Prior to the April 1968 Columbia University anti-war student revolt of 40 years ago, Columbia University was an institutional member of the Pentagon’s Institute for Defense Analyses [IDA] weapons research think tank that developed the electronic battlefield technology which was used against the people of Indochina during the Vietnam War Era and against the people of Iraq in the 1990s and 21st-century. In addition, then-Columbia University President Grayson Kirk and then-Columbia University Trustee William Burden represented Columbia University on IDA’s executive committee and on IDA’s board of trustees.
One reason many Columbia University professors did not support the demand by Columbia and Barnard anti-war students in 1968 that Columbia University end its institutional affiliation with IDA may have been because many Columbia University professors, themselves, were personally affiliated with IDA as “part-time consultants.” As even Time magazine reported in its May 17, 1968 issue, “despite all the fuss at Columbia over IDA, none of its professors are actually on the IDA payroll, although about 300 have signed up to serve when needed as part-time consultants.”
Columbia University’s institutional involvement in the Pentagon’s IDA weapons research think-tank began in 1959. In a May 22, 1959 letter, for example, IDA’s then-Vice President and Director of Research Albert Hill wrote that Columbia Trustee “Bill Burden will probably succeed Jim McCormack as Chairman of the Board of IDA, effective Tuesday May 26th” but “until you hear to the contrary, this is confidential.” A copy of a June 29, 1959 memo from Stanford University’s representative on the IDA board of trustees, Fred Terman, to IDA Vice-President Hill was then sent to Columbia University Trustee Burden which stated “that summer study groups are being set up every year to tackle particular problems of interest to the military.” IDA Trustee Terman also subsequently acted as the technical advisor on the electronics industry to Columbia Trustee Burden’s investment firm.
Besides representing Columbia University on IDA’s board of trustees, as “Chairman of the Board” of IDA, Columbia Trustee Burden also represented Columbia University on IDA’s executive committee. IDA’s executive committee determined “the broad general policy of” IDA on behalf of the IDA board of trustees, according to a June 8, 1959 letter from then-IDA Vice-President Albert Hill to Dr. Marvin Stern of the General Dynamics weapons manufacturer.
That same year, Columbia University Professor of Physics Charles Townes moved to Washington, D.C. to replace Albert Hill as IDA’s Vice-President and Director of Research when Hill decided to return to MIT as a professor of physics. As former Columbia University Professor Townes recalled in his 1995 book, Making Waves:
“…In 1947 I was offered a suitable professorship at Columbia University, and I accepted…Eventually I was asked to chair a national committee to determine how to distribute funds designated by the Navy for research on short microwaves. The Navy was interested in developing the field primarily for exploratory reasons…
“I was asked to go to Washington…The proposed position for me was Vice President and Director of Research for the Institute for Defense Analyses [IDA]. The Institute was a non-profit `think-tank’ with a very important role, run by five or six prominent universities on the East Coast, Columbia University being one of them. It managed what was known as the Weapons Systems Evaluation Group. We had to pick the right people who would be responsible for analyzing how and whether a weapon worked and its effectiveness. We also advised a new organization, the Advanced Research Projects Agency, whose aim was to consider what could be done in space, and to help initiate new ideas and technologies of importance to national security…”
On Sept. 28 and Sept. 29, 1959, former Columbia University Professor Townes next attended an IDA meeting with then-CIA Deputy Director of Plans Richard Bissell Jr., another CIA official named RW Komer and then-MIT Professor Jerome Wiesner. Among the topics discussed at this Sept. 28-29, 1959 meeting were “Project Principia” weapons research for better chemical propellant and research related to U.S. military requirements in the field of human behavior. Another topic discussed at this September 1959 IDA meeting was a proposal to set up an “Institute for Naval Studies” to examine “future possibilities in naval warfare.”
Near the end of the year, on Wednesday, Dec. 16, 1959 an IDA Trustees Executive Committee Meeting was held at the MIT Faculty Club between 12:00 and 3:00 p.m. Among the 11 items discussed at this Dec. 16, 1959 IDA Executive Committee Meeting was a proposed Navy long-rang study group contract, the status of the Pentagon’s Advanced Research Projects Agency [ARPA], the status of the Pentagon’s Weapons System Evaluation Group [WSEG], the “proposed Townes’ Group Contract,” and “new university members.”
According to the minutes of this Dec. 16, 1959 meeting of the IDA Executive Committee, at this meeting IDA executive committee members voted in favor of accepting a contract with the Pentagon’s Department of the Navy for a long-range study group and voted authorization to operate the Townes Group Project. In addition, according to the IDA Executive Committee Meeting minutes, “it was agreed that certain specific universities which were named and discussed, would be welcomed as additions to the present university Members.”
One of the universities “welcomed as additions to the present university Members” of IDA at the Dec. 16, 1959 IDA Executive Committee meeting was Columbia University. The Columbia University board of trustees then apparently also passed an unpublicized resolution at its meeting that same month (without notifying either the Columbia University faculty, the Columbia University student body or the Columbia Daily Spectator student newspaper) accepting IDA’s invitation for Columbia University to become an institutional Member of IDA and authorizing then-Columbia University President Grayson Kirk to also represent Columbia University on the IDA board of trustees and IDA executive committee.
Next: Protest Columbia University’s Complicity With U.S. Imperialism: April 24-27, 2008
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