US Military involvement with Colleges - bigger than it seems

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The US Military influences higher education through a variety of mechanisms

The US military regards colleges as a crucial component of their defence strategy, and has developed a well-resourced and sophisticated position of influence within the US higher education system. Campuses have become an extension of the US military complex and key sties for recruitment, training, and military research.

Student Militias - The Reserve Officers' Training Corps (ROTC)

Founded in 1916, the ROTC exists in over 1,000 US colleges, and provides military training to students, with the aim of producing the next generation of armed forces officers. ROTC Students are provided with a scholarship to college, on the condition that they complete four years of active military service once they graduate. ROTC graduates also serve an additional four years in the reserves after their active service.

ROTC students choose between the Army, Air Force and Navy as their service branch, and participate in regular drills throughout the academic year, as well as extended training activities during the summer. In 2010, 38.5% of newly commissioned US Army Officers were ROTC graduates, meaning that the ROTC serves a crucial recruitment function for the US Military.

The military has protected this recruitment function through the Solomon Amendment (1994), which allows the Department of Defense (DoD) to deny federal funding to colleges if they prohibit the ROTC, or military recruitment from taking place on campus. As explored below, this funding is extremely lucrative, meaning academic staff are often encouraged not to dissent against military initiatives within their colleges.

With the most expensive tuition fees in the world, the ROTC is seen by many students, particularly from disadvantaged backgrounds, as an effective way to avoid considerable student debt and guarantee employment after their studies. However, this financial and job security comes with the significant risks attached to an armed forces career.

Army 101: College Education for Current and Former Service Personnel

The US military not only regards colleges as a source for potential officers, but also as an opportunity to further the knowledge and skills of their serving members. A number of schemes and initiatives exist to provide serving personnel with a college education, meaning that students in military uniform has become a common sight on many campuses.

US military personnel are eligible for bursaries worth up to $4,500 a year to undertake a college education. However, this opportunity often comes with a 'return to service' obligation, meaning military personnel commit to serving for another number of years upon completing their degree. The contracts brokered in educating military personnel are substantial, and are sought after by universities. For example, in 2013, Maryland University College, was awarded a $245 million contract to provide distance learning to troops serving in Europe, until 2023.

The US military also view colleges as an opportunity to assist veterans in their transition to civilian life. Service-members Opportunity Colleges, "enrol hundreds of thousands of service-members, their family members, and veterans annually", and the G.I. Bill, introduced in 1944, also provides a range of funding options for veterans to attend university. Furthermore, in 2012, 71% of public universities had a Veteran's Resource Centre, which has generated an exponential growth in veterans attending university. This educational provision for veterans benefits the US military by deflecting criticism away from the fact that recent wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have resulted in 970,000 veterans claiming disability benefits for various psychological and physical injuries.

It is vital for colleges to be viewed as 'Military-Friendly' institutions, and many universities pride themselves on achieving and maintaining this status. Resisting military influence is likely to damage college's public reputation, and can result in the loss of significant government funding. Consequentially, universities often feel pressured to alter their policies, in order to be regarded as pro-military. Many Universities grant accreditation for military training, pledge to re-admit military personnel should they be deployed, and offer reduced or even waived tuition fees for serving personnel. This desire to be regarded as 'Military-Friendly' can even result in the complete militarisation of certain universities. For example, Trident University, who recently came first in Military Advanced Education's 2015 Guide to Colleges and Universities, has 66% of students in the regular or reserve armed forces.

Ivory Turrets - Military Research at Universities

Universities receive a significant amount of DoD funding for conducting research with military applications. The DoD is the largest federal funder of university research in the US, and in 2012, had an astonishing research budget of $80.4 billion, 55% of the total federal expenditure on research and development. Thus, there is a considerable incentive for universities and academics to conduct military research. Indeed, a report by the Association of American Universities notes in 2002, that almost 350 colleges and universities conduct military research. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) is consistently the highest recipient of funding for military research, receiving $608 million in 2005. On occasion, the military has even attempted to determine what students are taught. For example, in 2008, a memorandum of understanding between the DoD and the Department of Education agreed to promote foreign language learning, amongst college students, particularly in strategic languages, such as Arabic and Farsi.

Military research varies considerably. For example, in 2013, Assistant Professor Yarsolav Urzhumov, used a proportion of Duke University's $33 million in DoD funding, to research cloaking technology that would render airplanes and boats invisible to radar. Whereas, North Carolina State University, has received funding to study which breeds of dog are best suited to detect roadside bombs, and to develop a surface that would make naval ships barnacle-proof! However, funding is not only granted to science and technology departments, but also to social-science and humanities departments. In 2008, the Minerva Consortium, was established by the DoD, to fund universities to "carry out social-sciences research relevant to national security". Yet, academics are not only useful to the military, in terms of the research they might carry out in their universities, but are increasingly being sought after for their skills and expertise, which might be useful for conducting military operations overseas.

The Human Terrain Programme

In 2007, at the height of American wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the US military established the Human Terrain Programme. This $40 million dollar initiative, poached academics and PhD students - particularly within anthropology and social-science departments - with salaries of over $200,000 per year. Their purpose was to utilise their expertise to monitor local populations, in an attempt to win 'hearts and minds', and assist US military decision-making. For many, the initiative represented the terminus by which US higher education has become militarised, with militarily-trained academics outfitted in fatigues and weaponised, in order to enable the US military's kill-chain.

The Human Terrain Programme continues to this day, and there is little doubt that the US military is constantly monitoring academics and their research, in order to recruit the very best skill-sets and expertise, to assist US military strategy.

A Military-Academic Complex

In his farewell address to the nation, in 1961, President Eisenhower warned against the burgeoning influence of the Military-Industrial Complex over US society. Since then, the US military has extended its reach to other areas of American society, including higher education. Whilst both the military and colleges benefit from this Military-Academic Complex, they are not equal partners. Universities are beholden to DoD policy, and risk a loss of reputation and funding if they dissent. The philosophical underpinnings of the public university, whereby academic institutions are free from political influence are no more, and military influence within US universities, is likely to continue into the future.

Source: Blasting News

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