Student group pushes to break UCF-military link
By Patricia Xavier
Campus Peace Action is on a mission to expose UCF's financial ties to military based grants. According to Campus Peace Action, nearly 40 percent of the federal research grant money which UCF receives comes from the Department of Defense. They plan on showing students, faculty and staff how UCF spends that money.
Project organizers argue that by receiving funding from corporations linked to military enterprises, students' educational opportunities are being diluted in order to improve the university's financial standing. The organization hopes the information gathered will eventually lead to policy changes. Campus Peace Action Vice President Jonathan Leto said that although the project is still in the organizational stage the information gathered will explain how grants from places such as the Defense Department, Lockheed Martin, and the Office of Naval Research weaken areas of education.
Last month the organization voiced their concerns to UCF President John Hitt at an open forum. Hitt said he had no problems with UCF's corporate partners who he says employ a number of UCF graduates.
"Our goal is student education," Leto said. "We want to show the student body that it's detrimental to their education to have such large relationships with military and military-based corporations. Departments that don't get military funding have a huge teacher-to-student ratio. You get departments which aren't characteristic of a school that have a minority of students but get a majority of funding and there's this huge disparity in education."
Leto cites the conditions at the University of California as an example of how military funds can take over a university. Leto said UC's military involvement is responsible for developing nuclear weapons, and the school is an example of how the merger of academics and the military can deter a university from its educational focus. Leto said the goal is to prevent UCF from becoming the same way.
"All these research centers for the military give millions of dollars to UCF professors to study something that's profitable for the military and so you have academics doing the work of the military," said Leto. "There's no stigma to working for a military company, and I think there should be a stigma. People should say, 'You build bombs and what you do helps kill people somewhere else in the world'."
Of the 641 institutions surveyed by the National Science Foundation, the University of Florida was ranked number 26 in funds received by the military. UCF is ranked 139th in the nation.
Some students oppose the measures being taken by the organization saying that the grant money received from these sources funds research projects that will ultimately benefit everyone. Senior Dashagne McNeil works for Lockheed Martin and said she is aware of her company's ties to military research and development. McNeil said there's nothing wrong with UCF getting money from the defense department or any other company with ties to the military.
"They are the ones that defend us," the engineering major said. "The purpose of the defense department is not to go out and have massacres; their purpose is to protect our country. The money that they give UCF educates us."
McNeil said that even if a small percentage of students agree with Campus Peace Action's initiative, a greater number don't care where their educational funding comes from.
"I don't have a problem working for someone who makes missiles and bombs. The only way I'd be against it was if we were abusing the missiles and bombs and we were going out and killing people for no reason at all, but that's not our purpose. We don't go out and say 'hey lets bomb Australia'. The defense part of Lockheed Martin's purpose is to protect us so when we have a war we do have something to fight with."
Others say that after they are presented with all the information they will be able to approach the matter and make an informed decision.
Junior Antilia Guivas hopes that Campus Peace Action's research will provide her with the necessary information. She says she is aware that the university needs the money in order to grow but she is also concerned about where the money comes from.
Guivas believes that she and other students need to be further educated on the subject because few are aware of the situation. She says she wants the organization to provide students with an informed, objective argument before any action is taken.
"It's all about information," the psychology major said. "If they have valid sources to educate me and other students it would definitely help us to completely understand this situation. I wouldn't want to work for a company that belittles other countries around the world. I know what I do will affect the community and I like to be more thoughtful in things like that but there are people who think more about being individuals than the fate of their community. Everyone is different, but everyone also needs to be informed."
Guivas adds that even if they disagree with the arguments made by Campus Peace Action, administrators should take a serious look at their arguments.
Leto said that his organization is skeptical that it can convince administrators to refuse grant money.
"The hardest thing in the world is convincing someone to not to take money from someone else," he said. "Our education could be better if we had more diverse context. Why don't we have an environmental engineering program or anything like that? There should be immense research going on in the field of environmental science, but no one cares about that. These things should be studied, not making missiles and attack helicopters. Yet funding for those kinds of projects are minimal."
Campus Peace Action also plans to provide students with facts via their Web site describing what individuals can do to avoid participating in actions that directly fund military actions against other nations.
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