If I told you that on a system-wide level, the University of California helped design weapons that have killed over 200,000 people, would you believe it? 

Breana Lepe / Daily Nexus

The University of California is considered one of the top university systems, boasting some of the brightest students and professors in the nation. It is hard to fathom how an institution that is held in such high esteem could be involved with anything but progressive initiatives. The UC Office of the President’s web page includes a mission to create solutions to the urgent social and ecological issues affecting our society. In many ways, students fulfill this mission every day. If you walk through UCSB’s campus, you will be surrounded by students advocating to save the bees, campaining for sexual assault prevention and organizing for climate change awareness. It is extraordinary that so many students engage in altruistic action, despite the countless personal anxieties that most college students endure. 

While universities under the UC system offer a safe and open space for student activism, this does not mean that the university reflect the actions of its students. For example, UC Santa Barbara’s mascot, which appropriates the Argentinian Gaucho, is a decision made by the school, not the students. Despite some outdated practices that continue to endure under the UC system, students across the nine campuses have historically been at the forefront of progressive policy changes.

However, a deeper look into the UC’s off-campus affairs reveals cracks in the ethical, forward-thinking exterior that the institution so proudly projects.

During the early stages of World War II, President Roosevelt called upon the country’s top universities to help research and develop the world’s first atomic bomb, naming it the Manhattan Project. Many universities responded to the call and helped the success of the project by building the world’s first nuclear weapons. The University of California proclaimed their involvement a “service to the nation.”

The Manhattan Project resulted in complete devastation when the United States dropped two of its nuclear weapons on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945. Eighty thousand people were instantly killed in Hiroshima and thousands more died soon after from radiation exposure. Three days after this tragedy, another bomb was dropped over Nagasaki, killing approximately 40,000 people, most of whom were innocent civilians. The mass murders of the people of Hiroshima and Nagsaki are the only events in history in which nuclear weapons have been deployed.

The University of California’s decades of involvement in the development of nuclear weapons indicates that our university leaders are willing to sacrifice morality for power and profit.

Since its inception, the UC has partnered with the laboratory where the weapons from the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings were developed, meaning that not only was the world’s first atomic bomb built under the consciousness of the UC system, but also that the institution was integral in its creation. The Nagasaki and Hiroshima bombings should have immediately ended any association between nuclear weapons and university resources. However, the everlasting prioritization of profit and power over humanity has led the UC to engage in the ongoing research and development of weapons of mass destruction.

The ongoing development of nuclear weapons is not exactly shocking, considering the avenues through which the United States accrued its power and economic prosperity (*cough cough* mass genocide and slavery); however, it may come as a surprise that the UC system, along with about 50 other universities, is still intimately involved in the research and design of nuclear weapons today. According to the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons report (ICAN), the University of California estimated that for the fiscal year of 2019, it would receive around $22 million in total net fee revenue for co-managing two of the biggest nuclear weapon laboratories. 

The University of California’s decades of involvement in the development of nuclear weapons indicates that our university leaders are willing to sacrifice morality for power and profit. The two nuclear weapons laboratories that the UC manages, the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and the Los Alamos National Laboratory are hidden from view and overlooked by the public. Unbeknownst to most students, the UC’s association with nuclear weapon laboratories generates billions of dollars in funding which is predominantly put back into nuclear weapons research. While unfathomable amounts of money are poured into the funding of the research and design of the nation’s nuclear arsenal, services that are vital for the well-being of students, like healthcare, financial aid and housing assistance, receive much less support. 

After speaking to several students about the University of California’s tight-knit relationship with nuclear weapon laboratories, I realized that most people were not aware of the historic impact and current development of the nuclear arsenal, let alone the UC’s direct hand in designing, engineering and testing warheads. Second-year environmental studies major Maggie Drelichman said that it makes her curious to know what else the UC system is affiliated with. She wonders “if it really aligns with the school’s values, message and mission that has drawn students here.” Drelichman believes that if more people were aware of this issue, “the [institution] would have to respond in a way that explains their collaboration with them and maybe that could spark some change.” 

David Krieger, former president and founder of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, commented that universities have no business being involved with the development and potential use of weapons of mass destruction. “The University of California has set a very bad precedent in doing that, and students, if they understand what is going on, should be very upset about their universities engaging in development of weapons of mass destruction,” he noted. Krieger added that “universities should take a moral stand and dissociate itself from the weapons.” 

The relationship between war and education must be seriously reevaluated.

While the development of new technology is often seen as a marker of progress, we need to be careful about how these tools are used, especially in the face of conflict. Fourth-year statistics and data science major Natasha Pollayil observes that her major is becoming increasingly popular with students. She warns that nuclear weapon industries will continue to be funded so long as people keep entering the field, as technological advancements have created a demand for engineers. Pollayil says that while these new technologies may be presented as “advancements,” we need to be asking ourselves what exactly we are advancing toward.

Spending substantial sums of time and money constructing weapons whose sole purpose is to kill masses of people rather than spending those resources on issues directly affecting students is a betrayal of the purpose of our university system. The relationship between war and education must be seriously reevaluated.

We as students and faculty of the University of California must use our voices to make others aware of the dark secrets that are hidden from the public’s view. We must call out our university leaders and demand change in a system that supports inhumane and immoral practices. The University of California is too great of an academic institution to still be supporting unethical practices nearly 80 years after it first became involved in the creation of nuclear weaponry. As members of this system, we have the power — and the responsibility — to take a stand. 

Carley Weiler strongly believes that the University of California should disassociate itself with the development of nuclear weapons.


Carley Weiler
Carley Weiler is a Global Studies major and staff writer for The Opinion Page. In spite of constantly dissing IV for its EDM culture and mediocre food, you can find her hanging out in IV and eating at Deja Vu Cafe any given Friday night.