Military needs studyWe are concerned about what may result from the commission that is being established to investigate the major impact of military funding on research and education at MIT. Unless it is given sufficient funding, manpower, time, and freedom to conduct open-minded debate, it may produce nothing but idle chatter. This would be unfortunate because the extent of military influence upon an MIT education is a highly contested issue; it needs study.
Such study may prove that there is a problem. If so, actions to restore normal relations between the military establishment and the university community may be warranted, for three reasons.
First, the academic freedom to choose one's research direction is fundamental to the principle of free scientific inquiry -- pursuit of knowledge for its own sake -- under which MIT operates. But the inordinately large availability of military money transforms academic decisions into economic ones.
"The nations's emphasis on defense produces a bias towards specific areas of research at the Institute, and makes it more difficult to move in other directions," said MIT's review panel on Lincoln and Draper in 1969. The resulting allocation of MIT's resources is particularly disturbing. It deemphasizes the technical fields which offer a broad educational experience -- those disciplines in which academic pursuits are motivated by human needs, requiring students to consider societal effects.
Second, the Department of Defense is the primary source of interest in certain engineering fields, particularly those spawned since World War II. THe resulting focus on esoteric miltary needs stifles creativity in non-military applications. One can argue that there are civilian spinoffs to the Strategic Computing Initiative, a recent DOD effort to rapidly advance computer science technology for military applications. But one would think that there are more efficient ways to develop beneficial technology than by accident.
Third, MIT has traditionally played an important role in carrying out studies which help determine the policy decisions of the elected representatives of the American people. The freedom to doubt or question established views or to consider unpopular ones is a vital component of university independence. MIT's reliance on military research funding may compromise its essential nonpartisan role.
The MIT community should be concerned about how the military link constrains our ability to provide critical input on the formulation and execution of defense policy, and eager to learn more about the extent to which the military determines our endeavors.
There is nothing to fear about the new commission, since its purpose is primarily to investigate the extent of military influence. Even if the commission's conclusions suggest some actions, actual decisions affecting MIT policy will still have to be approved by normal channels within the admininstration. We see no way that simply studying military influence could have any effect but to improve the quality of those decisions.
Rich Cowan G->
Jonathan Weil G->
Manavendra K. Thakur '87->
Robert Krawitz '86->
James Risbey G->