Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Some IIT Thoughts and Concerns

1) “Security”, Racism, and Social Injustice

At the get together with Young Kim and Bill Rice in Evanston, part of the presentation involved discussion of the security situation around the IIT campus. Reassurances were made that the Robert Taylor Homes are coming down, the neighborhood is improving, and a new police station is being built.

In “Politics and the English Language” Orwell cautions against having our thinking colonized by language that distorts or obfuscates or prevaricates. At least since the Nixon era, law and order, good neighborhoods, security, and related terms have been used as code words for discrimination and racism. The current power structure in Chicago is no stranger to these endeavors, especially when it comes to getting control of Cabrini Green and the Robert Taylor Homes, now that the real estate has become more valuable. Local organizations and others have been documenting how the Chicago Housing Authority has been systematically undercutting the housing conditions for residents of public housing, and engaging in something quite different from urban renewal. The provision of housing for those truly in need continues to be a major issue conspicuous by its absence from the city’s agenda (and not just Chicago).

Relatedly, I recently taught a Basic Writing course at a Chicago college where most of my students were minorities. The focus for our papers was various aspects of their experience growing up in Chicago. By far their best and most memorable essays were written about their experiences with the Chicago police. Without exception, each student had had numerous encounters with the police, guilty of being on the street while black or hispanic. Repeated incidents of arbitrary stops and searches, abusive treatment, and other inappropriate actions are commonplace for them. I can assure you that few or any of them would feel reassured knowing that a new police station was being built in their neighborhood.

Which is by way of saying: let’s be careful about how we speak about the conditions in the neighborhood surrounding IIT. Let’s not buy into, even if unintentionally, the racism and resulting social injustice that continues to pervade Chicago politics. In turn, let’s take the likely move to IIT as an opportunity to contribute a Shimer voice to the proceedings, practicing the good citizenship we bespeak in our catalog. True security lies in the pursuit of social justice.

2) Cohabiting with the Military Industrial Academic Complex

The proposed move to IIT would not involve an affiliation but a landlord/tenant relationship. This would not be a distant landlord, but one with whom we would be sharing the campus or premises. Just as a major attraction of the move would be the opportunity to associate Shimer with Chicago and its rich offerings, so too we would do well to consider what our cohabitation with IIT will associate us with.

We would not be considering a move to IIT unless IIT were financially solvent. That financial solvency is significantly based in its military contracts.

As far as I know, in the past and currently IIT does research for the military, much if not all of it secret or what is termed Black Box. Typically such projects are for the Defense Department or the Energy Department. Or, to avoid the Orwellian doublespeak, the War Department and the Weapons of Mass Destruction Department. I would expect that those of us who do not want to associate with the apparatus of war and empire would be uncomfortable with contributions to those endeavors going on across the quad. It is ironic that we are seeking to increase our security by a move to IIT, while IIT’s military research projects are contributing to making our nation and the world less secure.

By definition, we cannot know what Black Box projects are underway, but we do have a good idea of the kinds of things currently being funded in the government’s black budget (including, of course, black prisons being run worldwide by the CIA). As a member of the North Suburban Peace Initiative, let me describe one of several such undertakings, one which is not atypical.

Rods from God: This is the Air Force’s descriptor, not mine. As accustomed as we may be to the Bush Administration’s hubris, I think we are still taken aback when we learn of still another instance.

The Bush Administration is currently completing a new Presidential Decision Directive that would move the United States quickly into the uncharted territory of deploying offensive anti-satellite weapons and spaced-based weapons for attacking targets on Earth. One of these programs, “Rods from God,” would hurl cylinders of tungsten, titanium, or uranium at surface targets. Pentagon and Air Force documents have put forward a vision of “space control” to ensure superiority. Additionally, orbiting “death stars” to attack ground targets are being considered. This would spark a new, costly, and unnecessary arms race with other states including Russia, China, and India. American space-technology industries combined in 2000 to generate $125 billion in profits, and total American investment in space technology is expected to be $600 billion by 2010. (Keep this in mind when recalling the costs of responding to the devastation from Hurricane Katrina or the latest proposed cuts to student loan programs. Also, the College Board estimates that the expenditures for one day in Iraq would pay the full cost of public higher education for 17,000 students.) In addition to weaponizing the heavens, note that the destruction of satellites would create space debris that would endanger and/or knock out most worldwide communications.

How does the Shimer Community feel about being associated with programs such as this? My own view is that they are obscene, a more appropriate use of the term than so-called family values coalitions employ. If we make the move, will we learn to hold our noses and adopt a smell no evil, hear no evil, see no evil stance? We can anticipate that over time it will be possible to become acclimated. Alternatively, might we (for example) look forward to leafleting outside whatever building(s) on the IIT campus are housing such research? A different leaflet each week could outline another of the likely Black Box projects being pursued. Another possibility would be modeled on Bush’s demand to send inspection teams to Iraq searching for Weapons of Mass Destruction. Shimer might form its own inspection team and announce that it would be inspecting IIT for work on WMD.

I suggest that such initiatives would constitute practicing good citizenship, not to mention being a good tenant.


Saradevil said...


I found this an interesting read. Do you have any sources on this Jack, as that would be helpful. I like sources, they make me feel less like an X-files watching, black helicopter spotting, left-wing liberal radical and more like a sane person.

If IIT is in fact into R&D in a big bad way, that would be yet an additional reason to go into my current list of cons. Shimer has always seemed far to lovingly, friendly, and well, downright hippie to want to associate with something like that.

Providing more information on this would be useful.

Also, thank you for clarifying and making a distinction between “safety” and “social profiling” as it also helps to keep that in mind.

Much to ponder,


Richardthe1st said...

This is an angle I hadn't quite thought about and I am glad to see somebody did. If all this moving business were happening while I was a Shimer student i probably would have had reservations along these lines. In fact I probably would have made a spectical of myself and Shimer in relation to these issues.

Up to this point my approach to the potential move could be characterized in a similar way to how I approach most major decisions where the benefit(s) are fairly unclear: with extreme skepticism. However, from this standpoint the move to IIT makes me more than skeptical, it makes me downright sick to my stomach.

Thanks Jack for broadening the dialogue.

-R. Cascio

Jack Sigel said...


Thanks for your question about sources. IIT's website has details for 2003, the latest year listed.

Go to their site index, to academics & research, to research, to research at IIT, to IIT Research Report, to research sponsors.

Another IIT site: This is a 23 page report. Look in the sponsor column for DOE, NASA, Lockheed Martin, AFOSR, Boeing, DARPA, Sandia National Laboratory, and NATO.

The Rand Corp also has a publication called Vital Assets. It is at Table C13 lists IIT as #21 out of the top 50 recipients of DOD money in 2002, a total of $15,920,884.

For weaponizing space and other initiatives, the Center for Defense Information is excellent. They are at

Happy reading!


D. R. Koukal said...

As always, Jack with the broad view. Thanks.