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The following op-ed was written by Old Dominion University President Roseann Runte and appeared in The Virginian-Pilot Monday, June 14.

O B J E C T I O N !
Maglev is still on course; doomsayers are premature

Recent articles and editorials in The Virginian-Pilot decidedly give the impression that some people do not like the maglev project at Old Dominion University. That is their privilege. However, it is also your responsibility to publish all the facts.
    At ODU we are feeling a bit like a target on the practice range. But fortunately, as Mark Twain once said, "News of my demise has been greatly exaggerated."
    Earlier this year while we were negotiating a settlement to the legal disputes surrounding maglev, we informed The Pilot. Notwithstanding this information, The Pilot announced the failure of the project, neglecting to mention the valiant efforts under way to save it - efforts that were successful! Little attention, in fact, has been paid to what has been accomplished.
    More recently, we scrupulously told reporters that two of the stations would be torn down for safety and for better coordination with the university's new plan for a parking deck. Indeed, this information had been made public on a number of occasions since late last fall. Yet, this information was omitted from the story and then the Old Dominion University administration, in a June 6 Dave Addis column, was accused of neglecting to mention this fact.
    The administration was further accused of neglect (failure to do due diligence). Let me say that my predecessor, Dr. James Koch, was a visionary and clever leader. With no resources, he attracted a major research project with no capital implications for the university.
    My own administrative team has since been working diligently to solve a number of financial, legal and technical problems. For nearly seven months, reporters from The Pilot pored over every document in existence to identify improper practices on the part of the university. They have not found such an error, nor have state audit reviews.
    Despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, The Pilot gave a voice to every doubt and concluded fault lay with the administration. The Pilot staff may well think the project is ill-advised, but they cannot conclude that ODU's administration acted inappropriately.
    At the university we welcome criticism and debate. The maglev story is a narrative that affords more than one reading. One could consider that the researchers and administrators at Old Dominion University might be worthy of praise, whether or not one supports the concept of magnetic levitation, whether or not the train proves successful.
    The only possible outcome of this research is success because whether the train's ride is bumpy or not, we will have learned a great deal and contributed to scientific knowledge and the creation of solutions. That is, after all, part of a research university's mission.
    It is too easy to suggest that the project be dropped, though we have certainly contemplated that option. We believe, however, that we have a responsibility to pursue knowledge through scientific research to improve the world. We have a responsibility to teach our students to persevere in the face of difficulty. We have no choice but to continue our work until we have done our utmost.
    Because the next phase of maglev work was largely held up by legal problems until recently, our scientists have not yet had sufficient opportunity to test all their proposed solutions.
    The maglev is, in a way, a metaphor for life. At times the ride is bumpy, but you should not throw in the towel without giving it the good old college try.
    We will all soon enough be able to judge whether the maglev vehicle and system works or not. When we do, whatever the outcome, everyone will say, "I told you so -- I always knew it would/would not work."
    Until then, please do not castigate us for trying or condemn us without regard for the facts. Let us all be patient. Let us not reject a possible solution to the nation's transportation problems because the experiment did not stick to its original schedule. After all, it took us a century to create the traffic jams that are the bane of our existence.
    Surely, we can allow our researchers a few months more. Their work has been deemed worthy of a grant for further research. Important agencies believe they might succeed. Other states and countries are following the progress of this effort.
    If we stopped all research at every university because it did not appear successful initially, many important discoveries that have improved our lives would never have been made. One day, that list just might include magnetic levitation. If it does, I want the list to include ODU as the forward-thinking institution that pursued this idea.

Roseann Runte is president of Old Dominion University.

This article was posted on: June 14, 2004

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