US universities are pipelines to the defense industry. What does that say about our morals?


Indigo Olivier

Much of our higher education system is a glorified feeder for Lockheed Martin and other defense industry firms

In his 1961 farewell address, Dwight D Eisenhower warned the nation against the “unwarranted influence” of the military-industrial complex. But a lesser known part of the speech was addressed to universities: “In the same fashion, the free university, historically the fountainhead of free ideas and scientific discovery, has experienced a revolution in the conduct of research. Partly because of the huge costs involved, a government contract becomes virtually a substitute for intellectual curiosity.”

We didn’t listen.

For the better part of the pandemic, I’ve been researching the defense industry’s ties to college campuses as part of an investigative fellowship for the magazine In These Times. On 11 August, we published a 4,300-word feature article on Lockheed Martin’s sweeping recruitment on college campuses.

We found an environment in which Stem students are funneled into the defense industry through recruitment, research, financial assistance or some combination of the three.

Lockheed offers cash-prize competitions, scholarships and paid internships to students which have served as pipelines to employment. In 2020, the company hired 2,600 interns and claimed over 60% of graduating former interns converted to full-time jobs.

On campus, Lockheed has set up recruiting tables in the lobbies and hallways of student buildings and hosts workshops on everything from space exploration to résumé-building. At the University of Texas at Arlington, a $1.5m donation resulted in one of their buildings being renamed the Lockheed Martin Career Development Center.

But the company’s signature recruiting event, which is hosted at more than a dozen universities, is something called Lockheed Martin Day. Recruiters attract students with virtual reality demos, flight simulators and, in some cases, landing their helicopters directly on campus. Company officials have been known to offer on-the-spot job and internship opportunities to students during the event.

Additionally, Lockheed has poured resources into the financial support and recruitment of students at historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs), earning its place as the number one industry supporter of HBCU engineering institutions for seven years in a row.


But before anyone says this is a good thing, it’s worth pausing to ask ourselves how we got here in the first place.

When Black women hold the highest average student loan debt ($41,466), it’s hard to argue against additional financial support no matter where it comes from. Unless you start with a more basic question: why do Black women graduate with the largest debt burden? Why are HBCU endowments, on average, 70% smaller than other universities?

More: The Guardian