The Cold War and American Science The Military-Industrial-Academic Complex at MIT and Stanford


Excerpt from:
Chapter 9. The Days of Reckoning: March 4 and April 3

in The Cold War and American Science: The Military-Industrial-Academic Complex at MIT and Stanford by Stuart W. Leslie, 1993, Columbia University Press, New York

Pentagon West

At Stanford, March 4 seemed more a day of dispassionate accounting than personal accountability. According to one reporter, "The March 4 observance at Stanford was not much of a setback for the military-industrial complex. But it was perhaps the first infusion of a comparatively large and public interest into questions of scientific policy-making that had occurred in a long time, and it may be that it is a portent." 52

Home to the Hoover Institution and to a largely conservative faculty and student body, Stanford had slumbered through the early years of the antiwar movement. While its cross-bay rival, the University of California at Berkeley, became synonymous with student activism, Stanford remained, as it always had, a staunchly conservative campus better known for its fraternity parties than its student politics. 53

That began to change in May 1966. Stung by disclosures of covert CIA contracts with other universities, 54 Stanford's faculty and students began asking some embarrassing questions about confidential research on their own campus. Under pressure, the administration admitted that the Stanford Electronics Laboratories (SEL) had been running a CIA-sponsored study of electronic communications and surveillance for eight years, in addition to a number of classified contracts for the armed services. On May 2, fifty students and faculty members picketed Stanford's administrative offices, protesting secret contracts and classified research as violations of academic freedom and integrity. 55

The extent of Stanford's classified research program, although common knowledge among the engineers, shocked an academic community still coming to terms with the Vietnam War. President J. E. Wallace Sterling demanded a full accounting of classified research at Stanford, while the academic council announced public hearings. Terman and Rambo vigorously defended the classified contracts. Academic freedom, they maintained, cut both ways. It also included the rights of individual faculty members to undertake classified research if they chose. Terman pointed out that even Harvard, which had publicly banned classified research, generally turned a blind eye to violations, either by allowing classified projects to be done as part of consulting work or by arranging cooperative programs with MIT. "Some would call this hypocrisy, others expediency," he said. 56 Rambo denied that there was anything all that secret about the SEL contracts anyway, since virtually all the faculty and a third of the students held security clearances. He dismissed the security issue as a red herring: "The bulk of the [classified] work is in the Applied Electronics Laboratory Building. This building has a sinister reputation not fully deserved; most of it is freely accessible to all. This is well known to many faculty, staff, and students outside of EE, in large part because the Sergeant of the Guard, a slightly built man in his seventies who does not carry a gun, makes what is reputed to be the best coffee on campus." 57

Their spirited defense did not entirely satisfy their colleagues. In response to faculty and student pressure, the academic council appointed a special subcommittee on classified research, which spent the next year surveying classified projects on campus and drafting a carefully worded report. It found little evidence that security restrictions had eroded traditional academic values, and largely reaffirmed the status quo. It even defended full student participation in classified contracts. Anything less, it argued, "constitutes a most objectionable form of paternalism that forces upon students a priority by which the faculty is unwilling to live." 58

Meanwhile, the escalating war abroad and the feverish debates at home threatened to make the faculty deliberations irrelevant. On April 4, 1967, The Experiment, a student-run alternative college, published a detailed account of "war research" on campus and called for a mass rally "to indict Stanford U. and its Board of Trustees for Complicity in War Crimes." 59

At the top of The Experiment's hit list was the Stanford Research Institute (SRI), which, for many student radicals, symbolized the military's presence on campus. Incorporated by Stanford in 1946 as a nonprofit research institute similar to the more established Mellon and Battelle, SRI was originally intended to encourage regional economic growth by undertaking commercial contract research too specialized, expensive, or speculative for industry alone. At the same time, SRI was supposed "to promote the educational purposes of Stanford University." 60

