Research Universities in the New Security Environment: Some Hasty Government Responses to September 11 Posed Problems for Universities; with a More Collaborative Approach, Higher Education Can Play a Vital Role

Article excerpt

When our nation was attacked, we knew that the world was changing before our eyes; that terrorists were using the freedoms and openness we had taken for granted against us and that our lives would never be the same. As members of the science and technology community, we also knew that we would have key roles to play in ensuring the future safety of our country. Our nation's scientists working in academe, industry, and government have traditionally stepped up to the plate when needed to work toward national goals, and clearly this has already begun. Even now, many are involved in small and large ways as civic scientists engaged in civic duty.

We focus our attention in this article on scientists and engineers in research universities, for we believe that facing up to new dangers will require the best of our researchers in universities in order to advance national security in all of its forms. In the coming years, however, we must keep in mind not just the science and engineering departments but the whole university, because society will need the full complement of intellectual tools to ensure our national security and well being. The public and our policymakers need to be reminded that research universities play a unique role in many areas: in educating and training students who will become the next generation of informed and engaged citizens, scholars in all disciplines, professionals and leaders in all fields, and of course, the scientists and engineers who will help us to face these tremendous challenges far into the future.

Research universities also have another critically important role to play that is not talked about nearly enough in the S&T community: to help our nation better understand the interconnectedness of the social, cultural, and religious forces that are changing our world. Scholars in our universities can provide deep understanding of some of these issues as the first step toward finding solutions to vexing problems.

These will be among the great challenges for the next generation of research universities. We can excel in science and technology and the education of scientists and engineers. And we can excel in preparing humanists and social scientists. But that is not enough. If we do no more than that, the age-old two-cultures war will rage on at a time when the stakes are simply too high for disciplinary isolation. We must be educated more broadly in order to understand the complexity of the world around us.

Research universities now have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to renew and redefine their relations with the entire society. They also have a unique opportunity to create a new partnership with the federal government to develop new programs, new areas of research, and new strategies to advance our national security and improve our society. But in order to do this, we must also be mindful of policy changes that may weaken the strengths of our current university system.

It is not surprising that in this early period of the nation's response to terrorism, the government is focusing first on improving security measures to guard against future attacks. Strategic decisions have been made under the auspices of military, intelligence, and law-enforcement agencies. Perhaps most noticeable in our everyday life are the protections now in place in airports, but important changes are occurring in other arenas as well. Along with the potential threats that we are learning to live with are also tremendous opportunities for research and development (R&D) to help make the world a safer place.

The danger in this security-policy upheaval is that actions taken to ensure near-term security might undermine efforts to develop long-term solutions. The risk of unintended consequences is particularly great for university R&D efforts. University leaders are particularly concerned about proposed limitations on researchers' access to data and methodologies, increasing emphasis on "missiles and medicine" in the 2003 federal R&D budget, and more aggressive tracking of foreign students in universities. …