Hidden Research at MSU, and the Security-Industrial Complex
The University occupies a specific and valuable place in a society in which the population is expected to participate. The University not only trains the next generation of workers, it establishes the ethical code by which this next generation will live by. When the University drops its ethical standards and instead clings to its bottom line, this has an adverse effect on our education. This negative impact also adversely affects the society that the University helps create.
MSU always has a choice about what sort of research it wants to participate in, and how open it is about that research. As students at MSU we think that the research conducted by our professors should be conducted in a transparent manner and be beneficial to the community as a whole. MSU should not be conducting research in secret.
Until recently, MSU had pursued a policy of transparency in which the subject of all research was public information. A year and a half ago, MSU abandoned its policy of transparency and has begun to conduct research that is kept completely hidden from the students and the rest of the community. Professor Arun Ross has talked to the Lansing State Journal and confirmed that, “the two projects he’s conducting in the red brick building at 3900 Collins Road, he can’t really talk about.” Professor Ross typically does research on “technologies that can identify people by the minutiae of a fingerprint, the topography of a face or the rings, furrows and freckles of an iris” and the Lansing State Journal notes that his current research is funded by the Department of Justice.
The nature and secrecy of this research is all the more threatening considering the relationship that MSU has with the state and intelligence community. President Simon is the chair of the National Security Higher Education Advisory Board, the FBI regularly holds meetings in East Lansing on the collection of cyber-intelligence, and there is an on-campus fusion center, which links local information directly to the Department of Homeland Security. We should be wary of a University that is already so intimately connected with the collection of personal data from doing even more work on the identification of individuals, especially when this work is entirely hidden from the public.
Amid widespread discontent over the infringes of the civil liberties committed by the National Security Agency, do we really want our university to be developing additional spying technologies to be used by Federal agencies? Should there really be no input from the students and community? Should this research be kept totally hidden from public oversight?
It is ironic that a university that prides itself on education should choose to forge these ties with a government that has systematically sidelined funding for education while consistently finding ways to increase defense spending and fund the same sort of intelligence technologies that MSU is now secretly researching.
In order to avoid MSU again becoming involved in harmful activities, transparency must be enforced. For example, from 1955 to 1962, the Michigan State University Group conducted state building efforts and gave technical assistance to the South Vietnamese government, including its leader Ngo Dinh Diem. Once in office, Diem’s regime jailed over 40,000 political prisoners assisted in the killing of over 12,000 suspected political opponents. President John A Hannah support for this program led to his eventual resignation, a fact which is often forgotten when considering his legacy.
As seen, an administration left unaccountable to its students and community can make decisions that put the safety of that community and others at stake. In order to avoid MSU again becoming involved in civil rights violations, transparency must be enforced in its research practices as well as its administrative affairs.
The future of our school is being decided. The administration of a public institution has decided to endorse research that is hidden from the public. Now we have to decide whether we will accept their decision. Or if we will fight for an MSU that is the transparent, accountable, and ethical institution that this world needs.