Academic journal article Alif: Journal of Comparative Poetics

The Politics of Higher Education and the Militarized Academy after 9/11

Academic journal article Alif: Journal of Comparative Poetics

The Politics of Higher Education and the Militarized Academy after 9/11

Article excerpt

This article situates the development of the university as a militarized knowledge factory within the broader context of increasing militarization within American society in recent years. Highlighting the growth of knowledge, research, and social relations organized primarily for the production of violence, the article critically engages specific ways by which militarization is shaping university life, including the increasing development of academic programs specifically serving military personnel, and charts how its alliance with the national security state has undermined the university as a site of criticism, dissent, and critical dialogue. The article concludes by offering suggestions for resisting the rising tide of militarization and reclaiming the university as a democratic public sphere.


For decades, many neoconservatives have depicted higher education in the United States as a liberal bastion, if not a hotbed of left-wing radicalism. The notable syndicated columnist George Will went so far as to quip that college campuses were "intellectually akin to North Korea." (1) What many neoconservatives such as Will have ignored is that while the university is losing touch with its enlightened past, the most powerful threats faced by the academy have not come from left-wing academics or liberal ideology, but from the military-industrial complex. In fact, from the late 1980s to the present, the military-industrial-academic complex in the United States, and increasingly in Canada and elsewhere around the world, has gained greater momentum, the force of which largely grows unchecked.

In a post-9/11 United States, President Dwight David Eisenhower's now infamous premonition about the military-industrial-complex posing the greatest threat to the promise of democracy in the United States has returned with a vengeance. On the domestic front, American power has been restructured around a growing culture of fear and a rapidly increasing militarization of public space, with a concomitant spread of military action--along with endless cases of kidnapping, torture, abuse, and murder. These policies have largely been justified under the guise of an unlimited war against terrorism and organized around values supporting a highly militarized, patriarchic, and jingoistic culture undermining "centuries of democratic gains." (2)

While there has been an increasing concern among academics and progressives over the growing corporatization of the university, the transformation of academia into what John Armitage calls the "hypermodern militarized knowledge factory" (3) has been largely ignored as a subject of contemporary concern and critical debate. (4) Such silence has nothing to do with a lack of visibility or the covert attempts to inject a military and security presence in American higher education. Not only is the militarization of higher education made obvious by the presence of over one hundred and fifty military-educational institutions in the United States designed to "train a youthful corps of tomorrow's military officers" (5) in the strategies, values, skills, and knowledge of the warfare state, but also, as the American Association of Universities points out, in the existence of hundreds of colleges and universities that conduct Pentagon-funded research, provide classes to military personnel, and design programs specifically for future employment with various departments and agencies associated with the warfare state. (6)

Rather than being the object of massive individual and collective resistance, the militarization of higher education appears to be endorsed by liberals and conservatives alike. The Association of American Universities argued in a report titled National Defense Education and Innovation Initiative that winning the war on terrorism and expanding global markets were mutually informing goals, the success of which fell squarely on the performance of universities. …

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