15 June 2011

The Militarization of Canada's Universities: From simulation programs to unmanned drones, Canada's schools have joined the fight

This article is reproduced here with the author's permission. It was first published in The Mark on 01 June 2011, and then on WL Central on 03 June 2011. The author, Laura Beach, is a student in anthropology at Concordia University and an activist. A longer version of the work below will be published in a forthcoming volume edited by Maximilian Forte, The New Imperialism, Vol. II.

Fifty years ago, in his farewell address, President Dwight Eisenhower warned the American public against the “unwarranted influence” of industry and military interests on academic institutions. A close look at this influence within the context of Canadian universities suggests he had good cause to worry.

The influence of what Eisenhower termed the “military industrial complex” within the university sphere has been facilitated by a number of radical changes in post-secondary research and funding paradigms. Over the past four decades, a shift away from numbers-based funding toward “performance”-based indicators has effectively minimized the importance of enrolment, retention, and graduation rates while maximizing the importance of job placement data, faculty productivity, and external funding for research.

External (corporate) funding for research has assumed a central role in the university funding paradigm with the rise of proprietary research, accompanying sales and revenues generated through royalties, and a growing emphasis on public-private research partnerships. A significant portion of federal funding to Canadian universities now flows through “matching funds” projects where industry and government share financial investment.

The Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) and the Networks of Centres of Excellence both participate in “matching funds” projects, favouring research that has direct applications in private industry. It is within this context that the influence of the military has become so pervasive in universities across the country.

This influence has myriad manifestations, as does the involvement of Canadian professors and students who are involved in military-related research. Social and political scientists contribute to the perpetuation of militarist ideology through academic publications, media interviews, and social events funded by the Department of National Defence (DND).

Professors and students of science and engineering departments contribute to the development of military weapons technology through research partnerships and funding from DND, Defence Research and Development Canada (DRDC), NSERC, the National Research Council, the Intelligent Sensing for Innovative Structures, Canada Research Network, and various corporations. Some branches of the United States military, including the Defence Threat Reduction Agency, also provide funding to Canadian universities.

The main channel for military funding to social and political science departments is the Security Defence Forum (SDF). Established during the Cold War by DND, the SDF exists to distribute department funds to Canadian political and social science departments through “centres of expertise.” In return for funding, centres are expected to produce academic articles, conduct media interviews, publish Op-Ed articles, participate in conferences, and host a number of events to reach out to the public. The impartiality of funding allocation for research topics is seriously questionable, and casts doubt on the objectivity and academic freedom of these centres.

For example, Arthur C. Perron, a retired vice-president of communications at Capital Area Energy, a military weapons service provider with millions of dollars in contracts across the globe, and H. Cameron Ross, a retired military general and senior military advisor to EnCana Corp., a high-grossing natural gas corporation, have both sat on the SDF selection committee. This is the body in charge of allocating funding to centres and effectively determining the nature of the research conducted.

Funded research topics include terrorism, weapons of mass destruction, defence procurement and management, Canadian forces transformation, Canada-U.S. defence relations, and the international role of the Canadian Forces.

There are 12 “centres of expertise” across Canada, involving professors and graduate students from 14 universities, including Concordia University, York University, the University of British Columbia, UniversitĂ© de Montreal, and McGill University. Over the 2007-2008 fiscal year, these centres received $2.4 million in funding through the SDF and DND in research grants, salaries, academic awards, special projects funds, international conference funds, and national conference funds. The centres collectively wrote more than 100 Op-Ed articles, conducted over 1,300 media interviews, and hosted 412 events, reaching out to over 18,000 people.

Critics of the SDF, including Operation Objection, a not-for-profit anti-militarist organization, have highlighted a correlation in funding increases through the SDF and escalating and/or controversial Canadian military activity.

The Defence Department is also one of the main funding sources for science and engineering research toward the development of military technology. In 2010 and 2011, more than $17 million in research contracts were awarded to science and engineering departments in Canadian universities. DRDC is an even bigger funding source, donating roughly $150 million per year to public-private research partnership programs.

Through these funding partnerships, Canadian professors and students have contributed to the development of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV), military simulation programs used for training military personnel, and Solid Fuel Air Explosives (bombs) used to target insurgents in Afghanistan.

The most common weaponry developed in Canadian universities is that of UAVs, which are operated remotely, sometimes from thousands of miles away, and are used for a variety of military operations, including targeted assassinations. They have been criticized for the physical removal of soldiers from the battlefield, making it psychologically easier to kill, and for the indiscriminate nature of the bombs used that tend to incur a shocking amount of “collateral damage” – in other words, killing innocent civilians.

If we consider such factors as human rights violations and lives lost in battle, the impact of military technology developed in part by professors and students of Canadian universities is deeply disturbing. However, not one Canadian university is willing to consider the impacts of the application of military technology beyond the classroom before they approve research and funding contracts.

The common rule of “do no harm” included in all university ethical research policy does not extend beyond the immediate ramifications of research. So long as no one is hurt during the design of a bomb, it does not matter what the bomb is designed for. It is against this logic that organizations like DeMilitarize McGill, Science for Peace, and Operation Objection rally.

The Canadian Association of University Teachers speaks to the time-honoured role of education toward the betterment of society, asserting that “education’s most basic purpose is to enhance life and the dignity of the human person.” In marked contrast, the complicity and lack of concern demonstrated by Canada’s universities, its faculty, and students exemplify a growing emphasis on ethically questionable private-public military research.

The oversight of current research policy denies the deliberation of ethical implications and robs universities and the community at large of the opportunity for transparent and open dialogue. There is a great need to frankly address the shifts in raison d'ĂȘtre of Canadian universities if the influence of the military industrial complex is to be kept in check.

The author wishes to acknowledge the following books in her research: Con U Inc: Privatization, Marketization and Globalization at Concordia University (and beyond) by David Bernans; The University in Chains by Henry Giroux; The Military-Academic Complex by Nick Turse (published on Z-net).
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