Phi Beta Cons

Minerva in Academe

In a recent speech before research-university presidents, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates outlined plans to greatly expand Pentagon-supported research in the social sciences and humanities, in order to better inform public policy.

As cited in Inside Higher Ed, Gates gave the following examples of such research projects, which he collectively labeled “Minerva Consortia”:

  • Chinese military and technology studies … China publishes much information about its own military … only in China. [What’s needed is] the creation of “a real — or virtual — archive of documents” created by universities.
  • Iraqi and terrorist perspectives … there is much research to be done on materials captured in recent years … many documents “contain strategic, ideological, and practical considerations … of great interest to scholars.”
  • Religious studies. “Eventual success in the conflict against jihadist extremism will depend [largely] on the overall ideological climate within the world of Islam. Understanding [this is a] significant intellectual challenge … It has been a long time since religious issues have had to be addressed in a strategic context. A research program along these lines could be an important contribution to the intellectual foundation on which we base a national strategy.”
  • New disciplines. Game theory and Kremlinology came out of Cold War research and suggested that other fields may need to be created now … “The government and the Department of Defense need to engage additional intellectual disciplines – such as history, anthropology, sociology, and evolutionary psychology.”

The university presidents reportedly warmed to Gates’s outreach, while some scholars were wary that Pentagon support could compromise their research. A professor at George Mason University, Hugh Gusterson, went farther, fretting about why the Pentagon is in the research business at all. “Why,” he asked, “is the Pentagon taking so much of our discursive space?”
Gates promises that the Minerva projects will hew strictly to “openness and rigid adherence to academic freedom and integrity.” But would the controlling powers in the humanities and social sciences — those, in my view, primarily responsible for the treacherous treatment of military recruiters on campuses — respond in kind? What confidence can one have — or should Gates have — that that this leftist monopoly can advance the kind of knowledge this nation needs to confront jihad extremism, ethnic conflict, and the other new, complex threats that he cites?

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