This summer, the University of California will team up with Bechtel Corporation, a controversial global engineering and construction firm, in a bid to renew its 62-year-old managerial contract with Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL), the nation’s leading nuclear weapons complex. Many UCSB students are oblivious to this incredibly important upcoming transaction. They shouldn’t be. If weapons of mass destruction are so high on everyone’s phobia list, perhaps we should first examine whether they should be produced under the supervision of our own university.
A university is supposed to be an open institution with the mission of providing a haven for free intellectual thought and inquiry. The UC’s connection to the Los Alamos lab violates the fundamental tenets of this mission. First of all, there is no transparency in the partnership between the UC and Los Alamos. It is completely cloaked in secrecy and classified information. Faculty and students will not be consulted when the bid to renew the contract with the lab is made; instead, UC regents will meet behind closed doors and make this decision for us. In addition, the University’s involvement with these labs completely ignores the intellectual and moral question of whether or not nuclear weapons should exist at all. By bidding to renew this contract, the University is essentially making a unilateral decision that rudely ignores the diverse array of beliefs and political orientations that inhabit the UC’s many campuses.
Some might think that we should continue this decades-old contract with LANL because of the vast sum of money it must pour into the University’s dwindling budget. Surprisingly, that is not the case. Although the University does receive a small administrative fee, it is certainly not enough to make it the incentive for the contract.
The argument made by the UC regents that the University is providing a so-called public service by managing these labs is also lacking. In fact, instead of providing a public service, the UC is providing a cloak of respectability to a program run by a White House that continues to support the production and maintenance of nuclear weapons while simultaneously preaching to the rest of the world that they must get rid of theirs. This is not only hypocritical, but also illegal according to worldwide nuclear non-proliferation treaties.
While it is true that a refusal by the UC to bid on the contract will only push the contract to someone else, it would nonetheless send an important message to the government and to the rest of the country that this university is no longer willing to be complicit in the research, production and maintenance of weapons of mass destruction. As Richard Falk, visiting global studies professor at UCSB and chair of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, recently stated in an interview, “The real question is what kind of community should the University try and become, and are these weapons labs consistent with this idea?” I think the answer to the professor’s important question is a resounding “no.” When the contract with LANL expires in September, the University should not seek to renew it.
Rebecca Huyck is a senior global studies major.