The Blood on Binghamton University’s HandsPosted: February 16, 2014
By: B.B. Shell
Binghamton University is becoming a hotbed for drone research. Due to declining support from New York State (NYS) and thanks to the area’s long-standing business relationship with the military, more and more funding for BU is coming from the branches of the armed forces, the Air Force in particular. The US government’s expansion of drone warfare has come under fire from the international and domestic community for the indiscriminate and extrajudicial killing of peasant farmers, US citizens, “suspected terrorist”, and wedding parties. Many blame drones for the US’s declining status and credibility in the world. With these criticisms in mind it is important for BU administrators, students, professors, and Broome county residents to re-evaluate funding for drone technological. Better drones, after all, mean deadly drones.
Binghamton University ties to the United States Military grow daily. Triple Cities College, BU’s name at its 1946 founding, was built to educate returning World War II veterans. As it has expanded over the last 60 plus years its ties to the military have grown along with it. Today the university is financially bound to military agencies in terms of funding research on campus. With state funding decreasing over the last twenty years- it was at 17% as of November 2012- these ties are becoming increasingly important.
Plans for the future of the university such as SUNY 2020 and the Binghamton Road Map illustrate a push for maintaining and deepening connections to both corporate and federal military agencies. To boast the University’s competitiveness in getting military dollars the aforementioned plans call for heavy investments in engineering and the “hard” sciences, areas which bring in most of these external funds. The Watson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, the Electrical Engineering Department, for example, receives roughly 95% of its total committed funds from the Air Force Office of Science Research and the Air Force Research Lab, according to the Committed Funds Report for 2011-2012. This is one of the departments housed in the brand new multi-million dollar Innovative Technologies Complex. Rather than funding the humanities, arts, social sciences, etc., the university is investing in military research spaces.
It is necessary to consider how such strong financial ties are influencing research on campus. There are several examples of research projects that list Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, more commonly known as drones, in potential application sections. In 2006 the SUNY Research Foundation produced a final technical report on its “significant research capability and capacity to the in-house program at the Air Force Research Laboratory”. This report cited one Binghamton faculty member whose project is to address the development of a real time tracking system that is able to track any Unmanned Aerial Vehicle video object indicated by a user mouse click. In another instance, outside of this report, a Binghamton professor worked on a project entitled, “Application of Robotic Manipulators in Pointing-Acquisition-Tracking Systems for UAV.” As the university is becoming more dependent on these dollars, funders have the ability to shape the research interests of the departments, often outsourcing to them the research and development of military technology.
While universities theoretically should have the ability to conduct basic research free from external influence, it is clear that this freedom is being sacrificed in order to bring in more funds, particularly from military agencies. As the “War on Terror” drags into its second decade and alternative federal funds become scarcer (thanks sequestration!),
it is unlikely that this relationship will slow down. As Binghamton University looks to expand in years to come it must question its ties to these agencies and not simply fall back on the idea that “this is where the money is coming from”. University administration, faculty, and students ought to consider to what extent military funds are influencing our school and how this will affect its future.