When many people think about the common stereotypes surrounding college campuses, a common theme among them is that universities are the prototypical “bastion of liberalism.” Individuals will often conjure up images of universities during the anti-war demonstrations of the 1960s and ’70s, but is this image of pacifism just a facade?
Many of the nation’s elite schools have become increasingly entrenched in defense related lobbying, often going so far as hiring specialized firms to persuade Congress and the Pentagon to finance their research programs. Schools involved include Clemson, the State University of New York, Pennsylvania State and Princeton, just to name a few.
During the first half of the year, Penn State reportedly spent upward of $180,000 on lobbying efforts to secure research grants from the Department of Defense according to the Washington Post.
How did Penn State’s lobbying pay off, you might ask? The school brought in a staggering $187 million from the DOD in 2013 through defense related grants and contracts.
Not half bad for a $200,000 investment.
Although to be fair, not all research funding goes solely to programs that can create better laser-guided missiles or bigger tanks. New York University has lobbied for suicide prevention research money to provide better aid to veterans who may suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, and Indiana University has appealed for concussion-related research money.
How does the UofA stack up?
The UofA has spent $230,000 on lobbying efforts, $60,000 of which went to Strategic Marketing Innovations, according to opensecrets.org, one of the most comprehensive resources for providing federal campaign contributions and lobbying data analysis. Strategic Marketing Innovations works “in conjunction with clients and decision makers within Congress, the Pentagon, Homeland Security and other executive branch agencies to develop and commercialize technology solutions for the nation's most pressing challenges,” according to the group’s website. All this is a fancy way of saying they ask the defense department for research money.
The main takeaway is while many college professors and staff at the UofA and other universities across America might preach about the negative influence of money in politics, from big defense contracts with Lockheed Martin or large corporations like Koch Industries affiliated with the tea party, there is often a clear lack of criticism when it comes to lobbying efforts taking place in their own backyards. While money from the DOD can be used for good things, such as the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder, it can also be used for research that ultimately leads to the further development of biological weapons, bombs and weapons of mass destruction.
Colleges should not accept money haphazardly from the defense department and should have a transparent and clear code of ethics regarding research grants. By becoming increasingly involved in lobbying, schools are contributing to the negative influence of big money in politics.
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