Counter-Stryker debates academic freedom

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

Ted Hewitt at Counter-Stryker Debate

Jon Purdy

HE COVERED HIS EARS, TRYING TO CONCENTRATE AND FIGURE OUT WHAT WAS ON EVERYONE'S MIND — WHO LET THAT DIRTY HIPPIE IN HERE? Western group Counter-Stryker debated academic freedom and the university's connection with warfare this week. Western VP-research and international relations Ted Hewitt (right) represented administration.

Ethical and political issues surrounding military research in a university setting were explored during a debate Monday at Western.

Organized by Counter-Stryker, a group opposed to Western’s research partnership with arms manufacturer General Dynamics Land Systems, debate covered topics like academic freedom, the role of a university in a community and the close connection between academics, scientists and warfare.

The panel consisted of David Noble, a social and political thought professor at York University; Steve D’Arcy, a philosophy professor at Huron College; Ted Hewitt, Western’s VP-research and international relations; and Dr. Paul Hamel, a professor at the University of Toronto

“Warfare has spurred most major scientific developments,” said Noble.“We shouldn’t be surprised, therefore, that there has been a long tradition of close ties between academia and weapons production.

“Academia has never been open or independent, nor is it now. [Scientists] avoid responsibility, they dissemble, they rely on sophistry about academic freedom, supposed separation of ends from means, the alleged dual use of their creations.

“They typically resort to deceit and intellectual dishonesty. Above all, they cultivate a criminal innocence.”

Research is conducted in accordance with all existing guidelines with respect to ethics and guidelines established by the university, Hewitt explained.

“I would be very loathe to place further restrictions on our faculty,” he said. “I would also object to exercises or efforts that would demonize the faculty in these areas.

“It’s our job to ensure a level playing field is established between faculty, researchers and companies we work with.”

Hamel addressed two questions: whether academic freedom exists and whether academic freedom can be obtained without funding.

Hamel said it’s evident academic freedom doesn’t exist in all research.

“Regardless of how you think the end point will turn out... the experiment is illegitimate. It’s not allowed to be done.”

This raises the question of whether research should be done on campus for countries that have invaded or will invade other countries, Hamel added.

D’Arcy said Western is responding to pressure from two levels.

“There are pressures from elite sectors of our society who would like to press the university into a service of private profit,” D’Arcy said.

“On the other hand, pressures originate from below, from staff, faculty and students who would like to see the university promoting the public interest or advancing the aims of human welfare.

“The research is military research first and foremost, but we know it’s not being motivated by patriotic fervor or desire to pitch into the war effort in Afghanistan.

“[What] this is really about is money. That’s what’s really motivating the selling, the veritas and the utilitas of this university to the highest bidder.”

According to Counter-Stryker, numerous efforts were made to include General Dynamics in the panel discussion, but invitations were declined.

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