HALIFAX—In May 2008, Dalhousie University's $2-million funding agreement with arms manufacturer Lockheed Martin raised alarm bells for many local peace activists and advocates for academic freedom.
With attention focused on the science and engineering departments involved in contracts for developing weapons technologies, however, relatively little focus has been given to the role of social science departments in conducting military research - this despite the fact that the Department of National Defence (DND) has been directly supporting research at Canadian universities for over 40 years.
Dalhousie's Centre for Foreign Policy Studies (CFPS), a research institute affiliated with the school’s Political Science Department, received $323,636.21 from various programs and channels of the DND in 2008-2009, according to the Centre's annual report. This means that direct military funding accounted for approximately 56 per cent of the Centre's overall budget.
The bulk of this funding comes via the Security and Defence Forum (SDF). One of the requirements of receiving the core SDF grant is that CFPS must teach a minimum number of courses with “significant security and defence content.” According to the Centre's 2008-2009 Annual Report, this means 15-20 courses with at least 50 per cent security and defence content.
“What concerns me about the CFPS is that the funding they receive from the military will affect the scope of my education as a student of political science here at Dalhousie,” , says Jesse Robertson, a third-year Political Science student at Dalhousie and a member of the Student Coalition Against War (SCAW). “I believe course content should be determined by the university, its professors, and its students, and them alone”
The SDF is a program of the DND that is mandated to promote “a domestic competence and national interest in defense issues of current and future relevance to Canadian security” through research, education and outreach. According to the SDF's website, this includes supporting academic research on issues including terrorism, weapons of mass destruction, Canada-United states defense relations and the Canadian Forces' international role.
The SDF provides awards for graduate and postgraduate students working in such areas and funds research centres on university campuses across the country including the Gregg Centre for the Study of War and Society at the University of New Brunswick, the Centre for International Relations at Queen’s University, the Centre d’études des politiques étrangères et de sécurité at Université du Québec à Montréal/Concordia University and the Centre for Military and Strategic Studies at the University of Calgary.
Dalhousie's Centre for Foreign Policy Studies is one of 13 such “Centres of Expertise” directly linked to the SDF. The Centre currently receives the maximum core SDF grant of $140,000 annually, with up to $16,000 in additional funding available for conference funds, according to the grant agreement between the Centre for Foreign Policy Studies and the Security and Defense Forum. This is in addition to the $11,000 in Special Project funding given by the SDF to the Centre in 2008-2009 to pursue specific research and outreach projects.
According to Dr. Amir Attaran, Professor at the University of Ottawa, Canada Research Chair in Law, Population Health and Global Development Policy and vocal critic of the SDF, this funding formula has troubling implications for academic freedom. “It is very pernicious, I think, when any academic is handpicked for funding by the government, and I do not restrict this criticism to the DND”, says Attaran. “What this does is create an environment in which people are not competing for funding, and in which the government is buying its supporters, acquiring groupthink. And groupthink is especially dangerous in times of war”.
In addition to teaching courses with "significant security and defence content" in exchange for the core SDF grant, the Centre for Foreign Policy Studies is also expected to conduct research on security issues and produce about 50 publications per year. The Centre is also required to conduct outreach activities with the Canadian Forces, the Department of National Defence, Parliament and the Canadian public. This includes organizing and promoting conferences, workshops and events, and giving regular media briefings.
Despite the need to fulfill the above requirements, faculty members associated with CFPS maintain that the SDF grant does not influence the content of the Centre's research or teaching activities. “The funding really is arm’s-length”, maintains Dr. David Black, the current Director of CFPS, “I know it's shocking, but there really is no intervention.”
Black asserts that while “it would be fair to say that the bulk of people associated with SDF Centre's would take a traditional view on security and defence,” the SDF “does not intervene at all in how one defines security and defence”. He points to the Centre's recent Child Soldiers initiative, which links security to development and has allowed for dialogue with former Child Soldiers, as an example of the breadth of subjects that can be researched and taught by Centre faculty under the SDF grant.
Projects like the Child Soldiers initiative are “not exactly military propaganda", agrees Ken Hansen, a Defence Fellow at Dalhousie and affiliate of the CFPS, claiming that the financial incentive for influencing research topics or outcomes in favour of the DND is nonexistent. “The budgets are so small. $140,000** does not buy you a puppet on a string”.
Others are skeptical of those who maintain that funding sources have no impact on research content or outcomes.
“That is a neanderthal view of research ethics,” says Dr. Attaran. “That argument would never hold up in the natural or medical sciences. It's the same argument scientists used to accept money from tobacco companies to study smoking”.
Other think-tanks funded by the SDF have been accused of publicly taking stances on military issues without disclosing that they are funded by the DND. Dr. Attaran points to one example of an SDF-funded academic testifying to Parliament in favour of Canada's mission in Afghanistan, without disclosing that the research on which his testimony was based was funded by the DND.
Kaleigh Trace, a recent graduate of the International Development Studies Department at Dalhousie and a member of SCAW, extends these concerns to the courses taught by the Centre for Foreign Policy Studies. “How unbiased is policy advice given to government officials or briefings given to the media when it is based on research ultimately funded by the DND?” asks Trace. “How objective can course content based on this same research be?”
The 19 courses taught by the Centre for Foreign Policy Studies that fulfilled the SDF's requirement for security and defence content were offered mostly through the political science department, with one course in international development studies and two courses in history. Faculty associated with CFPS maintain that these courses would be taught whether or not SDF funding was involved, and that content for these courses can take a variety of perspectives that is not in any way influenced by the connection to DND. “Poli Sci is not in any way beholden to CFPS”, says Dr. Black, “Neither we nor anyone from SDF vets the content of those courses”.
Jesse Robertson disagrees that the funding arrangement has no impact on course content. “When an outside body creates a financial incentive for certain courses to be taught, the independence of the university is at stake. What would people think about Dal if an oil company agreed to give money to the Engineering Department for every course taught on oil extraction? My worry is that the financial incentive for professors in the Political Science department to teach courses on war and security limits the opportunity for myself and others to study other fields in the department”.
The Student Coalition Against War has suggested that any course that fulfills the security and defence content requirement make its connection with the CFPS, the SDF and the DND explicit in course calendars, giving students the opportunity to decide whether or not to enroll. While it may be difficult to avoid such courses entirely, given that core Political Science courses like World Politics are included on this list, SCAW says full disclosure would give students the opportunity to consider how military funding might influence the perspectives advanced in the course.
Dr. Attaran extends this argument to apply to all activities of SDF-funded Centres and academics. “If you are going to accept SDF funding, which I think is unwise…in everything you write about the military or security you must disclose this. If you are giving a lecture on security or military history or social responsibility in times of war, you must disclose this. Otherwise you are not teaching or doing research ethically”.
“This kind of thing happens all the time”, notes Dr. Attaran. “But the point is that the SDF is particularly dangerous because military research is particularly dangerous. We are talking about war.”
Written and researched by Jane Kirby with files from Ben Sichel
Editor’s note: Jane Kirby discloses her own involvement with the Student Coalition Against War, even though SCAW provided her with no financial incentive to write this piece.
**Hansen's numbers reflect only the core amount of funding given annually to the Centre by the SDF and do not include special project grants or conference grants. They also do not include Hansen's own $153,000 salary, which is paid for directly by the Navy, not through the SDF.