Fulfilling that commitment while preserving a businesslike bottom line proved more difficult than expected. Commercial clients simply did not bring in enough revenue to pay the bills, and SRI lost money in the early years. Only cash advances from the university totaling about $600,000 kept it afloat. To turn things around, SRI brought in an aggressive new director whose strategy was to go after the lucrative military R&D contracts. Under the new management, SRI researchers took on electronic miniaturization contracts for the Navy, electronic navigation and antenna systems design for the Air Force, communications research for the Army, and nuclear weapons testing and evaluation for the AEC. In just a few years SRI quintupled its contract revenues from $2 to $10 million and turned a $60,000-a-year loss into a $325,000 surplus. By 1955 SRI was earning half its income from defense contracts, many of them classified, and setting a pattern for the decade ahead. By 1965 government contracts accounted for 82 percent of SRI's revenues, with military contracts accounting for 78 percent of the government share. 61 Those contracts included some controversial studies of land reform in Vietnam, counterinsurgency surveillance in Thailand, and chemical weapons. By 1968 SRI's research program rivaled the university's, in numbers if not in reputation, with 1,500 professional staff members (compared with 1,000 university faculty members) and annual contract revenues of $64 million (compared with $76 million for the university). 62 SRI's military effort dwarfed the university's. In 1969 SRI held $28.7 million in military contracts, ranking it third among "think tanks" and nonprofit research corporations, just behind MITRE and just ahead of Rand. Stanford, by contrast, held $16.4 million in military contracts that year, fourth on the university list. 63

SRI's size and visibility made it an obvious target. Starting in 1965, radical student and community groups (apparently with inside help) began leaking details of SRI's chemical weapons and counterinsurgency research through the underground press. These charges, culminating in lengthy exposés published by The Experiment and the local chapter of SDS, attracted widespread attention in the Stanford community. On April 14, 1967, the SDS organized the first of several antiwar marches on SRI's Menlo Park headquarters (a couple of miles from campus), 64 and then nailed a list of demands on the president's door: an end to war research at both the university and SRI; full disclosure of all corporate and government contracts; and the resignation of the three university trustees most closely associated in the students' minds with the military-industrial complex. 65

Mindful of SDS success at Columbia and elsewhere, acting president Robert Glaser tried to head off further confrontations by appointing a joint faculty-student Stanford-SRI Study Committee to consider the proper relationship between SRI and the university. 66 Despite opposition from liberal members who wanted franker discussions of the moral issues, the committee spent most of its time on financial and legal questions. Seeking a compromise between complete conversion and complete independence, the majority of the members recommended selling SRI to itself, with restrictive covenants on chemical weapons, counterinsurgency, and other "morally offensive" research. 67 Some members argued that instead of trying to enforce "hazy" moral covenants, the university should simply seek to maximize the return on its investment, and then put the money where it would do the most good. A radical minority held out for conversion on the grounds that divesting SRI, with or without restrictions, would not address the most crucial issue. They wanted Stanford to seize control and turn SRI in what they considered more socially responsible directions. 68

Convinced that official bodies like the faculty committee would only end up preserving vested interests, radical students took more direct action. They marched on the Systems Techniques Laboratory (STL), broke up a trustee luncheon with demands for an end to all university research related to the war, momentarily occupied the Applied Electronics Laboratory (AEL), and picketed the SRI annex in the Industrial Park, home to the counterinsurgency contracts. 69

On April 3, 1969, in a massive "town meeting," the various factions of the Stanford antiwar movement reorganized as the April 3 Coalition. Their demands were sweeping: that the university trustees draft stricter guidelines for SRI; end all classified research at the university and at SRI; end all chemical warfare and counterinsurgency research at both institutions, whether classified or not; and schedule a public trustees' meeting on the war research issue. 70

Backing up their demands with more direct action, the radicals seized AEL on April 9, vowing to hold it until the administration capitulated. 71 Clearly relishing the prospects of a long siege, they set up a child care center in one laboratory, the Red Guard Book Store in a second, the Eldridge Cleaver Room in a third, the Che Guevara Room in a fourth, and the United Student Movement (for the high school auxiliary) in the basement. 72 They turned the laboratory printshop into an underground press and began distributing "The Goods on AEL," "Declassified," and other sensational exposés on AEL. 73 Surprisingly, they managed to hold out for nine days until Stanford's president, armed with emergency powers from the university's judicial council, threatened to suspend them. He then closed the laboratory to everyone, including its own staff, for a week of cooling off.

Stanford's cruelest month climaxed with a massive outdoor rally on April 18 where some 8,000 members of the community gathered to debate the moral and practical dilemmas of classified research and the Stanford-SRI connection. They voted overwhelmingly to commend the April 3 Movement for "helping focus attention of the campus upon the nature of research being conducted at the University and SRI" and to suspend classes on April 22 as a "Day of Concern." About half the participants pledged to reoccupy AEL or otherwise force the administration's hand if the trustees did not acceptably respond to the crisis by the middle of May. 74

The AEL sit-in added renewed urgency to the ongoing faculty debate over classified research. Seeking to head off "hasty," "unworkable," or "repressive" restrictions, engineering dean Joseph Petitt announced that his school would no longer accept classified contracts and would terminate present ones as rapidly as possible." 75 It was not enough to silence the opposition. On April 24, in what Rambo described as a mood of "near hysteria," 76 the academic senate passed guidelines that effectively banished classified research from campus.

