On March 16, McGill will be running a 24-hour fundraising campaign, McGill24. According to the campaign website, the one-day campaign will “unite alumni, students, parents, friends, faculty and staff in support of the causes that matter to all of us.”
However, which causes “matter to all of us” is a controversial topic for some groups on campus.
Demilitarize McGill, which organizes against military research at McGill, is running a counter-campaign called ChangeMcGill24 which encourages alumni to take a pledge not to donate to McGill until military research is ended at the university.
According to the Demilitarize McGill website, there are six different research groups involved in military research at McGill: the Aerospace Mechatronics Lab, the Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD) Laboratory, the Institute of Air and Space Law, Missile Guidance Research, the Network Dynamics Lab, and the Shock Wave Physics Group.
In an interview with The Daily, Jason,* a member of Demilitarize McGill, highlighted the Shock Wave Physics Group’s research on thermobaric weapons, also known as fuel-air explosives (FAEs), as particularly concerning.
According to a Human Rights Watch report, “FAEs are more powerful than conventional high-explosive munitions of comparable size, are more likely to kill and injure people in bunkers, shelters, and caves, and kill and injure in a particularly brutal manner over a wide area. In urban settings it is very difficult to limit the effect of this weapon to combatants, and the nature of FAE explosions makes it virtually impossible for civilians to take shelter from their destructive effect.”
According to the Demilitarize McGill website, these weapons have been used in the Vietnam, Afghanistan, and Iraq wars, among others.
Demilitarize McGill also documents direct linkages between McGill researchers with the American and Canadian militaries, including collaboration with researchers in the military and publishing papers which include research partially funded by military agencies.
“If you hold that standard […] I do think there’s an obligation to not be complicit in war crimes and violent, aggressive warfare.”
According to McGill’s mission statement, the University will create and disseminate knowledge “by carrying out research and scholarly activities judged to be excellent by the highest international standards, and by providing service to society.”
Jason claimed that by engaging in military research, McGill is being hypocritical because “if you hold that standard […] I do think there’s an obligation to not be complicit in war crimes and violent, aggressive warfare.”
Accessibility and regulation concerns
Demilitarize McGill also questions how the McGill administration handles the research. Jason accused the administration of being secretive and “[bringing] students to court over access to information requests.”
For example, in the Fall of 2012, some members of Demilitarize McGill submitted access to information (ATI) requests in response to questionable activities by McGill’s CFD Laboratory. These students were brought to court by the University, which claimed these students orchestrated a “complex system for acquiring documents” as “retaliation” for unknown events during the 2012 student strike.
Jason also voiced concern about the fact that “there’s really no regulation on the ethics of military research at McGill.”
As part of a McGill review of general research ethics in 2009, Demilitarize McGill called for “an ethical review of any research conducted in conjunction with anyone receiving military employment or funding.”
“There’s really no regulation on the ethics of military research at McGill.”
However, the final draft adopted by Senate in 2010 “lacked any ethical review for potentially harmful research,” says Demilitarize McGill’s website, and today McGill has no mechanism for investigating the potential harm of its military research.
Anand Patwardhan, a documentary filmmaker who graduated with an MA in Communication Studies from McGill in 1982, has taken the pledge not to donate to the University.
In a statement to The Daily, Patwardhan said, “I am deeply disappointed to hear that McGill, my alma mater, is involving itself with military research.”
Derek Cassoff, McGill’s Director of Strategic Communications for University Advancement, informed The Daily in a written statement that donors can choose where they would like their donations to go.
“I am deeply disappointed to hear that McGill, my alma mater, is involving itself with military research.”
“McGill24 donations won’t support researchers or research labs directly. Some donors may choose to give to the Deans Development fund in a particular faculty, which supports a range of needs and emerging priorities over the year, as determined by the Dean. Some of these could involve research, but this would be a very small percentage of overall donations,” Cassoff added.
“McGill24 donations won’t support researchers or research labs directly.”
Regarding the University’s stance on military research, Cassoff said, “there will be no change to McGill’s policies based on this specific campaign” because “those who support the Demilitarize McGill campaign represent a tiny fraction of the approximately 30,000 donors who give to McGill every year.”
Patwardhan, however, believes educational institutions like McGill “should set an example for the rest of Canada and the world,” and said he would be “both grateful and proud” if McGill ended its military research.
*Name has been changed.