IIn his 1961 farewell address, Dwight D Eisenhower warned the nation against the “unwarranted influence” of the military-industrial complex. But a lesser-known part of the speech was directed at universities: “In the same way, the free university, historically at the source of free ideas and scientific discovery, has experienced a revolution in the conduct of research. Partly because of the huge costs involved, a government contract becomes virtually a substitute for intellectual curiosity.
We did not listen.
For most of the pandemic, I researched defense industry ties to college campuses as part of a survey grant for In These Times magazine. On August 11, we published a 4,300-word feature article on Lockheed Martin’s extensive recruiting on college campuses.
We have found an environment in which Stem students are channeled into the defense industry through recruitment, research, financial aid, or a combination of the three.
Lockheed offers cash prize competitions, scholarships and paid internships to students who have served as gateways to employment. In 2020, the company hired 2,600 interns and claimed more than 60% of former graduate interns converted into full-time jobs.
On campus, Lockheed has set up recruiting tables in the halls and hallways of student buildings and holds workshops on everything from space exploration to resume writing. At the University of Texas at Arlington, a $1.5 million donation enabled one of their buildings to be renamed the Lockheed Martin Career Development Center.
But the company’s flagship recruiting event, held at more than a dozen universities, is called Lockheed Martin Day. Recruiters entice students with virtual reality demos, flight simulators and, in some cases, by landing their helicopters right on campus. Company officials are known to offer on-site job and internship opportunities to students during the event.
Additionally, Lockheed has invested resources in financially supporting and recruiting students to historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs), earning its spot as the industry’s top supporter of HBCU engineering institutions for seven consecutive years. .
But before anyone says that’s a good thing, it’s worth stopping to ask how we got here.
When black women have the highest average student debt ($41,466), it’s hard to argue against additional financial support no matter where it comes from. Unless you start with a more basic question: why do black women get the heaviest debt load? Why are HBCU endowments, on average, 70% lower than other universities?
Why is $1.7 billion for Lockheed’s F-35 fighter jet considered a worthwhile investment, but $1.7 billion for student debt relief considered a handout?
The answer comes down to the priorities we set as a nation and the investments we are prepared to make based on those priorities.
Last year, the Biden-Harris administration announced an unprecedented $5.8 billion investment for HBCUs. By comparison, the administration has sent nearly double that number in military assistance to Ukraine.
This country reached a grim milestone in 2020. For the first time, government funding for Lockheed Martin exceeded funding for the Department of Education. When a nation spends more on a single military contractor than on the agency overseeing college financial aid, Lockheed scholarships feel less like an act of charity and more like intentional political choices.
While Lockheed’s presence on college campuses dates back decades, its scholarship program was only launched in 2019. Following Donald Trump’s Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017, Lockheed pledged to invest $50 million in Stem education enrichment programs and a Stem scholarship program over the next five years. Hundreds of millions of additional dollars have been spent on employee training and other education initiatives, including employee tuition assistance, research and development, and competition scholarships.
Companies will have saved millions in profits while adding nearly $2 billion to the deficit over the next decade. At the same time, Republican officials in Congress argued that universities, which have traditionally been tax-exempt, were hoarding their wealth and had to pay.
The 2017 tax cuts included a provision to impose a 1.4% excise tax on endowments from the country’s wealthiest private universities. A reporter from the Washington Post explained that “the revenue from the endowment tax will not be used to reduce the cost of higher education but rather to offset corporate tax cuts.”
If budgets are moral documents, what do ours say about us?
By the Air Force’s own admission, the F-35 was a failure. What was supposed to be a light, inexpensive and versatile fighter aircraft has become, over the years, heavier, more expensive and less effective. As the Air Force chief general said last year, “The F-35 is a Ferrari. You don’t drive a Ferrari to work every day, you only drive it on Sundays.
I recognize that these policies have resulted in a complicated reality. Millions of people across the country, including students, now depend on exorbitant defense spending. According to a 2021 Bloomberg report, “Nearly every US state has economic ties to the F-35, with 29 states counting on the project for $100 million or more in economic activity.” A similar analogy can be drawn based on defense research at universities supporting students, faculty, and institutional budgets.
But knowing that all of this work is federally guaranteed and taxpayer funded, we might as well decide that investing in jobs that improve lives is more important than investing to end them.
Lockheed’s presence on college campuses poses this question and highlights two competing visions of the university: a political and economic tool to serve the world as it is, or an institution dedicated to advancing critical thinking and engagement. civic for the world as it could be. .
Once the question is asked, it is up to us to decide whether we will continue to favor war profiteers over posterity.