Discovered 13 years ago, the asteroid drifted out of observing range before astronomers could get a fix on its orbit. The CFHT was perfectly positioned last month to pin down its trajectory when observations were halted. After a nail-biting month, CFHT astronomers picked up the asteroid’s trail straight away on the night of 10 August. Within an hour of publishing their results on 11 August, researchers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, confirmed there was no risk of a collision at any time in the next century—including nine close encounters in the next decade.

The $1.4 billion TMT project, which will be the largest telescope in the Northern Hemisphere, has struggled ever since its groundbreaking ceremony was disrupted by protesters in 2014. Attempts to restart construction were delayed by court battles over the validity of the telescope’s building permit. Opponents say Mauna Kea is sacred and complain that the University of Hawaii mismanages the mountaintop observatories. The protests have also become entangled in issues of Hawaiian nationalism, self-determination, and land rights.

After the court challenges were dismissed and the permit reissued, Hawaii Governor David Ige (D) announced in June that construction would soon restart. But when the appointed day came, hundreds of people had set up camp, blocking the access road.

Despite polling showing that most Hawaiian voters support the telescope, crowds reportedly swelled to more than 1000 people at times. Social media campaigns have drawn support from across the globe, including actors Dwayne Johnson and Jason Momoa—who both visited the protest site—and Democratic presidential hopeful Elizabeth Warren. “TMT had done a terrible job with social media,” Bosman says.

Last week, TMT management said it had applied for a building permit at its “plan B” site at La Palma in Spain’s Canary Islands. TMT Executive Director Ed Stone said in a statement that this was simply part of a process that has been going on since 2016 and that Mauna Kea “remains the preferred site for TMT.”

Astronomers are concerned that the TMT has been hijacked by issues that have little to do with science. “The state leadership really needs to be decisive, both on TMT’s access and on these broader issues faced in Hawaii,” says Thayne Currie, an astrophysicist at the NASA Ames Research Center in Mountain View, California, who uses Mauna Kea telescopes. The astronomy community has also made mistakes, he says. “The resolution to this situation will likely include accelerated removal of decommissioned telescopes and Hawaiian land rights and self-determination. TMT and the astronomy community should support these efforts.”

The protests show no signs of slackening. The camp now hosts shops, cafeterias, and lectures. “It’s got to a point where the protesters probably don’t want a compromise anymore,” Bosman says. “It’s hard to see what would be compromise enough.”


And, to complicate the matter further:

Questions arise over Mauna Kea road

Honolulu Star-Advertiser, 8-15-19, Sophie Cocke via UC Daily News Clips

Hawaii Sen. Kai Kahele (D, Hilo) questioned whether the state Department of Transportation has legal jurisdiction over Mauna Kea Access Road during a legislative briefing at the state Capitol on Wednesday, setting up what could potentially develop into a larger legal issue for the Thirty Meter Telescope and other telescope sites atop Mauna Kea.

About 50 years ago, the Department of Transportation built Mauna Kea Access Road over Department of Hawaiian Home Lands property without permission. That road and others throughout the state that were built on DHHL land became part of a much bigger $600 million settlement that the state entered into in 1995 to compensate DHHL for the misuse of Hawaiian home lands. As part of that agreement, known as Act 14, the state was required to compensate DHHL for Mauna Kea Access Road via a land swap.

However, the state never executed a land transfer, DHHL Director William Aila told lawmakers during a legislative briefing called by the Senate Hawaiian Affairs Committee.

The Attorney General’s office says operational control over the road still resides with the Department of Transportation, even though 24 years later DHHL has yet to be compensated. Aila said Gov. David Ige’s administration is working to ensure the land swap is completed.

“The governor has made it a priority,” said Aila.

However, Kahele argued that without a completed land swap, the state had breached the agreement.

“If what you say is true, that the land exchange has never occurred, then without that compliance with Act 14, the state of Hawaii cannot claim title to Mauna Kea Access Road,” said Kahele to applause from opponents of the TMT who crowded the hearing room. “That road belongs to the beneficiaries of the Hawaiian Homes Commission Act.”

DHHL still owns the land under the road raising additional questions about the rights of Hawaiian beneficiaries, said Kahele.

“When you have a beneficiary, as defined by the Hawaiian Homes Commission Act of 1920, sitting on Mauna Kea Access Road, what does not give them the right to be there if they are the beneficiaries of the trust and you just said it is still in your land inventory?” he said.

Aila said he was relying on the advice of the Attorney General’s office when it comes to jurisdiction.

“I have been advised by the Department of the Attorney General, who also advises you, that the transfer has occurred and therefore DOT has operational control over the road,” Aila said. “So you are entitled to ask the attorney general the same question that we did and see if you can get a different answer.”

