After years of protests from students, the University continues to invest in fossil fuel companies. It has an exclusivity contract with PepsiCo, a company that uses suppliers who violate child labor laws, going against ethical and sustainable business practices. Most recently, the University was slow to end contracts with Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the government agency that is responsible for separating families at the U.S.-Mexico border.
The University’s involvement in these contracts has been well publicized and heavily criticized by students and professors alike. Adding to this list of questionable practices is a partnership that is less well-known, but just as problematic: a contract with the U.S. government to take part in nuclear weapons research.
On Nov. 13, the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) published a report stating that 49 U.S. universities are complicit in the production of nuclear weapons. The group calls on students and faculty to “demand their universities stop helping to build weapons of mass destruction.”
The report is scathing. It repeatedly mentions Hopkins, highlighting its involvement in creating nuclear weapons for the U.S. ICAN notes that Hopkins receives twice as much funding as any other university from the Department of Defense (DOD) largely because of the work of its renowned Applied Physics Laboratory (APL). Created in 1942 for weapons development in World War II, the APL has since served as a technical resource for the U.S. government, developing numerous technologies for air and missile defense, naval warfare, computer security and space science.
In 2017, the APL received a seven year contract with the DOD for $93 million to continue the Air Force Nuclear Weapons Center’s strategic partnership. This contributes to the multi-year contract with the agency that is now worth more than $7 billion.
The research involved in this deal is largely classified. On the surface, this seems to contradict the University’s policy against classified research. However, the APL is exempt from this policy, as it is the only part of the University listed as a “non-academic division.”
The University continues to brand itself as an ethical research institution. However, its direct involvement with the development of weapons of mass destruction is contradictory to these actions.
We believe that Hopkins should remove itself from all contracts associated with nuclear weapons. Instead, the APL should focus on research that does not have the same devastating and inhumane implications that nuclear weapons do.
Those who support the University’s work with nuclear weapons may argue that Hopkins receives a high monetary benefit from their partnership with the Department of Defense. They may also claim that Hopkins, which is just one of nearly 50 universities conducting research, can’t make any difference on its own. Even if Hopkins ends the contracts, why would other schools do the same?
These arguments are valid, and we understand the concerns that are associated with terminating the contracts. It is true that Hopkins receives a hefty sum for its involvement with the DOD. According to ICAN, “the funding ceiling for its ongoing contract was extended beyond $7 billion” in 2019.
There is also a turning tide against nuclear weapons development across the world. The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, introduced to the United Nations in 2017, bans the development and use of nuclear weapons by signatories. So far, 122 countries have signed on, though the U.S. and most western countries have not. If Hopkins and other reputable institutions take a stand against nuclear weapons development, it will send a sign to the world at large that we want to move on from using these weapons of mass destruction.
Large scale change starts small, and it starts with us. We encourage students to take a stand for what they believe in. As with any other issue, there are multiple ways to tell Hopkins that it’s time for a change. On their website, ICAN outlines three ways that students can speak out. They recommend publicizing the issue, demanding transparency from universities and calling on them to end their work with nuclear weapons.
We know that there’s no guarantee that Hopkins will end its contracts and stop working on nuclear weapons development. But by speaking out, we can initiate the change. Activists who are part of sustainability and pro-peace groups can protest against nuclear weapons production. Students who are majoring in STEM fields can take a stand against working at the associated departments at the APL, and should be aware of the larger implications of any research they are involved in. All students can tell Hopkins that we demand an explanation and that we take issue with the greater mission behind the research.
The University’s mission statement, in part, mentions that its goal is “To educate its students and cultivate their capacity for lifelong learning, to foster independent and original research, and to bring the benefits of discovery to the world.” We hope that the University will refocus its attention on these goals. If Hopkins turns away from nuclear weapons research, other institutions may follow in our path. Making the world a safer place is the best way to bring the benefits of our discovery to everyone.