Johns Hopkins, ICE, and the Militarized University

Mira Wattal, Emeline Armitage, and I got the old Hopkins SDS band back together last week for an op-ed in the Baltimore Sun regarding the recent revelations that JHU has been collaborating with ICE–to the tune of (at least) $10 million–since 2009.

While any left-of-center citizen worth their salt has already come around to the idea that collaboration with the deportation force is morally bankrupt and that ICE needs to be abolished, we attempted to lay out in this op-ed the ways this new-found development is linked to other militarized practices at Hopkins.

While you may have been surprised at first to see JHU in the list of the largest Maryland ICE-profiteers, a closer examination of Hopkins’ record shows this is simply standard procedure for a university bent on increasing militarization. Johns Hopkins is one of the largest academic contractors of the Department of Defense and has long been an engineer of the military’s deadliest weapons, from missiles in World War II to assassination drones in the War on Terror. JHU recently received a contract for nearly $1 billion for the development of nuclear weapons technologies. On a more local scale, Hopkins caused a controversy this past spring for attempting to push a bill through the state legislature that would allow the university to create its own armed police force — something unheard of for a private entity in the state of Maryland. While public opinion and student-led organizing forced the withdrawal of the measure this past spring, Hopkins will almost certainly try again in the next legislative session.

[Read the whole op-ed here]

But there are two tendencies of militarization happening here at JHU. The first is good old-fashioned war-profiteering: the DOD’s weapons contracts and ICE’s leadership development programs fit in here. This is the standard of universities and companies across the board; A violent organization (like the U.S. military or deportation services) requires bureaucratic collaboration and ‘R&D’ in order to maintain and innovate. Hopkins just wants a piece of the vile pie.

The second is a stunning change: the establishment of a private police force. This moves from ‘simple’ war-profiteering into the realm of state-like behavior. Max Weber defined the state as a “human community that (successfully) claims the monopoly of the legitimate use of physical force within a given territory.”

If JHU gets its way, from Calvert Street and 29th to University Parkway and 39th, the new user of physical force may wear a JHU badge, not a BPD one. The implications of this have been much debated in spaces on this campus and at others where similar moves are being made. The most important, in my view, is the near-certainty that JHU will use violence against both its “citizens” (affiliates) and against “the other”: Baltimoreans.

These two tendencies are, of course, inter-related. That’s the entire point of our op-ed. They’re driven by the same broader social forces: As neoliberal austerity continues to rear its head and sources of funding dry up, the formerly-small shares of budgets coming from militarized sources start to loom large. And, as any who study recent U.S. history know, there is never a shortage of funding when it comes to military spending.

As places like Hopkins become more dependent upon militarized spending, as weapons research matches cancer research in the workers’ consciousness, the new norms are violent ones.

As economic deprivation (stemming from similar processes as militarization-through-austerity) drives the working class to revolt–in a myriad of ways, from the Baltimore Uprising to an uptick in crime–institutions like Hopkins feel the need to protect themselves.

The new norm of omnipresent weaponization and the renewed threat of working class revolt converge: the only logical solution is a unconstrained, weaponized entity to protect people and property; A private police can save the day.

Thus it is not just in outcomes (i.e. increased militarization) that these tendencies are related. It is also in driving forces. At least in part, both the increase in university reliance on military spending and the apparent need to protect oneself against the public stem from recent political-economic developments.

So what?

To me, this points out the need to tackle all of these elements together.

With the public uproar and anti-deportation sentiment of the current moment, it will (hopefully) be fairly straightforward to force Hopkins’ hand in ending their collaboration with ICE. A petition to that effect has already gathered nearly a thousand signatures.

But without tackling both the university’s dependence on military funding and the university’s desire to protect itself from the working class, they will simply find more ways to maneuver into other violent and immoral activities.

[For example, the expansion of the university’s ‘special security forces’ following student-led opposition to the private police bill. The university expanded its contracting of armed off-duty officers in a loophole circumventing both the will of the community and the decision of the Maryland State legislature.]

This is easier said than done. It requires recognizing that, while we are most effective in our struggle at the local level, the broader political-economic configuration is constraining the options available to us–and to Hopkins. So while we demand an end to DOD contracts, ICE-profiteering, and armed private guards, we must also imagine how to overcome the conditions which created this status quo.

And on that hopeful note, I leave you with a note from one of our many fans:


Thanks for your feedback, Mimi.


Leave a comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s