Passing through the Pardall Tunnel around 11:45 a.m. this past Tuesday, I couldn’t help but notice a small gathering of students protesting the Iraq war. By 1:00 p.m., this small group amassed into a demonstration of hundreds with a not-so-obvious goal.
Among the chants, slogans and fanfare were two speakers who provided the target for this demonstration. One of the orators related an instance when his roommate, who had worked with an institute called Institute for Collaborative Biotechnologies, helped develop a bomb that tragically detonated at an Iraqi wedding. To the great dismay of the crowd, he told us his roommate celebrated the proper functionality of their product. Upon hearing this tragic story, we marched to stick it to this organization.
The ICB hosted a convention at the Corwin Pavilion for researchers from Massachusetts Institute of Technology, California Institute of Technology and UCSB. ICB’s mission statement is clear and simple: “The Institute for Collaborative Biotechnologies is a unique and powerful alliance between Academia, Industry and the Army, led by [UCSB] … to accelerate the technological and scientific transformation of the Army.”
We arrived at the Corwin Pavilion to find closed doors. CSOs, foot patrol and a Sheriff helicopter were present. People threw chairs, tables and even food at some of the researchers in attendance. After gratuitously helping themselves to the refreshments, the students surrounded the building and began singing, shouting, painting on tables and banging on the Pavilion walls.
By about 2:00 p.m., the students declared an initial victory upon hearing the Pavilion had emptied. As I was about to leave, I noticed three men in suits speaking with a few students. The three men sought to understand the protestors, but the students were so impassioned about their cause that protest took priority over mutual understanding. The students barely let the man speak. The men included Dr. Daniel Morse, the director of the ICB, and Dr. Francis Doyle, the associate director.
Dr. Morse asked, “Why are the students disrupting the conference?” I offered my interpretation, detailing the frustration the students feel in continuation of the war and how the ICB is perceived as a cog in the military machine ultimately responsible for the operations in Iraq. I told him the story about the ICB’s involvement in the creation of a bomb dropped in Iraq. Their response was utter confusion.
It turns out the institute participates in what is termed as “unclassified research.” In other words: public research. More importantly, it is illegal for the institute to perform research into the creation of weapons and weapon systems.
Current projects the ICB work on include the prevention of vision loss among the elderly, combating challenges in cancer, immunology and disease diagnostics and bio sensor applications. Director Morse studies semiconductors to improve solar energy panels and batteries. The associate director strives to cure sleeping disorders.
The Army invests much needed funding for research into the processes of living things to solve all kinds of modern problems, but the research conducted by ICB is mostly medical in nature. Scientists frequently discover universally beneficial products – like penicillin – on the military’s dime.
Director Morse said the best way to incite political change is to elect the right president. The director himself confessed to me that most among the ICB’s ranks are ideologically against the Iraq War; some generals at the conference are personally against the war. The institute seeks to uplift humanity with technology – not annihilate it into oblivion with bombs.
So I ask the UCSB community not to stop the protest against the war but to step back for a moment and examine the reasoning behind the focus of our frustrations toward the ICB. I encourage responsibility in our actions as we continue to influence change in the policies of this country, and I ask that we, as a community, uphold the values expected of active and responsible democratic citizens.