Education News – Keep the military out of classrooms, urge Montreal activists

Education News – Keep the military out of classrooms, urge Montreal activists

National Defence funding does not dictate research, insists war studies director

MONTREAL (CUP) ? McGill University student Cleve Higgins sees military funding on Canadian campuses as a threat to academic freedom. So he’s taking a stand against it through the activist group Operation Objection.

The Montreal-based group spent the summer following the money trail from the coffers of the Canadian Forces, to Canadian universities, all the way to the battlefield.

?Is [the military?s] presence a neutral one? Can that be seen as impartial if they’re receiving funding [from the military]?? asked Higgins. ?It raises questions that are problematic about the role of universities influencing foreign affairs issues.”

The group has been distributing flyers detailing their findings to Quebec students during university orientation sessions, and they hope their movement gains momentum nationwide.

Operation Objective formed last year and was active in trying to end military recruitment on Quebec campuses. This year they aim to educate students and lobby student unions to adopt policies condemning military funding.

Higgins says military-funded research in science and engineering helps produce weaponry. He also fears money aimed at political science and history departments produces political analysis that beats the drums of war, influencing public opinion toward a more militant foreign policy.

Marc Milner, director of the Gregg Centre of the Study of War and Society at the University of New Brunswick, disagrees.

?Never once in all the time that I have been involved in any strategic studies program . . . has anyone phoned me up from Ottawa and told me what to do,? said Milner.

Milner says the Gregg Centre, which focuses on teaching modern military history, receives 25 per cent of its yearly funding, equalling $120,000, from the military?the maximum amount a program can apply for.

While this may seem like a lot, Milner says it represents only a fraction of budgets for larger war studies centres across the country.

He says funding from the Canadian Forces comes from the Security and Defence Forum (SDF), which was created in the late 1960s after Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) shut down in Canadian universities.

ROTCs were established as a means to mobilize groups of young men and women for an anticipated third world war between NATO and the Soviet Union.

The growth of nuclear arsenals and the adoption of the theory of mutually assured destruction ended the need for ROTCs, Milner says, and the university training centres were closed.

If universities wanted funding from then on, they could apply to the SDF.

?The objective of the [SDF] is simply to get a rainbow of opinion across the country . . . outside of the Ottawa beltway,? Milner said. ?Most of the people I was involved with through the SDF were very vociferous against the Canadian deployment of troops to Afghanistan.?

?From our perspective, we think It’s a good thing that the Department of National Defence is actually looking for opinion outside of Ottawa,? he added.

A full list of contracts awarded by the Canadian government, including the Department of National Defence, can be found on the government’s website and goes back as far as 2005, though very few details are provided.

Operation Objection cites Dalhousie University in Halifax as having received the most funding from National Defence since 2006 out of all Canadian universities.

The Canadian government lists Dalhousie as having received over $5 million in 39 contracts since October 2005.

Courtney Larkin, president of the Dalhousie Student Union, says the issue of military funding has never really surfaced on campus during her years in student politics.

?We have a very diverse population here,? said Larkin. ?There may be students with that concern, but at this point, it has not been brought to my attention.?

But according to Higgins and the rest of Operation Objection, universities should not be in any way dependent on the branch of the government responsible for occupations of foreign countries.

?We oppose what military research implies,? Higgins said. ?The way that we’re responding is by confronting it where It’s associated with us.?

Calls to the Department of National Defence were not returned as of press time.