On the heels of revelations that the Pentagon has been paying sports teams to host ostensbily heartfelt and free-to-taxpayers displays of game-time patriotism comes Vice's ranking of the "Most Militarized Universities in America."
The result is pretty fascinating and nuanced and reminds us that colleges and universities, however much they like to consider themselves apart from and superior to the societies they serve, are always deeply enmeshed in politics.
While alarming, this isn't a pat story about how the military is totally warping or infiltrating higher education through some sort or mind control. It's really about how so many different elements of government work their way into all elements of education, including the research agendas at some of the very best schools in the country.
Worries about connections between defense and higher ed aren't new, of course, despite Vice's focus on post-9/11 developments. Observers of higher ed have long looked at how Defense Department contracts underwrote a huge amount of scientific and technology work after World War II (and lest we forget, the first sustained atomic chain reaction, part of the Manhattan Project, famously took place in 1942 under the squash courts at the University of Chicago).
What does the publication mean by militarized?
The term was not meant to simply evoke robust campus police forces or ROTC drills held on a campus quad. It was also a measure of university labs funded by US intelligence agencies, administrators with strong ties to those same agencies, and, most importantly, the educational backgrounds of the approximately 1.4 million people who hold Top Secret clearance in the United States….
Four categories of institutions of higher education dominate the VICE News list of the 100 most militarized universities in America: schools whose students attain their degrees predominantly online; schools that are heavily involved in research and development for defense, intelligence, and security clients; schools in the Washington, DC area; and schools that are newly focused on homeland security….
Vice summarizes its methodology, which relies on various sources, including a database of workers with top-security clearances:
The rankings were initially calculated based on how many people in the IC had degrees and certificates from each school, then adjusted using 51 additional factors, running the gamut from federal funding amounts to a designation as an Intelligence Community Center of Academic Excellence to participation in federal domestic security task forces.
The affiliations revealed in the resumes of Top Secret workers offer unprecedented insight into the make-up of the national security state. Many of the schools that rank in the top 100 are virtually unknown outside government — schools like Cochise College (No. 6), Excelsior College (No. 13), and Central Texas College (No. 18). Each of these institutions tend to serve a specific constituency: military intelligence at Cochise, Army personnel at Central Texas College, and law enforcement at the predominantly online Excelsior, headquartered in Albany, New York.
Vice notes that "three traditionally conservative schools" (Texas A&M, Brigham Young, and Liberty) are in the top 100, a reminder of all those '60s-era protests at campuses such as Wisconsin and Berkeley against military contracts.
It has been 14 years since 9/11, but many of the national security alliances now in place with higher education institutions have emerged in the past three years. Classified research on campuses, once highly controversial, is making a comeback. College and university administrators and campus police are increasingly being enlisted in homeland security, counter-terrorism, and counter-intelligence.
Read the whole thing and find out if your school makes the list here.
It's helpful, I think, for people to think of this sort of activity in combination with the ways in which Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights has been changing the climate on campuses through interpretations of Title IX and related legislation. Indeed, much of the current hysteria over sexual assault at colleges and universities (and especially the erosion of basic due process rights for students) is directly attributable to OCR.
Through a wide-ranging assortment of grants, direct payments, reserach dollars, student loans, and more, the federal government funds much of higher ed and ends up calling all sorts of shots. Understanding all the ways that influences the academy is something worth understanding.