Demilitarizing the ‘military-industrial-academic complex’

The University of Minnesota Police Department is returning its M-16 and M-14 rifles to the Department of Defense, but what about the rest of the “military-industrial-academic complex?” It cannot be shirked so easily. I want to applaud the University of Minnesota Police Department for returning this military weaponry. As Vice President for University Services Pamela Wheelock stated, the weapons were “distracting” some of the student body from the UMPD’s “outstanding work.” But can we — should we — demilitarize our campus even further? What is at stake?

What if we were to remove the most fundamental gateway between our university and the military, the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps? I do not mean to demonize the ROTC, or even advocate for its removal. It is simply a matter of fact that if this University (or any other federally funded college) were to decide against ROTC recruitment on campus and for instance ban the ROTC (this isn’t unheard of; Harvard only recently lifted its ban), it could not eliminate the program as easily as the UMPD returned its assault rifles.

Why? Because all our federal funding might go out the door with it. This is a consequence of the 1996 Solomon Amendment, which gives the Secretary of Defense the power to deny federal grants to colleges and universities that ban ROTC activity on campus.

Are the rest of the University’s military ties also leveraged in such a way?

What would happen if University President Eric Kaler were to step down from his post at the Department of Homeland Security? What would be the consequence of a boycott on DARPA grants? Would the University cripple and die if these military ties were severed?

We should keep an eye on these sorts of relationships, but not reject them outright. If we want to develop drones for agriculture, that just means we have to be twice as careful about how these same technologies are expropriated to fight dirty wars around the world.

If we want our senior administrators to have dual roles at the federal level, we should ensure it doesn’t pose a conflict of interest. It is important to be aware that in order to fully demilitarize this campus, we may have to do more than forfeit old assault rifles.