The new policy left dozens of faculty members, research associates and graduate students in the lurch. SEL held about $2 million worth of classified contracts that no longer qualified under the guidelines. Many researchers talked about leaving the university altogether and taking their contracts with them. 77 Pettit, trying to minimize the damage, sent a letter to the alumni explaining recent events and pleading for continued understanding and support, financial and otherwise. He got hundreds of replies, virtually all sympathetic and most urging a harder line with the students. "Very nice letter—but when I was a kid if I pulled this stuff you would have kicked my ass clean out of school forever," said one. "We are on your side. It is our belief that if the 'loud mouthed arts and letters types' were given enough Lab courses and reports to write they would become better citizens and not bother those of us who are trying to build something better," suggested another. 78

The senate resolution and the faculty report on SRI-university relations infuriated SRI staffers. They considered the majority recommendation for selling SRI to itself financially unattainable, and the minority recommendation for conversion under an oversight committee downright insulting. 79 A poll of SRI employees revealed little sympathy for any restrictions on contracts, and considerable support for breaking away from the university altogether. 80

Stanford president Kenneth Pitzer (who had only taken the job in December 1968) braced for the worst. He obtained a restraining order against potentially violent demonstrations, and ordered in the police to break up a sit-in on April 30 at the main administration building. 81

In mid-May, as everyone awaited the trustees' final decision on SRI, campus protest momentarily took on a carnival air. Students called a boycott of classes—though no one seems to have missed midterms—and held an outdoor fair featuring the chance to knock over effigies of the trustees with tennis balls or batter an old police car with a sledge hammer. 82

On May 13, the trustees announced that after careful consideration they had voted to divest SRI without restrictions, though with the hope that an independent SRI would commit itself to a stronger social agenda. They concluded that imposing special restraints on SRI or trying to reform it by fiat would only cripple a top-notch research facility. Merging it in some manner with the university would go against the strong and explicit wishes of the SRI staff and "would embark Stanford upon a program of applied contract research in manner and scale completely foreign to our concept of an educational institution of high quality." 83

With no higher forum for appeal, the students again took to the streets, blocking the entrance to the SRI annex in the Industrial Park, letting air out of car tires, and barricading intersections. This time, town police drove them back to campus with clubs and tear gas. 84 "We didn't want to hurt them," one officer explained. "We just wanted to open their minds." 85 Sixteen people were arrested. Perhaps it was the prospect of criminal prosecution or maybe the approach of final examinations, but student activism fell off dramatically. For the moment the movement had apparently worn itself out.

By fall, the mood of the campus had changed. STL shut its doors. Twenty-five members of the staff left for SRI, taking $800,000 in contracts and $300,000 in overhead with them. Six others went into business for themselves. 86 SRI closed the Industrial Park annex, thus eliminating a major target. In January 1970 the trustees presented their blueprint for divesting SRI. It would be sold to itself for 1 percent of its gross operating revenues ($58 million for 1969) up to $25 million and become simply SRI, International. 87 The campus community seemed to greet the announcement with a collective sigh of relief. Drained by more than a year of angry speeches, sit-ins, teach-ins, resolutions, and constant turmoil, most faculty and students now seemed more interested in peace at home than in Indochina.

Some turned their scrutiny inward, examining what the military-industrial complex was doing to their own university. In October 1969 the students initiated the Stanford Workshops on Political and Social Issues (SWOPSI), an experiment in alternative education intended to encourage research and teaching on current affairs. Under faculty sponsorship, one group of graduate students organized a course on sponsored research at Stanford premised on understanding "how a generation of close interaction with the Department of Defense has affected Stanford as an academic institution." 88 They surveyed faculty members, talked with graduate and undergraduate students, interviewed military officials, examined contracts, and searched the computer files of the Defense Documentation Center for descriptions of research contracts. The end result was a detailed file of approximately one hundred DOD contracts at Stanford along with comments from the principal faculty investigators. 89 What struck the students most were the apparent discrepancies between what faculty investigators said they were doing and what DOD contract monitors said the faculty investigators were doing. Where the professors emphasized a broad range of fundamental questions in science, their sponsors stressed a narrower band of military applications. "Basic research, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder," the Army's chief scientist explained to the students. 90

