By Cleve Higgins
I was glad to see the Daily’s question to Heather Munroe-Blum last week regarding military research at McGill – it is an issue that those in power at our university should not be allowed to ignore.
In response to the question, Munroe-Blum explained that McGill has a policy governing military research, then explained that the current military contracts seem harmless. It’s true; McGill does have a policy (the Regulations on Research Policy), but it has large holes that make it inapplicable to significant aspects of military involvement in university research. Our Principal reported that the military research covered under the policy seemed harmless. However, the problem is the military research that the policy ignores; research the Principal would not likely be aware of because it goes unreported.
According to the Regulations on Research Policy, a researcher is only required to report the possible harmful effects of their research when they individually receive funding from a military agency through a contract or grant. This is a good regulation that acknowledges the likelihood of harmful consequences when research is linked to military agencies.
However, it does not account for situations in which the research may have harmful military applications but the individual researcher has not directly received military funding. For example, a researcher at McGill such as David Frost can work on projects with colleagues, such as Fan Zhang or William Wilson, who receive funding or employment from a military agency and the Regulations on Research Policy do not apply. Even if that military agency is conducting weapons development specifically related to their research, there is no requirement to formally assess the possible harmful effects of that research. This is not a problem with individual researchers; it’s a problem with McGill’s policy, and that is something we can change.
The Regulations on Research policy should require that potentially harmful applications of a research project be reported when that research is conducted in conjunction with anyone receiving funding or employment from a military agency. Furthermore, these reports should be made public on the McGill website.
Such a change would not put an end to the involvement of the U.S. and Canadian militaries in research at McGill, as this would likely require infringement on the academic freedom of researchers. However, it would increase the transparency of the connections between McGill and U.S.-Canadian imperialism, and something can only be challenged when it’s visible. If the military research going on at McGill really is harmless, there shouldn’t be any opposition to making it available for all to see.
Cleve Higgins is with the GrassRoots Association for Student Power.