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Defense funding and the universities

Comrade Gasser writes: "Academic research in the United States has traditionally been provided mainly by the National Science Foundation (NSF), the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH)...." Not to knock Gasser, but let's look at some earlier funding.

The NEH was not started until 1965. A Wikipedia article avers that NSF funding in the first decades was outweighed by a combination of NIH, U.S. Atomic Energy Commission, NASA, and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. And--finally--one that many of us remember well, the NDEA (National Defense Education Act of 1958) flooded universities with money in the 60s.

That NDEA merits attention because it played out its role under the constraints of the Marxist dialectic. I was in the Berkeley philosophy department in those days in part gratis the NDEA. What research could Cal philosophy possibly add to the Cold War? Well, they taught mathematical logic, which the government saw as part of mathematics, which in turn it saw as part of science. In practice, all that meant was that the funding of teaching assistants came from a bottomless well. Many of us who would otherwise be in Vietnam were paid instead to try to overthrow the university and then the government. And we had to swear a loyalty oath to do it.

If "Marxist dialectic" is not your cup of tea, then just chalk the defense funding of revolution as a case of the theory of unintended consequences.

Just to be clear, there was an ongoing fight in the 50s and 60s against military influence on campus, as Gasser rightly concludes is needed today.

David McCullough


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