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MIT must divest its South African connections

We have recently learned of a disturbing development in the research funding practices of the US Department of Defense (DoD). DoD intends to use the prestige and status of MIT and other research universities -- and their faculties -- to firmly establish and legitimize the politically controversial Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI), commonly known as "Star Wars." These new DoD strategies may compromise MIT's independence by creating a disproportionate reliance on SDI as a research funding source. In addition, these tactics may limit MIT's ability to set its own guidelines on classified research in the future.

Just what is DoD doing? The Office of the Secretary of Defense has ordered DoD agencies to transfer funds for projects already underway to SDI wherever possible. For instance, at MIT, approximately 20 percent of the research funding at Lincoln Lab has already been shifted to SDI authority. We are also aware of funding shifts in on-campus research. Furthermore, the SDI managers are trying to push a new $100 million basic research program through Congress this summer by soliciting informal proposals from university researchers -- including some from MIT.

The political nature of these tactics is undeniable. The director of the new program, Dr. James Ionson, was recently quoted in the journal Science as saying, "this office is trying to sell something to Congress. If we can say that this fellow at MIT will get money to do such and such research, it's something to sell."

DoD knows that the influence of thousands of missile and aircraft industry employees has swayed many weapons procurement votes in Congress. The SDI research program faces a tough battle in Congress this summer over a proposed 150 percent increase in funding. It is clear that DoD intends that the researchers and administrators at MIT and other universities serve as a similar constituency for SDI. The use of academic institutions to pervert the democratic process is unacceptable, and MIT should take no part in it.

Why is reliance on SDI funds dangerous for MIT? SDI has a narrower goal than other defense agencies -- to produce ballistic missile defense weapons. Thus, SDI is likely to fund research at MIT in a narrower range of disciplines. The number of faculty, courses and student research opportunities in related areas will likely increase, at the expense of "irrelevant" fields, such as the life sciences (which have already sustained major cuts in federal support).

Furthermore, SDI managers have refused to make clear the degree to which the research they sponsor will be classified. Thus, MIT researchers might inadvertantly commit themselves to work which violates current Institute policies forbidding classified research on campus, thereby endangering the policies themselves. MIT should not allow itself to fall into such a trap.

What has MIT's response to this dilemma been thus far? The MIT administration does not seem to be interested in promoting open discussion of SDI funding. Professors have told us that Institute officials have said that MIT has no plans to take a stand on this issue and have, in fact, tried to prohibit faculty from publicly voicing objections to the program if they mention their institutional affiliation. The desire of MIT to censor itself does not give it the right to censor the expression of legitimate concerns of individual members of the community. Furthermore, by keeping silent MIT is failing to address issues whose resolution is critical to its future health and vitality.

Open debate of controversial issues is not new to MIT and is, in fact, a fundamental academic principle. For instance, two years ago, MIT along with other universities successfully persuaded DoD to reverse its position on pre-publication restrictions on cryptography research. In view of this tradition, we believe that MIT should do the following:

O+ The MIT Administration should reverse itself and encourage faculty and staff to speak out on the subject of the potential impacts of SDI funding on university life.

O+ To enhance this discussion, MIT should gather and make available in an easily understandable form the number, types, and size of current grants for research conducted on-campus and at Lincoln Laboratory, whose source has been or will be shifted to SDI.

O+ MIT should immediately issue a statement articulating how its current regulations and anticipated revisions apply to issues raised by the SDI program. Included in this statement, MIT should outline the steps it intends to take to involve Administration, faculty, staff and students in an open airing of this issue. We request that this statement be available no later than May 28, two weeks from today and should be published in the first issues of The Tech and Tech Talk after that date.

O+ Beyond these initial steps, we expect that SDI issues will be further explored by the commission recently formed to examine the impact of military funding on MIT.

O+ MIT should immediately initiate discussions with other major research universities over the SDI's possible impact on their academic programs and policies. In these discussions, MIT should advocate that no university be expected to accept research contracts whose classification status is subject to change over the duration of the grant, including extensions. Researchers should know in advance whether their work will be classified.

Finally, starting today, we will be circulating a petition urging the Administration to follow our suggestions. Copies of the petition will be available at dorm desks, dining halls, Lobby 7, and the Undergraduate Association office in the Student Center. We hope all students, faculty and staff who agree with these points will sign the petition.

Robin Wagner G->

Erik Devereux '85->

Student Representatives of the->

Faculty Committee on Educational Policy->

Jonathan Weil G->

Christopher Linn '87->

MIT Student Disarmament Study Group->

Bryan Moser '87->

Undergraduate Association President->

Rich Cowan G->

Kathryn Harrison G->

MIT Student Pugwash->

Patrick Cheung G->

Hunger Action Group->