According to the mission statement adopted by the University of Connecticut Board of Trustees, one of the key objectives of this university is to help “every student grow intellectually and become a contributing member of the state, national, and world communities.”
The board also boasts the ambitious goal to “promote the health and well-being of Connecticut’s citizens through enhancing the social, economic, cultural and natural environments of the state and beyond.”
A major component of UConn’s mission to craft educated and skilled professionals is the university’s partnerships with local industry. As The Daily Campus Editorial Board argued in its previous editorial, UConn’s academic-economic partnerships are important — and perhaps the only authentic — signifiers of this institution’s culture and values. Tolerating harmful conduct against labor rights and workplace safety from program and grant sponsors such as Hartford Healthcare, we believe, amounts to UConn officials telling students and faculty that these practices are acceptable. Such an admission is in direct contradiction with the UConn mission statement’s commitment to advancing the health and well-being of Connecticut residents, particularly poor and working class ones.
While the healthcare industry receives public scrutiny relatively often due to its high visibility and daily impact on communities, another integral contributor to UConn’s academic funding continues to fly under the radar without criticism at all levels of the university. The defense industry, which produces technologies for waging warfare and securing the United States’ status as a global hegemon, provides tens of millions of dollars in research funding to UConn’s School of Engineering. While innovating aircraft parts for Raytheon’s Pratt & Whitney or optimizing submarines for General Dynamics Electric Boat may equip students and researchers with invaluable hands-on experience in a lucrative field, UConn administrators, department heads and students must consider what happens to the warfare technologies they help produce once it leaves academia, where questions of ethics and global impact are dampened by intellectual curiosity and career advancement.
These are the concerns that The Editorial Board has around the recent unveiling of the SoE’s new Digital Design Research, Analysis, and Manufacturing Center, described in a UConn Today article as “an academic-government-industry partnership that will develop groundbreaking modeling and simulation capabilities for the next generation of Army ground vehicle systems.” The D2REAM Center, as it is perversely abbreviated, aims to leverage digital simulation technology to “design and build vehicles quicker and more affordably” for use by the U.S. military. The center’s goal to facilitate the production of armored vehicles meant for warzones again provokes numerous. What happens to these technologies when they are out of the hands of researchers and academics? Whose country will these vehicles occupy, and through communities will they transport troops?
Similar questions can be asked of UConn’s other military-industrial partners, including the Air Force Research Laboratory, the National Institute for Undersea Vehicle Technology, Pratt & Whitney Institute for Advanced Systems Engineering and others responsible for developing military technologies. Regardless of the fact that large portions of U.S. military stock are stationary or in disrepair, weapons and military vehicles are not made to sit around; they are designed and manufactured to be used and to shore up strength against the United States’ geopolitical adversaries. By neglecting the harmful human impact of weapons manufacturing, let alone its ecological toll, UConn’s leadership is partially responsible for the victimization of vulnerable populations caught within conflicts waged using American-made weapons.
The Editorial Board recognizes that the war industry has such a stronghold on American institutions of higher education in part because it is so profitable, especially in the state of Connecticut. However, we counter this with UConn’s influence as a major source of economic development, sporting an estimated statewide impact of $6.9 billion between 2021 and 2022, according to a report conducted by the UConn Office of Budget, Planning and Institutional Research. It is absolutely conceivable that UConn can use its considerable economic cachet to push forward research on green technologies and partner with sustainable industries instrumental to the continued existence of the biosphere. In doing so, the university will demonstrate to state leaders the feasibility of developing sustainability instead of these harmful industries and partners that pose major obstacles to transitioning away from fossil fuel energy by virtue of their very existence. The choice to not pursue this path is deliberate, and the global community will bear the consequences for UConn’s and other universities’ failure to pursue a life-affirming path.
But in the end, the necessity of UConn severing its ties to the military-industrial complex is a moral one, not a cynically fiscal one. At the same time, if UConn truly seeks to improve the “social, economic, cultural and natural environments of the state and beyond,” this separation should be of utmost priority.