Hard-core activists, having lost faith in mass democracy itself following the American invasion of Cambodia and the subsequent shootings of student protesters by National Guardsmen at Kent State in the spring of 1970, resorted to rock throwing and vandalism, or "trashing" as they called it. Lacking clearer targets, they lashed out at ROTC, a symbolic though scarcely essential part of the war machine. Idealistic questions about the university's larger responsibility got lost amidst the clubbings, tear gassings, broken windows and broken heads. During April and May of 1970, police and students clashed a half dozen times, with scores of injuries and arrests and tens of thousands of dollars in property damage. 91

Faculty liberals sometimes seemed as lost as the students. They passed predictable resolutions against the war and against academic credit for ROTC, but the easy confidence that remaking Stanford would remake the world had been largely replaced by cynicism and despair.

Rambo's assessment of the AEL sit-in ("Whatever the noble beginnings, the affair itself achieved the eventual moral stature of a car theft"), 92 seemed a fair epitaph for the Stanford student movement. The radicals, enraged as much by the apparent indifference of those around them as by the ceaseless escalation of the war, seemed to run out of constructive ideas and resorted to throwing stones. There was further "trashing" following the bombing of Hanoi, taking out most of the windows in the newly completed Durand Building, and again following the American invasion of Laos. But the number of demonstrators dwindled to insignificance, and the biggest cheers at a campus rally protesting the Laos invasion went to black students complaining that breaking windows was not stopping the war and was draining money from their scholarship fund. 93

President Pitzer's resignation in June 1970 and the firing of tenured English professor H. Bruce Franklin the next year seemed somehow a fitting finale to Stanford's days of rage. Pitzer, an avowed liberal and an outspoken opponent of the war, found himself, like so many college presidents in those days, squeezed between radical demands for instant reform and reactionary demands for complete repression. The radicals caused Pitzer more day-to-day trouble, picketing his house at all hours, showering him with verbal abuse at every opportunity, and even pouring paint over his head at a formal dinner. But it was the reactionaries who ultimately cost him his job, threatening to withhold all-important financial support. 94 Franklin lost his job for heckling Henry Cabot Lodge and allegedly trying to incite a "people's war" against the Stanford Computation Center as part of the Laos demonstration. 95 Linus Pauling called it "a political firing," 96 which it obviously was. By that point, however, the antiwar movement had degenerated into guerrilla theater, with Franklin's wife waving an empty carbine at the press conference following the firing, and Franklin hinting at retribution from Stanford's version of the Red Guards. In the end, there were just threats. Like the war itself, the movement finally exhausted itself (and anyone connected with it) into apathy and recrimination.



Note 52:  Elinor Langer, "A West Coast Version of the March 4 Protest," Science 163 (March 14, 1969): 1176-77.Back.

Note 53:  William J. Rorabaugh, Berkeley at War: The 1960s (New York: Oxford University Press, 1989), is the best single account of events there.Back.

Note 54:  Irving Horowitz, "Michigan State and the CIA: A Dilemma for Social Science," Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists 22, (September 1966): 26-29, reviews the controversy and its implications for university researchers.Back.

Note 55:  James Reston, "Stanford: 'Liberate the Faculty' " New York Times, May 4, 1966, p. 46.Back.

Note 56:  F. Terman to J. E. W. Sterling, May 6, 1966 (SA SC 160 III 10/8).Back.

Note 57:  W. R. Rambo, "Remarks on Classified Research presented by W. R. Rambo to the Academic Council on May 17, 1966" (SA SC 160 III 10/8).Back.

Note 58:  Committee on Research Policy, "University Policy Regarding Classified Research," September 1, 1967 (SA SC 218 4D/Policy, Classified Research).Back.

Note 59:  "Research Goes to War," Resistance (campus "underground" newspaper), April 4, 1967 (SA SC 216 57/3).Back.

Note 60:  This historical sketch of SRI is drawn from Weldon Gibson's official two-volume history, SRI: The Founding Years and SRI: The Takeoff Days (Los Altos, Calif.: Publishing Services Center, 1980).Back.

Note 61:  Report of the Stanford-SRI Study Committee, April 11, 1969, p. 7 (SA SC 218 4D/Policy, Classified Research).Back.

Note 62:  Ibid., p. 5.Back.

Note 63:  "Can Defense Work Keep a Home on Campus," Business Week, June 7, 1969, p. 70.Back.

Note 64:  Jay Neugeboren, "Disobedience Now!" Commonweal 56 (June 16, 1967): 367-69.Back.

