FROM THE ARCHIVES: Defense Secretary Proposes Closer DOD/University Connections Including More Social Science Research (April 21, 2008)

In celebration of COSSA’s 40th anniversary, we are diving into the decades of Washington Update archives to share articles from years past that resonate with today’s news.

“Too many mistakes have been made over the years because our government and military did not understand – or even seek to understand – the countries or cultures we were dealing with.” With those words in a speech to the Association of American Universities (AAU), Robert Gates, Secretary of the Department of Defense (DOD), issued a call to academia to help the U.S. return, in Arthur Schlesinger’s words, “to the acceptance of eggheads and ideas” to meet present and future national security challenges.

Gates, a former President of Texas A&M University, indicated that it was time to enhance the Defense Department’s support for university research, much of it in the social and behavioral sciences. A proposed “Minerva Initiative” is under consideration at the Pentagon that would consist of a “consortia of universities that would promote research in specific areas” and serve as repositories of open-source documentary archives[…]

The Secretary admitted that the relationship between DOD and the social sciences and humanities “for decades has covered the spectrum from cooperative to hostile.” He made clear that the key principle of all components of the Minerva consortia “will be complete openness and rigid adherence to academic freedom and integrity.” There will be no room for “sensitive but unclassified” or other such restrictions, he pledged.

He also acknowledged that part of the difficult relations between the DOD and academe stems from the Department’s “not always doing a great job of explaining what we are doing in ways that are accessible to the uninitiated.” He commented on the current Human Terrain program, which has used anthropologists, economists, historians and sociologists to help understand the culture and societies of Iraq and Afghanistan during our current military efforts there. This program has been controversial and condemned by the American Anthropological Association. Gates defended the program and suggested it has helped initiate programs that are the “key to long-term success,” but not intuitive to a military establishment that “has long put a premium on firepower and technology.”[…]

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