About 150 people gathered at the main entrance to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) yesterday to protest the school's military research. But most students seemed to ignore the demonstration.
Speakers, including MIT faculty members, charged that government pressure on university research has led to "the militarization of the university" and claimed that options for non-military work after graduation are diminishing.
"MIT is perfectly willing to allow its students to be happily co-opted into doing military work," said Paquita Zuidema, an MIT graduate student speaking at the rally.
But hundreds of students walked through the demonstration to and from classes without stopping to listen.
"They don't have any impact on me," said sophomore Jim Harrison, who was passing through the crowd to go to lunch. "I think they're a minority and the majority, who support a strong defense, just don't hold rallies."
Another student passerby said he agreed with the demonstrators but was too busy to stop. "Personally, I don't think Star Wars is a good idea, it's not practical," said Mike Heflin, a graduate student of astrophysics. "I'm also very hopeful that I won't have to work in defense when I leave MIT."
According to a flyer prepared by the MIT Student Action Coordinating Committee, which organized the rally, MIT research funded by the U.S. Defense Department leaped from $15.2 million in 1979 to $38.5 million last year, up 153 percent.
More than 550 people, including students and faculty, signed a pledge vowing not to work on projects funded by the Defense Department for Strategic Defense Initiative research, which is the administration's "Star Wars" space defense system.
State Rep. Thomas Gallagher, a candidate for U.S. Congress, spoke against a "brain drain" caused by diversion of the university's intellecutual resources away from areas like medicine and pure scientific research and into weapons development.
"Money is being taken away from things that are useful and interesting to the human race and into things that could end the human race," Gallagher said.
Two students from a faction in favor of space weapons programs staged a small demonstration of their own, as one wore a large black tube fashioned into a Soviet missile with the words "Give me a free ride to the USA" written on it.
"I'm planning to be a scientist and chances are I'm going into the defense industry," said Ron Lovejoy, vice president of Students for a National Defense, who stood beside the missile mock-up. He said his group consists of about 15 students.
One-third of graduates who opt to leave the university setting end up working directly on military contracts, while another one-third work on commercial products whose primary market is the defense industry, according to Rich Cowan, chief organizer of the rally.