Friday 8 July 2011

The University of Life

Earlier in the year I attended an event at the London School of Economics about the academic boycott of Israeli academic institutions. The recording of the event is available on the LSE website here. The speaker who spoke for the academic boycott of Israel made various arguments. What emerged were a series of absurd arguments that could equally be applied to British universities. 

This attack is not to give legitimacy to any of the views of those who hold them, rather it is an internal deconstruction of their normative and moral consistency. I acknowledge that this will not deal with the issues of practicalities but only of principle. I will be referencing the Armed Force and the military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq.  (My own opinion is in most cases the direct polar opposite: I support our Armed Forces and the direct material support our universities give to them in their operations in the Middle East.) The aim is to show that, unless these individuals advocate a boycott in principle, that there is a moral inconsistency in its application to Israel. Of course, the following argument applies only to those who have moral issues with the British military activities in Afghanistan, Iraq and wherever else. 

The argument presented was that universities give "ideologically and material support" to Israel's actions in the West Bank and Gaza, its military superiority which is used to oppress and kill Palestinians. Several examples of this were given through military research and development. The case study used was Tel Aviv University; geophysicists refine tunnel detection, computer scientists design robots, organic chemist help identify suspect, Zoologists train dogs for military use, mechanical engineers help improve aircraft etc. What Dr Chalcraft fails to note is that many of these things are present in British universities. 

Material Support

A study carried out by 'Study War No More' found that (.pdf)
Our research found that between 2001 and 2006, more than 1,900 military projects were conducted in the 26 UK universities covered by this report. In terms of income to these universities, we have estimated the total value of these projects to be a minimum of £725 million
As a counter case study to the Tel Aviv University, there is the University of Bristol: Bristol's Division of Farm Animal Science has recieved over £300,000 from the Defence Science & Technology Laboratory which works to "develop battle-winning technologies, based on deep and widespread research, supporting UK military operations now and in the future." Just as Tel Aviv University train and work with dogs for a military purpose, so does Bristol University. This is not to mention the inevitable funding for military research in engineering and communications which there is a "strong probability" of being used in combat missions.

Abi Haque of the Campaign Against Arms Trade has "no doubts" that the military funding has been used in Iraq and Afghanistan. And this funding is not just confined to the British military research by the Ministry of Defence; a large source of funding is the United States Army. Cambridge received over £250,000 from the United States Government. 

There are various academic institutions who work alongside the Atomic Weapons Establishment (the body responsible for the design and mafacturing of the UK's nuclear deterrent). Professor Stephen Jarvis of the University of Warwick has had four research projects with the AWE. Dr Venky Dubey of Bournemouth University recently took part in the "development of a multi-fingered robotic hand" for the AWE. 

And this does seem to be limited to material support for military, according to the report there are 'strong levels of influence of science, engineering and technology departments.' The report also asked 40 academics how they felt about the military funding, the conclusion was
Broadly speaking, the replies received present a liberal view ofthe university-military relationship. For example, when itcomes to the ethics of military research, many of theinterviewees emphasise the ‘personal conscience’ of theindividual scientist
Indeed, according to Dr. Chris Langley, university departments are pushing for the highly militaristic system:
Case studies of US and UK science and engineering programmes are used to describe the recent military-university partnerships which, it is contended, drive a high technology, weapons-dominated system... 
Hiring and Honouring

Chalcroft then goes on to discuss various other aspects which he says he doesn't have time to go into but merely lists them. Included in this are the fact that those who believe its okay to kill civilians and are part of the Zionist enterpreise are honoured and hired by Israeli institutions. Again, this is far from unique. These are just a few examples of the previous four professional heads of the British Army from 1997 to 2009. 

General Sir Roger Wheeler – Chief of the General Staff, head of the British Army 1997-2000: Honorary Fellow of Hertford College, University of Oxford

General Sir Michael Walker – Chief of the General Staff, head of the British Army 2000-2003: Honorary Graduate of Cranfield University.

General Sir Mike Jackson – Chief of the General Staff, head of the British Army 2003-2006 and had responsibility for force generation for Afghanistan and Iraq: Honorary Graduate from the University of Sheffield.

General Sir Richard Dannatt – Chief of the General Staff, head of the British Army 2006-2009, Commander-in-Chief, Land Command 2005-2006 and before which he was the Commander of the Allied Rapid Reaction Corps (which planned for the military deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan): Honorary Doctorate in Civil Law from the Universities of Durham and Kent and in Technology from Anglia Ruskin University and Honorary Fellow of Hatfield College, Durham.

And if we’re going outside of the British military and just giving space to those who think its ‘okay to kill civilians’ then one need no go farther than the whole host of extremist speakers that have given talks across British universities including the current head of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, Anwar Awalaki.  Indeed, just as one further example, Grote Professor Emeritus of the Philosophy of Mind and Logic at University College London, Ted, Honderich, has ludicrously written that 

‘Palestinians have a moral right to their terrorism within historic Palestine against neo-Zionism… Terrorism, as in this case, can as exactly be self-defence, a freedom struggle, martyrdom, the conclusion of an argument based on true humanity, etc.’

Other University Programmes 

A further aspect Chalcroft lists is the 'extensive institutionalised links, special privileges in the form of accelerated degree programmes, training programme for military personnel.' It should be obvious by now that this man either has complete ignorance of Western universities or is oblivious to them. Study War No More notes that military funding goes toward
student and staff sponsorship (e.g.studentships, chairs, bursaries, prizes, scholarships, fees andgrants), industrial placements, conferences, benefactions,consultancies, careers and graduate fairs, travel grants andteaching programmes
For a specific example, King's College London has a department called the Defence Studies Department which is
an integral part of the UK Joint Services Command and Staff College (JSCSC), which provides command and staff training at single-service, advanced and higher levels for the three Armed Services of the United Kingdom to a world class standard.. DSD staff also provide expert advice and academic leadership on study-tours to battlefields, and wider policy advice to the Ministry of Defence as part of the Defence Academy of the United Kingdom.
King's College London has "responsibility for academic support to military command and staff training." And this is not a rare occurence, Edinburgh University recieves money from the Ministry of Defence to pay for degrees. There are "collaborative research grants at UK universities with the EPSRC to the tune of £5 million per annum" collaborating on 153 research projects.

So it appears the British universities help advance military technology, provide programmes for security personnel and honour those who have helped lead the Armed Forces. This is not something to be shamed, this is something to be proud of. The major nexus between Israel and the UK is whether the military is doing something which should be encouraged - it has been accepted that the issue of moral consistency relies on whether someone takes a view that the wars in Afghanistan, Iraq are wrong. Of course, it is likely that someone may think British universities are not worthy of shunning because they support those wars. But, the key thing is that there are those who support Israel's action in the same way - and the way to change either of these views is through engagement. 


Anonymous said...

You are thinking to hard. Just count the number of other countries they are BDSing. Period.

Anonymous said...

Mugwump, quite a point you've got there. In countries, where free higher education is replaced by high scholarships system in public universities and state subsidies in private faculties, this kind of "public" support in research is even more present.