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MIT research heavily dependent on defense department funding

A Crack in the Dome

Daniel J. Glenn

Encased in the stairwell of Building 8 are a cluster-bomb wingshaft, a guided missile control fin, and other weapon parts. I am not against this display or similar ones around MIT. In fact, I think there should be more of them.

I am against, however, just the display of weapons' parts. How can young, eager scientists get a sense of MIT's research environment with a few disconnected elements? Forget the "wingshaft", forget the "control fin", let's see the real thing. There ought to be a full-fledged cluster-bomb in that display-case. MIRV's should be suspended under the dome in Lobby 7. An F-16 should be the central sculptural piece of Killian Court, around which graduates and their families could gather at Commencement.

In addition, we need displays along the corridors with enlarged photographs of these weapons in action. Students need a sense of the relative fire power of state-of-the-art weaponry; otherwise, what will motivate them to strive for excellence, to achieve even greater levels of destructive force?


MIT is the number one non-profit Department of Defense contractor in the nation, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education (4/13/88). In 1987, MIT pulled in $407.6 million in DOD contracts, outdoing second runner-up Johns Hopkins University by $52.7 million. The MITRE Corporation was the third runner-up in military contracts with $347.5 million. The director of the MITRE Corporation is MIT Provost John M. Deutch '61.

Fifth runner-up was Draper Laboratories, with $164.7 million in DOD contracts. Until 1973, Draper Laboratories was the MIT Instrumentation Laboratory. MIT divested from the I-Labs in 1973, following four years of student and faculty protests, which began with the 1969 March 4 research strike. The official divestiture, however, had little impact on MIT's ties to Draper.

According to the 1988-89 MIT Bulletin, "Draper Laboratories maintains a relationship with the Institute that permits students to engage in joint research activities" and enjoy "its unique contribution to the Institute's educational program." Draper definitely does provide a "unique" opportunity: specifically, classified applied weapons research.

In fiscal year 1988, MIT's total research funding was $539.238 million. Of this total, $433.680 million -- 80.4 percent -- was Department of Defense funding. These figures come from George H. Dummer, director of the Office of Sponsored Programs.

Lincoln Laboratories makes up the bulk of that funding with $386.844 million. The Bulletin describes Lincoln as "a federally-sponsored center for research and development in advanced electronics, with special emphasis on applications to national defense. The Laboratory is staffed and operated by MIT and located in Lexington, Massachusetts.... Opportunities for research are available to MIT faculty members and qualified undergraduate and graduate students." According to Dummer, the lab's entire budget comes from the United States Air Force.

MIT's on-campus research total, excluding Lincoln Labs, was $269.394 million in 1988. Of that total, 78 percent was federal government funding. Over one fifth, or 22 percent, of the government funding came from the Department of Defense. The remainder came from the Department of Energy (26 percent), Department of Health and Human Services (23.3 percent), National Science Foundation (18.6 percent), National Aeronautics and Space Administration (6 percent), and other (7.28 percent). With the advent of Star Wars under the Reagan Administration, research for the DOE or for NASA is not necessarily non-military.

I spoke with Robert K. Weatherall, the director of Career Services, about where MIT graduates go to work upon graduation. Career Services sent out a questionnaire to graduates from the Class of 1985 in science and engineering. Of the 506 respondents, 32.4 percent went to work either in firms or labs with the majority of their work in the "defense sector." Weatherall stated that during the Reagan years there was a clear upward trend in students going to work in the defense sector. In 1980-81, 26.6 percent of MIT respondents to the same questionnaire went to work in defense sector jobs.

In another part of the questionnaire in which the MIT grads were asked, "What do you think about working in defense?" Forty-five percent of electrical engineering and physics graduates "felt strongly against working for defense contractors." Weatherall added, however, that non-defense related jobs for physics grads are hard to come by. Only 21 percent of aero/astro grads, 27 percent of mechanical engineering grads, and 16 percent of chemical engineering grads were against working for defense contractors.

MIT's Pentagon connections go beyond its DOD contracts and its alumni's occupations; MIT has played and continues to play an important role in strengthening academic ties with the military. A number of key administrators at MIT are closely linked to the Pentagon, including Deutch, who is a member of the DOD's Defense Science Board and chair of the DSB Task Forces on Chemical and Biological Warfare and Midgetman Missile Program. David S. Saxon '41, chairman of the MIT Corporation, is a consultant to the Ford Motor Company (a major military contractor) and former member of the DOD's Science Advisors' Panel on Basic Research, which recommended substantial increases in the DOD's basic research.


As an educational institution, MIT has an obligation and a responsibility to the community. As one of the premier technological research institutes in the world, MIT has a major impact on the direction of scientific inquiry. The fact that it chooses to devote less than 20 percent of research effort to things other than more efficient means to kill is more than disgusting, it is criminal.

As Nobel Laureate George Wald said twenty years ago in a speech entitled, "A Generation in Search of a Future," during the March 4 research strike at MIT: "Our business is with life, not death. Our challenge is to give what account we can of what becomes of life in the solar system, this corner of the universe that is our home..."

On Friday, March 3, George Wald will be at MIT once again to commemorate and re-affirm the message of the 1969 Scientists, Students and Society protest. During a three hour teach-in with student and faculty speakers, the MIT community will have an opportunity to re-assess our priorities.