The state closed Mauna Kea Access Road on July 15 to begin transporting equipment up the mountain to the TMT construction site, but opponents of the telescope, known as kia‘i, quickly set up a blockade. State law enforcement officers arrested about three dozen kupuna who were blocking the road on July 17, but have since backed off in what has devolved into a standoff between the state and TMT opponents with no clear path forward for the $1.4 billion telescope project.

Mauna Kea Access Road continues to be blocked by Hawaiians protesting construction of the TMT who have set up tents on the road. The number of demonstrators ebbs and flows and has grown to as many as a few thousand on weekends. The road has become the center of hula and musical performances, and where visitors offer gifts to the kupuna.

Alan Murakami, an attorney and community engagement officer for the Native Hawaiian Legal Corporation, said the lack of a state land swap raises legal questions for TMT.

 “If it is true that there has been no confirmation of a land exchange as contemplated under Act 14, then there is no transfer of title and should not be a transfer of title that would justify the assertion of control and management over any property that was not properly compensated for,” Murakami told the Star-Advertiser. He added that any trustee has a duty to protect trust assets from any loss.

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Good time for UCOP to review all its tax-favored saving arrangements?

MIT might have a hard time
explaining its behavior to a jury
Since Fidelity plays a role in administering UC's retirement plans, and since the lawsuit described below is receiving considerable publicity, it might be a good time for the powers-that-be to review its saving plans and other elements of the relationship with Fidelity.

MIT Accused Of Costing Workers Millions In Cozy Deal With Financial Giant Fidelity

NPR, 8-14-19

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology, one of the nation's most prestigious universities, stands accused of hurting workers in the company's retirement plan by engaging in an improper relationship with the financial firm Fidelity.

A lawsuit headed to trial in September alleges that MIT ignored the advice of its own consultants and allowed Fidelity to pack the university's retirement plan with high-fee investment funds that ended up costing employees tens of millions of dollars. In return, the lawsuit said, MIT leveraged millions of dollars in donations from Fidelity.

MIT and Fidelity say the allegations have no merit.

The same as any employer that offers workers a retirement plan, MIT is required by law to set up investment options that are in the best interest of its employees and retirees.

"And we contend they egregiously failed to do that," said Jerry Schlichter, the attorney behind the lawsuit. Schlichter has made a career of targeting big company and university retirement plans, saying in lawsuits that they charge excessive fees and hurt workers. He sues to try to force the companies to offer a better plan. That has earned him the nickname "the 401(k) Lone Ranger."

Twenty years ago, MIT hired Fidelity to help manage its 401(k) plan. But the lawsuit alleges that MIT then let Fidelity include dozens of Fidelity funds with high fees — and that some charged fees more than 100 times higher than other funds that MIT could have chosen. Schlichter says MIT's own outside consultants recommended shifting to a plan with lower-cost investment options, but "that advice was ignored for years."

Meanwhile, Schlichter's lawsuit says, MIT benefited from the excessive fees that the workers' retirement plan paid Fidelity. Court documents allege: "In return, MIT leveraged Fidelity's revenue stream from the Plan to secure numerous donations (over $23 million since Fidelity became the recordkeeper)."

In 2015, when the university considered other options, an MIT dean emailed the head of an MIT committee overseeing the plan: "if we're not switching to Vanguard or TIAA Cref, I am going to expect something big and good coming to MIT," according to the court records.

Schlichter says soon after that exchange, "Fidelity donated $5 million to MIT."

In a court filing, MIT said the dean who wrote that email quote "never had any fiduciary responsibility for the plan."

The lawsuit also said Fidelity executives took MIT officials on lavish outings, including an NBA Finals game...

Full story at

Extra Cash

The state controller has published her cash report for the first month (July) of the 2019-20 fiscal year. One month does not a year make, but there was $1.4 billion more in revenue than was forecast at the time the state budget was enacted.

Of course, that was July and the stock market dropped about 3% today. So we will see...

You can find the controller's report at:

Bagels Are Toast in Psych

Read all about it from Inside Higher Ed here:

Listen to the Regents' Health Services Committee Meeting of August 13, 2019

The Regents' Health Services Committee met yesterday at UCLA. As usual, we have archived the audio since the Regents preserve their recordings for only one year. The public comment period was devoted to two subjects: chronic fatigue syndrome* and union issues related to today's planned walkout.**

At the meeting, the retirement of Dr. John Stobo as EVC of UC Health was acknowledged. When pay issues related to health execs were discussed, the general topic of pay inequality arose. Essentially, top execs were being compared with more typical UC employees. In the course of the discussion, there seemed to be confusion between the meaning of "anecdotes" versus "antidotes." (Well, it is the health committee!)

The topic turned to discussion of various programs to promote diversity in the health professions, mental health services (including funding issues for such services), retreat topics for the fall, and growth of the health enterprise relative to the rest of the university.

Listen to the meeting at:

or direct to: