Update on OISE/IKIT Research

Strong opposition to the proposed research partnership between the Ontario Institute for Education’s (OISE) Institute for Knowledge, Information and Technology (IKIT) and military contractor Atlantis Systems International has not abated. Although the matter has been extensively discussed, ambiguity surrounding the purpose and intent of the research continues to prevail. University of Toronto (UT) Provost Vivek Goel, among others, has emphasized the university’s commitment to academic freedom. Numerous exchanges between Carl Bereiter, co-director of the proposed project, and several opponents have circulated on the Internet in recent months.

Goel insists there is “simply no truth to suggestions that school children have become military test subjects” (Jessica Whiteside, “University supports OISE/UT project targeted by protesters” News@UofT Feb. 18, 2005 http://www.news.utoronto.ca/bin6/050218-1001.asp. This is hardly reassuring for those of us who recall Atlantis President and CEO Andrew Day’s original announcement that he expected “more effective training solutions” for the purposes of bumping up “revenue opportunities” and creating “added value” for customers. Among other things, Atlantis designs flight training equipment with military applications, including simulators for the American-made F-15 and fighter Black Hawk helicopters. According to the Atlantis website, 70 per cent of Atlantis training systems have direct military applications http://www.atlantissi.com/.

Although the Provost has pointed to “false and misleading statements” as inhibitors to the university’s “research-intensive mandate” (Whiteside), no one seems to be clear on precisely what constitutes legitimate academic research at the university. Indeed, at the OISE/UT faculty council meeting held February 16, 2005, it was announced that a committee had been established to provide advice to the Dean on research partnerships. The committee was expected to have a preliminary report by early April.

On May 15 a victory potluck gathering was held at OISE/UT to formally acknowledge and celebrate Dean Jane Gaskell’s announcement at the Faculty Council Meeting held on April 4 that “IKIT has no partnerships with Atlantis or DND” (Canadian Department of National Defense).

This apparent change in research direction on the part of IKIT can be credited in large part to a coalition of students, faculty, alumni and other community-affiliated social activists focused on peace education, called People Against Militarization of OISE (PAMO). Throughout the winter, every Thursday in front of the building at 12 noon, a vigil was held against “Militarism/Corporatism at OISE.” These vigils included a march to University of Toronto Schools (UTS), two blocks away. UTS was one of three Toronto-based public schools originally earmarked for participation in the project.

What this entire controversy has brought to light is the urgent need for reexamination of ethics in all university-based research. To blithely wave aside objections under the guise of ensuring academic freedom is no longer good enough in an era where massive change in global trends is needed in every sector of society if humans are to survive as a species. Unexamined research goals and how they impact on the community at large is the antithesis of “best practice” described as IKIT’s intent in its original grant proposal to the Social Science & Humanities Research Council (SSHRC). According to leader Dr. Marlene Scardamalia, the entire project, based on the largest single education research grant ever awarded by SSHRC, is meant to “beam ideas into the communal open space.”

But, as graphic designer Bruce Mau (responsible for the exhibition currently showing at the Art Gallery of Ontario) puts it: “There is an urgent need to articulate precisely what we are doing to ourselves and our world and what we must do to change direction” (Scrivener, Feb. 24, 2005, The Toronto Star, D5). Entitled “Massive Change: The Future Of Global Design,” the exhibition first opened at the Vancouver Art Gallery where it broke attendance records last year. It underscores the importance at this critical juncture in our human history for public funds, entrusted to the pursuit of knowledge, to be assessed to ensure that their acquisition serves the larger public good.

Responding to a request for assistance from PAMO in determining how decisions regarding research partnerships get made, Science for Peace, based at the University of Toronto, has focused attention on the Toronto Resolution. This blueprint offers a methodology for assessing particular ethical codes, which comprise the key elements that all codes of ethics in science and scholarship normally include. Its genesis was formulated at a workshop on ethical considerations in scholarship and science at the University of Toronto in 1991 and drew upon the expertise of scientists and scholars in a broad spectrum of disciplines.

Clearly, it is time to broaden the discussion on research goals and ethics to include all university-based research proposals at and beyond the University of Toronto. Only then will we begin to see the kind of transformative learning envisaged by both Bruce Mau and leading edge educators in and around OISE/UT.

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