Note 65:  Peter Stern, "Stanford's 'Community of Consent,' " The Nation (September 7, 1970): 174; Report of the Stanford-SRI Study Committee, p. 51.Back.

Note 66:  Report of the Stanford-SRI Study Committee, p. 1.Back.

Note 67:  John Walsh, "Stanford Research Institute: Campus Turmoil Spurs Transition," Science (May 23, 1969): 933-36.Back.

Note 68:  Report of the Stanford-SRI Study Committee, p. 34.Back.

Note 69:  Ibid., p. 51; "Sit-in Chronology," May 1, 1969 (SA SC 216 C7/SRI).Back.

Note 70:  "Controlling War Research at SRI and Stanford," April 3 Coalition (SA SC 216 C7/SRI).Back.

Note 71:  Lawrence Davies, "Students Occupy Stanford Electronics Laboratory," New York Times, April 11, 1969, p. 24.Back.

Note 72:  W. R. Rambo to Charles Anderson, May 6, 1969 (SA SC 160 III 54/5).Back.

Note 73:  John Walsh, "Confrontation at Stanford: Exit Classified Research," Science 164 (May 2, 1969): 534-37; and Stern, "Stanford's 'Community of Consent,' " p. 174.Back.

Note 74:  "Chronology of Events," p. 25.Back.

Note 75:  Joseph Pettit to Kenneth Pitzer, April 21, 1969 (SA SC 218 4D/Policy, Classified Research).Back.

Note 76:  Rambo to Charles Anderson, May 6, 1969 (SA SC 160 III 54/5).Back.

Note 77:  Stanford University News Service, April 24, 1969 (SA SC 165 I 1/7).Back.

Note 78:  Pettit to Stanford Engineering Alumni, May 1969, and file of responses (SA SC 165 I 1/7).Back.

Note 79:  "Closing Remarks by Charles A. Anderson" (SA SC 216 C7/SRI).Back.

Note 80:  Stanford University News Service, May 13, 1969 (SA SC 218 4D/Policy, Classified Research).Back.

Note 81:  "Sit-In Chronology—May 1, 1969" (SA SC 216 C7 SRI Issue 1969; see also Stern, "Stanford's 'Community of Consent,' " p. 175.Back.

Note 82:  New York Times, May 13, 1969, p. 31.Back.

Note 83:  Trustees Statement, "Stanford University and Stanford Research Institute," May 13, 1969 (SA SC 218 4D/Policy, Classified Research).Back.

Note 84:  New York Times, May 17, 1969, p. 30.Back.

Note 85:  "From North to South," Newsweek, May 26, 1969, p. 76.Back.

Note 86:  Stanford Daily, October 10, 1969, p. 11.Back.

Note 87:  New York Times, January 14, 1970, p. 22.Back.

Note 88:  Norm V. Albers et al., DOD-Sponsored Research at Stanford, vol. 2, Its Impact on the University (Palo Alto: Stanford Workshop on Political and Social Issues, November 1971), p. 1.Back.

Note 89:  Deborah Shapley, "Defense Research: The Names Are Changed to Protect the Innocent," Science 175 (February 25, 1971): 866-68.Back.

Note 90:  Stanton Glantz et al., DOD-Sponsored Research at Stanford, vol. 1, Two Perceptions: The Investigator's and the Sponsor's (Palo Alto: Stanford Workshop on Political and Social Issues, June 1971), pp. 15-17; and Shapley, "Defense Research: The Names Are Changed to Protect the Innocent," p. 867.Back.

Note 91:  Stern, "Stanford's 'Community of Consent,' " pp. 174-78, traces the progressive deterioration of the movement and the campus environment. The campaign history of the spring of 1970 can be traced through the New York Times: April 3, 1970, p. 3; April 25, 1970, p. 35; April 30, 1970, p. 36; May 1, 1970, p. 38; May 5, 1970, p. 18; and May 9, 1970, p. 9.Back.

Note 92:  Rambo to Charles Anderson, May 6, 1969 (SA SC 160 III 54/5).Back.

Note 93:  New York Times, February 9, 1971, p. 16.Back.

Note 94:  Philip M. Boffey, "Stanford: Why Pitzer Resigned as President," Science 169 (August 7, 1970): 561-65.Back.

Note 95:  Kenneth Lamott, "In the Matter of H. Bruce Franklin," New York Times Magazine, January 23, 1972, pp. 12ff.Back.

Note 96:  Linus Pauling, Raymond Giraud, Halsted Holman letter to the New York Times, January 26, 1972, p. 36.Back.


The Cold War and American Science