A new dialogue explores academic freedon vs. high-tech secrecy
In the fall of 1981 a Soviet expert in robotics was set to visit Stanford University as the invited guest of the National Academy of Sciences. Before he arrived, however, the US Commerce Department informed Stanford officials that they would be responsible for monitoring the expert's visits to industries in the area, which includes the ''Silicon Valley,'' where a large number of high-technology firms are concentrated.Skip to next paragraph
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Stanford was also advised that the visitor could not even have general access to facilities at Stanford, where considerable unclassified, government-sponsored research takes place.
The university balked. It didn't want to be forced into policing its scholars , and the visit was canceled.
To what extent was the work at Stanford or in nearby industries vulnerable to exportation? Did the proposed visit increase such dangers? How was the university's role as a place for the open exchange of knowledge affected by the government's demands? And, given the generally held view that the Soviet Union was ahead of the United States in the field of robotics, were US interests served by cancellation of the visit?
The search for answers to such questions is the business of the Department of Defense-University Forum, a trouble-shooting group, which has recently been made a permanent advisory body to the Pentagon. A Defense Department task force recommended in 1981 that a university-defense group be set up, and initial discussions began in the spring of 1982.
The group brings together the presidents of several top American research universities and of various collegiate organizations with a handful of Pentagon officials.
The forum has helped calm growing tensions between the defense and university communities at a time of increasing concern over government efforts to limit the flow of information.
''As a result of the forum, a set of communications channels have been established that have allowed us to reduce the anxiety of the research community ,'' says Donald Kennedy, president of Stanford University. Dr. Kennedy, who cochairs the forum with Richard Delauer, undersecretary of defense for research and engineering, decribes the forum as a ''particularly effective venue'' for discussing the common concerns facing the defense and academic communities.
Kennedy notes that the prickly question of technology export control is just one of the issues the forum addresses. Also on the group's agenda are engineering and science education, and foreign language and regional studies.
Today more than half the students enrolled in US postgraduate engineering programs come from outside the United States. And there is concern that too few American students are going on to advanced studies in scientific disciplines.
University officials say they need more funding to pay for equipment and facilities and for instructors, if the US research effort is not to risk falling behind foreign efforts. University officials and the Pentagon agree that there is increasing demand for graduates specializing in foreign languages and regions.