The Tech - Online EditionMIT's oldest and largest
newspaper & the first
newspaper published
on the web
Boston Weather: 52.0°F | A Few Clouds

Students release report on MICAR, part 2


(By Linda D'Angelo)


Almost three years after its formation, the Military Impact on Campus Research Committee's inability to produce a final report has led its two student members to release their own "Chronology of MIT's MICAR Committee."

Their report is "in essence, the committee report" -- a result of "ineffective leadership" of MICAR, according to authors Steven A. Farber G and Thomas C. Hsu G. In the report they discuss ways to make information regarding one's research sponsor more accessible and development of a questionnaire to focus on the connection between military funding and employment.

The forerunner to MICAR, a committee headed by Professor Carl Kaysen, was formed in response to a letter received by then Chair of the Faculty Bernard J. Frieden PhD '57 in the spring of 1985. Signed by forty faculty members, this letter questioned "the impact on education at MIT due to the shift of government support for scientific research and education from the civilian to the military sector."

The main work of the Kaysen Committee was a questionnaire, distributed to both students and faculty, to which approximately fifty percent responded. The subsequent report summarized the attitudes of the MIT community, with 67 percent expressing an "aversion to military support."

But rather than draw conclusions about how future MIT policy should reflect this response, the Kaysen Committee closed its report with a list of questions. This list included "specific problems in the relationship between researcher and sponsor," concern over "faculty initiative and freedom in securing research support," and how "present policies ... can be expected to continue to work in light of the national scene."

With these questions as a foundation, President Paul E. Gray '54 established MICAR in the fall of 1986 to "consider the issues and questions raised in the report of the Kaysen Committee and to recommend changes in MIT policies and procedures if changes seem to be desirable." It consisted of eight faculty members, appointed by Provost John M. Deutch '61. The two graduate students -- the only students on the committee -- were later appointed by Professor William F. Brace '46, the first chairman of MICAR.

Lack of information cited

One of the issues the Kaysen Committee raised involved a lack of awareness with regard to military influences on the MIT campus. According to the report, 13.8 percent of students conducting research did not know who sponsored their research and 7.9 percent were unsure.

The Kaysen report also addressed the limited access to information about military funding on campus. The committee reported that 38 percent of the student respondents felt that information in this area was "seriously lacking" and that 41 percent felt that more information "would be a good idea." Over two-thirds of students doing research felt that additional information about the military dimensions of their work was necessary.

In an attempt to make information regarding one's research sponsor more accessible, Farber and Hsu recommended to the committee the modification of appointment forms to include a written identification of the sponsor and program. They charged, however, that this effort was thwarted by Dean of the Graduate School Frank E. Perkins '55 who argued that it would be an unnecessary administrative hassle.

The existence of a database containing information about MIT research, professors and alumni was another suggestion for increasing access to this information. Information from the Office of Sponsored Programs and the results of a proposed MICAR survey of graduate students would be combined to provide "an overall picture of a laboratory, the research, sponsors and graduates," the student report stated. This information would then be placed on Project Athena where it would be easily accessible to interested students or faculty. Although this suggestion was endorsed by a member of the OSP, "no resources were committed to making it happen," the students noted.

The organization of department seminars represented another possible solution. Brace organized the first of these "very educational departmental forums" which was attended by most of the department's graduate students and faculty, according to the students' report.

Convinced that "this would be an effective way to stimulate discussion in smaller groups where students and faculty share common research concerns," Farber, Hsu and Brace encouraged other departments to follow suit. But aside from a second seminar, conducted by MICAR member and Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Sciences James R. Melcher '62, no other seminars have been organized. When MICAR recommended to Deutch that such seminars be required by the administration, he "was unwilling to try to influence individual departments," the student report concluded.

Connection between employment

and military funding

At MICAR's first meeting it was recommended that graduates receive a questionnaire regarding the impact of military support on their careers, a concern of the Kaysen Committee. Over the next few months several drafts of the questionnaire were designed which focused on the connection between military funding and employment.

But "every version presented to the committee was severely criticized as being too suggestive," according to the student report. "Other than offer criticism, none of the membership (except Melcher) offered any constructive support."

Farber and Hsu next tried to study this connection between graduate employment and military funding by analyzing information obtained through the Career Placement Office. Their findings suggest that "40 percent of all graduates, (from all departments including humanities, architecture, and economics) were employed by the top 100 defense contractors and 70 percent were employed by firms with an excess of $100,000 dollars in annual revenue from the Pentagon." These figures are "far higher than the 26.9 percent quoted by the placement office," they noted.

MICAR "paralyzed"

According to the report issued by Farber and Hsu, the agenda of each MICAR meeting was "remarkably consistent, the same four members proposed and undertook several projects while the remainder of the membership criticized and volunteered no contribution." It was this "combination of well-intentioned but ineffective leadership, an apathetic and uncooperative majority, and an uninterested administration" that rendered MICAR "impotent and unable to answer its charter."

Furthermore the report charges that this ineffectiveness of MICAR, the fact that it is a working committee in name only, "provides an effective foil for [the administration to] deflect criticism about the extent and effects of military influence at MIT without having to provide any substantial answers."