Submission: What would a demilitarized UCSD look like?

Submission: What would a demilitarized UCSD look like?

This piece was submitted by Adam Cooper, a doctoral candidate in atmospheric chemistry and campaign coordinator for the Green New Deal at UC San Diego’s Fossil Free Degree campaign.

After five days of peaceful, non-disruptive protest, UC San Diego’s administration and Chancellor Pradeep K. Khosla disrupted all campus operations for a full day to bring in 200 riot cops to destroy the UCSD Gaza Solidarity Encampment and beat, arrest, and jail our fellow students. This militarized response to peaceful protest continues the Chancellor’s legacy of using police force to suppress student and worker voices.

The UCSD Gaza Solidarity Encampment was part of a broader international movement of student activists establishing over 150 encampments in 26 countries and centered around four demands: ending UCSD’s silence on the ongoing genocide in Gaza, amnesty for all affiliated with the encampment, a campuswide boycott of military and private partnerships that enable this genocide, and divestment from those same companies.

The global student-led movement to free Palestine is in response to the Israeli military killing 34,000 Palestinians and bombing all 12 universities in Gaza. Meanwhile, the United States has sent $17 billion in military aid to Israel as Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu rejects peace deals and begins the invasion of Rafah, where over 1.5 million Palestinians are taking shelter.

San Diego is a military town and its flagship university reflects this. The U.S. and Israeli military and private military contractors partly fund UCSD’s research. In the past 10 years, UCSD has received major funding from the U.S. Navy ($464M), the Army ($102M), and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency ($71M). This represents about 7% of research grant funding over this period, roughly twice the amount that UCSD received from the State of California. This leaves UCSD uniquely positioned to take an ethical and powerful stance to dissociate from the military-industrial complex by ceasing all military-related research.

Furthermore, military-funded research is not limited to the U.S. Armed Forces. UCSD is one of two UC campuses — the other being UC Berkeley — directly contracted to provide research for the Israeli Ministry of Defense in the last five years. While research groups do not list these grants on their websites, UC publicly discloses research grant titles and principal investigators.

Researchers in our computer science and engineering department have worked on a project funded by an Israeli military grant that investigates “A Practical Approach for Underwater Navigation towards Localizing Underwater Objects.” This technology could potentially be used to support the Israeli Navy’s blockade of Gaza’s coastline since 2007. In addition, researchers in the structural engineering department worked for the Israeli military to develop a “Risk-based Optimal Data Interrogation for Structural Health Monitoring.” This could potentially be used for Israel’s apartheid wall which assists in the blockade of Gaza and limits movement of Palestinians in the West Bank.

Beyond public military funding, more than $2 million of research has been conducted on behalf of private military contractors like BAE, Lockheed Martin, and Raytheon over the past 10 years. Due to the popularity of the antiwar movement across the last eight decades, calls to end military research are not new to UCSD’s campus. On the same day as the Kent State massacre, in 1970, UCSD students occupied the fifth floor of Urey Hall in Revelle College to call for an end to military-funded research. They were not successful, but they were not alone. 

Throughout May 1970, over a million students participated in the student strike, resulting in, then-Governor Ronald Reagan shutting down all California public universities for the academic year. On May 10, graduate student George Winne Jr. self-immolated in Revelle Plaza to protest the Vietnam War.

15 years later, thousands of students at UCSD joined the struggle against apartheid in South Africa. They occupied Galbraith Hall (the Humanities Library at the time) for an entire month. They were successful and the UCs divested $3.1 billion of its endowment from companies doing business with South Africa. When Nelson Mandela was released in 1990, he visited UCB to make it abundantly clear: university activists had played a critical role in the anti-apartheid movement.

Now in 2024, students across the U.S. are recreating the successful activism of our elders to reclaim physical university space and demand an end to U.S.-backed genocide and campus complicity in human rights abuses and war crimes against the Palestinian people.

Once again, students, staff, and faculty need to decide whether a public university whose motto is “Let there be light” should conduct research for those responsible for extinguishing life. With their most recent actions, it seems our administration has already decided: they like the money from the military-industrial complex and they are willing to arrest the students protesting against it.

One of UCSD’s themes is to “Break Things Better” — it is time to break the idea that this university is run from the top down. With continued undergraduate activism, a potential graduate worker strike, and public calls from faculty for Khosla’s resignation, it is clear: Khosla thought bringing in the cops would be an ending, but it is just the beginning.

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