In defence of Western's right to research

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

March 14, 2007 Ed Cartoon

This week, on-campus activist group Counter-Stryker held an open-forum discussion to debate the engineering department’s research and development of Stryker light-armour military vehicles.

The group feels military research shouldn’t be conducted on campus or condoned by the university, begging the question of whether administration should place restrictions on Western’s fields of research.

Firstly, it’s important Western doesn’t place unwarranted restrictions on research.

The university’s job is to make progress; Western has a reputation to uphold and an obligation to seek knowledge.

While there’s a stigma attached to the Stryker project, it’s largely fuelled by political opinions on present global situations, particularly the war in Iraq.

While the university needs to keep morality in mind, basing its research on political opinion is dangerous and it’s difficult to define where to draw the line between right and wrong.

It’s wrong to assume all Stryker research goes toward a specific war or cause, as light-armour military vehicles can just as easily be used for civilian rescue missions as they can for violence.

Western must ensure its actions don’t infringe upon academic freedom. As one of few locations where open debate can occur on an issue like this, it’s important to have open discussion on campus. Controversial research, then, can be quite valuable.

A research ethics review board could be effective, and one might wonder why the university shouldn’t want one on campus. What does it have to lose in effective assessment of the value of its research?

However, administration is extremely unlikely to relinquish its responsibility and control over research. A review board presents substantial risk to the school’s ability to ensure a proper balance is struck between infringement on academic freedom and appropriate subject matter for an academic setting.

Counter-Stryker’s progress has also been significantly hindered by the lack of information released regarding the university’s reasoning in assessment of research.

The university’s concerns in releasing research information as it pertains to military projects is understandable, but it’s unreasonable to suppose administration’s motivation for allowing certain research is always a matter of national defence.

As such, administration should release information regarding its reasoning on decisions to sponsor all research projects.

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