Army program does not violate university policy, Senate committee concludes

The Committee on Research of the Faculty Senate has concluded that Stanford's participation in a five-year, $105 million computing research program with the Army does not conflict with the university's Openness in Research Policy.

Professor Steve Monismith, the chair of the committee, told the Senate on May 1 that the complex agreement negotiated with the Army addresses the openness concerns raised by 60 faculty members in a letter they signed in the spring quarter of 2007 questioning the appropriateness of the contract.

Specifically, Monismith said, no classified research will be conducted on the Stanford campus or by Stanford faculty; Stanford researchers will not be required to obtain security clearances; and there will be no restrictions on academic publishing of research results.

The Army High-Performance Computing Research Center has been up and running since last year. It is headquartered at Stanford, but includes a consortium of engineers and scientists at Morgan State University in Maryland, New Mexico State University at Las Cruces, the University of Texas at El Paso and the NASA Ames Research Center.

The Army is interested in advanced simulation software to help develop tough, lightweight materials to protect military vehicles and foot soldiers; to improve wireless battlefield communications; to provide improved detection of biological or chemical attacks; to design tiny sensors that might fly autonomously like insects; and to stimulate innovations in supercomputing itself.

The research committee did not address the ethical questions of military research raised by the faculty letter. "We had this debate last year in the context of tobacco funding," Monismith said. "We hope that we all remember that each of us is free, subject to our own ethics and conscience, to seek support from anyone that we choose that's legal, and to form our own findings and conclusions."

In his presentation and in the committee's 19-page report, Monismith, a professor of civil and environmental engineering, noted that some security screening would be required for university researchers working at the project's main supercomputing center at NASA Ames in Mountain View. Because that could be a problem for some foreign-born researchers, a second supercomputer site has been established on campus in the Mechanical Engineering Research Laboratory.

That arrangement will insure that no one gets left out, the research committee reported. The terms were negotiated by Charbel Farhat, a professor of mechanical engineering and expert on supercomputer simulation who serves as the director of the Army High-Performance Computing Research Center. The entire agreement with the Army was vetted by Stanford's Office of Sponsored Research—an important point, Monismith said.

Scientists from several Army research labs will participate in the consortium. Although the Army may eventually use some of the software produced by the project in classified military programs, Stanford's research will remain open and unclassified.

If the Army were to attempt to classify university research, Stanford would find the move unacceptable, the research committee reported, "and would likely make it necessary for Stanford to terminate the agreement, despite financial and other hardships to researchers that could result."

Bernard Roth, the mechanical engineering professor who led the opposition to the Army contract, said he was still not satisfied with the details of the contract. He said he worried, for example, that the center's summer programs for high-school science students would serve as a recruitment tool, "so they would get into the pipeline to work at Army research labs."