Conference discusses military contributions at the University

The campus may not have missile silos under the Cut, but Carnegie Mellon may be more like a military base than commonly thought.

Concern is growing among Pittsburgh residents and Carnegie Mellon students about the extent of research funded at the University through military, defense, and security contracts. The funding is leading to new research in almost every department and acheiving advancements in robotics and software engineering.

On Saturday, the Pittsburgh Organizing Group and the Progressive Student Alliance held a Counter-Recruitment Conference at Carnegie Mellon. In a talk titled “The Military Industrial-Academic Complex and its Discontents,” David Meieran, a member of the Pittsburgh Organizing Group in the Thomas Merton Center, also included the National Science Foundation among the list of military researchers.

According to Meieran, Carnegie Mellon is a central part of the academic-industrial military complex.
Research performed at Carnegie Mellon is funded by such government departments as the Department of Defense and the Department of Homeland Security, and corporations like Boeing and Lockheed Martin.

Carnegie Mellon President Jared Cohon lauded a new project funded by a $25 million National Science Foundation grant in this year’s Annual Report, which outlines the University’s budget. The grant funds a joint project with the University of Pittsburgh to create the Pittsburgh Science of Learning Center.

Last July, the Air Force awarded a cost reimbursement contract worth over $411 million to the Software Engineering Institute. The contract specifies that it will “provide for research and development, pertinent to national defense.”

Additionally, last August, Carnegie Mellon unveiled “Gladiator,” a remote-controlled, unmanned ground vehicle. The Navy awarded the University a contract worth over $26 million to produce six prototypes like Gladiator for expected production in 2007.

“A significant portion of students’ and faculty’s workload is devoted to the academic-industrial military complex,” Meieran said. “It pushes CMU deeper and deeper into normalizing military research.”

Much of the research at Carnegie Mellon indirectly ties the school and the students to the military. The Department of Defense’s website shows that the Robotics Institue has been contracting with the military for years. The Department of Defense funded several projects, including one that led to the invention of soccer-playing robots.

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) also funds the Robotics Institute and Software Engineering Institute. Carnegie Mellon was awarded $1.5 million in 2001 for the Perception of Off-Road Vehicles program.

General Dynamics Robotic Systems, Inc., which collaborated with the Robotics Institute at Carnegie Mellon, received a grant for $1.49 million. PerceptOR, as the project was called for short, funded several groups that went on to participate in the DARPA Grand Challenge.

Daniel Papasian, a senior in social and decision sciences and member of the Progressive Student Alliance, spoke at Saturday’s Counter-Recruitment Conference. He outlined a plan to help students avoid participating in research against which they might have moral issues.

The plan begins with exposure, he said, finding information about what groups fund each department or program at the University.

Papasian also spoke on the idea of dual use. The research, though funded by the military, may also have potential for humanitarian purposes as well.

According to their website, the Software Engineering Institute is developing new systems for network security, online safety, and software development models. Likewise, projects to develop robots that do everything from mow the lawn to shake your hand are occurring at the Robotics Institute.

“You have to appropriate what you can,” Papasian said, “use [new technology] for any good you can.”