Cloak and Classroom, from The Chronicle of Higher Ed

Anthropologists, he said, should be permitted – indeed, should feel a duty – to conduct classified research that might help the U.S. government understand global conflicts. His opponents said that secrecy had no place in academe, and that his proposal would put scholars in bed with clandestine agencies that have, at best, a spotty record of protecting human rights. …

Since April 2004, dozens of analysts-in-training have entered American universities to burnish their skills in certain languages, cultures, and technical fields that U.S. intelligence agencies deem to be critically important. …

“A key defining feature of an open, vibrant democracy, it seems to me, is that there are sectors of society, including higher education, that should be independent of the state – particularly from agencies of the state that are involved in things like propaganda dissemination and spying,” says David N. Gibbs, an associate professor of history and political science at the University of Arizona.

Honestly, I don’t know what to think about this… for once, I don’t have a strong opinion, stop the presses. On the one hand, where else are you going to go to learn languages and about foreign cultures except university? The Defense Language Institute, I suppose, but there’s only one of that & thousands of colleges & universities. Also, any time that academics can have an influence in government, well, perhaps I’m naïve, but it seems to me that would be a good thing. (Too much reading H.G. Wells, I guess.) On the other hand, Gibbs is right: Should higher ed be in the service of government (or of other social institutions, for example industry), or should higher ed be apart from & provide perspective on those institutions? Is education’s role to teach students to be workers, or thinkers? Of course, for me, being in a professional school makes that an easier call, though my natural inclination is towards the latter. But I’m still uncomfortable about doing research-for-hire. To paraphrase Cathy, it feels like doing an environmental impact study for DuPont: honestly, what are the chances that your findings are going to say that your funder is pillaging the environment? And even if you honestly found that DuPont isn’t pillaging the environment, who would believe you? Your research is tainted just by association. How do you take funding for which there’s a quid pro quo (even an implicit one) without becoming your funder’s poodle?

Not to mention, what does this do to your IRB approval? If you go into fieldwork working for an intelligence agency, that’s one thing, but what if you’re approached by an intelligence agency after the fact? How about that for a potential risk: the data you provide to the researcher may be subpoenaed. Does Homeland Security trump your local IRB board? I would imagine so.

All that said, look at the table at the end of this article. This program costs an absurdly small fraction of other intelligence programs. So there you go: hire scholars & get good value for your money.