Binghamton University has partnered with Endicott Interconnect Technologies, Inc. (EIT) to form the Binghamton Center for Emerging Technologies (BCET), a not-for-profit corporation that works with several partners to make advanced electronic products that have commercial and military purposes.
BCET’s corporate officers include representatives from BU and EIT. James Van Voorst, BU’s vice president for administration, is BCET’s treasurer.
BCET Executive Director Paul Wolfgramm said BCET will work on diverse projects that deal with small-scale electronic systems and packaging, though it will not manufacture goods directly.
Wolfgramm said BCET will “pursue business opportunities” for the New York Systems Integration and Packaging Consortium (NYSIP).
NYSIP works to “commercialize new and improved electronic systems for dual use military and commercial purposes,” according to Wolfgramm.
Eric Hills, vice president of business development, contracts, program office at EIT, said that BCET hopes to attract federal agencies and defense contractors as clients.
“All agencies inside the government will be able to fund projects through BCET,” Hills said. “Contracts would not only be awarded to the Department of Defense, but also to the Department of Energy, the IRS, the National Institutes of Health, those kinds of things.”
Bahgat Sammakia, BU interim vice president for research, said that BU faculty researchers have worked on projects with the D.O.D. for decades.
“Faculty members make their own decisions about which grants to seek and which industry or government partners to work with, in line with the University’s mission,” Sammakia stated in an email.
Sammakia also said military projects help civilian life as well.
“Projects with military applications also pay dividends in civilian life,” Sammakia said. “For example, sensors initially developed at Binghamton University for use by the military have now turned out to be useful in detecting cancer.”
Bat-Ami Bar On, a professor of philosophy and women’s studies, said she had complex views about whether BU should be involved with defense contractors.
“DOD [Department of Defense] money is not necessarily ‘dirty’ money,” Bar On said. “Due to historical precedence, there is a healthy tendency to suspect any DOD funding because of the possible uses that will be made of the knowledge that faculty and students produce by the DOD.”
Bar On said there are a number of things to consider regarding the ethical implications of accepting military-application contracts.
“Even in the case of weapon systems, one has to ask complicated questions about whether they push the limits set by international treaties intended to limit the means of war,” she said.
Andrew Bryant, a senior majoring in political science, said he thinks the partnership between BU and BCET is “completely ethical.”
“The partnership between universities and the Department of Defense goes back a long way almost to the early 20th century,” Bryant said. “It was government contracts like these that laid the foundations for the research universities upon which the current SUNY system is based, among various other State University systems.”