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Few faculty express concern over effects of military spending at MIT

By Jeffrey C. Gealow

Many researchers are finding that the only way to retain funding for research is to apply for Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) money, according to Vera Kistiakowsky, professor of physics. Kistiakowsy's comment arose in a Jan. 21 panel discussion sponsored by MIT Student Pugwash and the Program in Science Technology and Society (STS) on the military's influence at MIT.

"The participation of this university [in SDI] is not just research," Kistiakowsky said. "It is a political contribution."

Also, SDI does not represent basic research, she said, but it is rather a development of narrow military applications of science. SDI projects obscure the Institute's focus on basic scientific questions.

Richard A. Cowan G agreed that military funding of research promotes military projects at the expense of other applications of technology. MIT should recognize this distortion of research priorities, and it should find alternative sponsors for militarily funded research, he suggested.

"Lincoln Labs is getting almost one-third of all SDI funds which go to universities and university-run labs," Kistiakowsky pointed out. "Students will increasingly be faced with the choice of taking jobs in the weapons industry or leaving their field of interest," she added.

But Professor Carl Kaysen, STS director and chairman of the Committee on the Military Influence on MIT, said that most of the MIT faculty has not expressed much concern about military influence at MIT. A committee survey indicated that few professors felt that the military influence posed a problem for MIT, Kaysen said.

Most MIT laboratories receive small portions of their funding from the Department of Defense although some, such as the Laboratory for Computer Science, receive most of their support from the military, Kaysen added. The Department of Defense accounts for approximately 16 percent of MIT's federal funding, Kaysen continued.

Daniel J. O'Day '87, member of the Committee on the Military Influence on MIT, added that the committee is concerned about the possibility of restrictions on the publication of military-sponsored research.

Harry A. Atwater G said that many students who accept graduate funding from the Hertz Foundation are not aware of the foundation's bias for military-related research. The Hertz Foundation is a private source of graduate fellowships.

"The administration ought to request information about the Hertz Foundation's operations and goals and make it available to students seeking fellowships," Atwater suggested. "MIT should make other [scholarship] options known to students," he added.

Atwater warned that working in military-oriented research laboratories can affect one's perception of the appropriateness of military projects. "Students should develop political and social perspectives before going to the workplace," he said.