Despite energetic protests against academic involvement in the design of nuclear weapons, a University of California regents committee today endorsed continued university management of two key national research laboratories.
The 10-to-2 vote to continue the university's relationship with the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory near Berkeley and the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico came after the committee heard negative comments from antinuclear activists. The full university board of regents, meeting here at the UCLA campus, is to vote on the matter Friday.
"This university, for which I have an incredible amount of respect, has made a grave mistake," said Janice C. Eberly, an economics major at the university's Davis campus who serves as the board's student member. She and regent Stanley K. Sheinbaum, an economist and longtime antiwar activist, were the only members of the board's oversight committee to vote against renewing negotiations for a five-year contract with the Energy Department.
Despite numerous demonstrations against the university's role in U.S. nuclear weapons research, the full board is expected to endorse university President David P. Gardner's recommendation that a new contract be signed. Gardner said he would ask the federal government, which spends about $1.6 billion a year on the two facilities, to allow more contact between laboratories and campuses and quicker utilization of nonclassified research by private business.
The two laboratories employ 15,000 and have designed every U.S. atomic warhead ever produced. Their scientists' advice has been sought on a wide range of strategic issues, including the feasibility of proposed arms control treaties and the chances for a workable defense against nuclear attack. The university has been directly involved in managing weapons research since the beginning of the nuclear era, when one of its physics professors, J. Robert Oppenheimer, was selected to head the team of scientists that built the first atomic bomb in 1945.
Robert Hethman, an associate professor of theater arts speaking for a Concerned Faculty group at UCLA, told the regents the laboratory link represented a lack of ethical concern and a "competition for money" that would drive students toward "fear, apathy, cynicism and despair."
University officials and regents have argued that cutting ties with the laboratories would not stop their work, but turn them over to control by government or private operators less interested in the free debate of a university community.