Democracy in Nuclear Decision-Making

UT Watch
November 2004

In making a decision on whether or not to bid for management of Los Alamos National Laboratory, attempts by the University of Texas System administration to reach out to students and faculty have been minimal at best; at worst, the System administration has knowingly avoided dialogue on the matter. As in almost any decision the administration makes for students, student input has been stifled, ignored, or dismissed.

This past May, UT Watch authored a Student Government resolution initially calling for UT to end its quest to manage Los Alamos based on research compiled over the previous year. At the behest of certain SG representatives who unequivocally support the bid, we modified the language of the resolution to call for open dialogue with the administration on the matter. The resolution did not pass. Although an SG forum is now being planned, the UT System has still failed to solicit opinions on the matter among students, staff, faculty, and the broader university community.

UT Watch asked for a forum with university decision-makers in part to keep up with the University of California System, the current Los Alamos manager. UC held open forums on the issue throughout the spring semester on multiple campuses, so UT Watch started to organize spaces on the UT-Austin campus for open dialogue. Unfortunately, the UT System is effectively ignoring the other UT component institutions on this important issue, working only with UT-Austin students. To this end, we launched the website with the local media group, Iconmedia, to publicize our campaign and to inform others around Texas and the UT System on how to get involved.

So far, UT Watch has held four forums on the UT-Austin campus (March 9, April 28, August 8, and October 25). The August 8 forum was one part of the Texas Week of Anti-Nuclear Action organized by UT Watch and UT Nuke Free against the Los Alamos bid. Events included public forums, luncheons, and workshops on five UT System campuses.

At the July 16 UT System Board of Regents meeting, State Rep. Lon Burnam (D-Fort Worth), videographer Stefan Wray, local environmental activist Karen Hadden, and UT Watch member Austin Van Zant were each given 3 minutes to make our case against management of Los Alamos. So far, this has been the extent of student and community input in the System's endeavor. Unbeknownst to each of us, Los Alamos officially commenced what would be a 3 ½ month shut down - some of which has yet to re-open - due to security violations and concerns over the safety of our nuclear weapons secrets, stored on electronic media, that morning. The reasons for the shutdown have yet to be substantively addressed by System administrators. The depth of UT’s comment on the changing situation at Los Alamos can be summed up by a comment that Randy Safady, UT Vice Chancellor for External Affairs, made in mid-August to the Albuquerque Tribune: "We're looking at the advantages and the disadvantages."

When we came back to school in the fall, the administration was surprisingly quiet about Los Alamos. They had nothing to say about the security violations at the Lab during the summer and nothing to say about the problems that Los Alamos opposition activists had highlighted. During the fall semester, we have officially started a postcard campaign against the bid, and we also held our fourth Los Alamos forum on the UT-Austin campus since March, with a speech by a UT-Austin professor followed by a discussion with the audience.

Most recently, on November 11, four UT-Austin physics professors participated in a panel organized by the Society of Physics Students. Each of the panelists agreed that any impact the lab contract would have on research opportunities would be minimal, that managing the lab would bring no profit to the University, and that the nuclear weapon stockpile ought to be protected at all costs. The most that one professor would say in support of the lab was: "I'm kind of on the fence." One of the professors who failed to endorse the Los Alamos bid was Dr. Roy Schwitters, a member of the UT Los Alamos Task Force, the committee that is supposed to recommend – or not – a bid to the Regents. Unfortunately he refused to comment on what work the Task Force has done.

Dr. Peter Riley, Associate Dean for Research and Facilities, agreed with Dr. Austin Gleeson when he said, "I can't ever think, in my life, that [the University of Texas] would manage it better [than the University of California]."

Administrative Responses

Administrators have yet to come out to any of these events, and they have yet to directly address our concerns or the concerns of UT-Austin researchers and professors over managing the lab. Although we are glad to present our side of the story, the onus to inform the public should not be on the students. The UT administration has an obligation to, at the least, inform the community of major decisions that will affect the University. They have failed to do so. In the absence of any response to our critiques, UT Watch and allies stand by the reasons for opposing a potential Los Alamos bid: a university neither can nor should manage Los Alamos; that Los Alamos is in dire need of reform and UT has zero experience in this; that benefits are questionable while the management deal is ridden with liabilities (the reason why Los Alamos is up for bidding); that "prestige" should not be the sole driver of the bid, mainly since managing Los Alamos has tarnished UC's name; that students and faculty should have input on this bid.

However, UT administrators continue to stifle, ignore, and dismiss any opposing viewpoints in their quest for the bomb.

What We Want

UT Watch would like the University of Texas System to survey undergraduate and graduate students, lecturers, librarians, and professors, as well as other administrators. We would like the administration to attend our forums and convene democratic spaces on UT System campuses where interested parties can discuss and debate the bid. Below are links to University of California surveys and forums that we would like the UT administration to review before making their final decision to bid for Los Alamos.

UC Faculty and Professor Surveys

Unlike UT, the University of California - the current Los Alamos manager - has made an effort to include students and faculty in the bidding process. Although this may be a small token gesture, it is still more than UT is willing to offer.

An interesting note on reading the Faculty and Lecturer/Librarian surveys: the answers vary widely mainly due to the connection that the Lecturer/Librarian survey makes between Los Alamos and the nation's nuclear weapons program. But judge the results for yourself.

Discussions and Forums

The UT-Austin Student Government online forum on Los Alamos


- adapted from: