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FEATURE How UT Learned to Love the Bomb The University of Texas makes a bid to run Los Alamos BY FORREST WILDER If atomic bombs are to be added as new weapons to the arsenals of a warring world, or to the arsenals of nations preparing for war, then the time will come when mankind will curse the names of Los Alamos and of Hiroshima. J. Robert Oppenheimer upon his resignation as director of Los Alamos National Laboratory, 1945. 11111 he bomb was born in academia. In 1945, great minds recruited largely from American universitiesRobert Oppenheimer, Enrico Fermi, and Edward Teller to name a fewovercame enormous scientific and technical challenges to bring the first nuclear weapon into the world. Sixty years later, the Manhattan Project is still very much with us, institutionalized at three “national laboratories”Los Alamos in northern New Mexico, Sandia in nearby Albuquerque, and Lawrence-Livermore in Livermore, California. Together with the various enrichment, manufacturing, and assembling facilities around the country, these three laboratories make up the nuclear weapons complex in the United States. Two of the threeLos Alamos and Lawrence-Livermorehave been managed by the University overseen by Lockheed-Martin, the world’s largest military contractor with $20.7 billion in contracts in 2004. The heart of this vast system has been and remains Los Alamos. Located in remote northern New Mexico, the lab has been responsible for 80 percent of the nuclear weapons designed in the United States and commands an annual budget of $2.2 billion. The lab’s long-standing ties to UC have fostered the notion among some Los Alamos advocates and employees that the nuclear weapons lab is inseparable from the University of California system. The times are a-changin’. The University of Texas System ingness to gamble on high-flying ventures to push its way into the nation’s nuclear-industrial complex. Not only has UT partnered with Sandia National Laboratory, it has now joined with Lockheed to try to wrest Los Alamos away from UC in a competitive bidding war sponsored by the Department of Energy. At stake are not only the direction of the national laboratories and nuclear weapons, but also the role of universities in an increasingly militarized and corporatized United States. UT has never had the prestige of what it calls its peer institutionsthe universities of California, Virginia, Michigan, and other Tier 1 research universities. But it’s the University of California system that casts the longest shadow on Texas public higher education. UC has six component schools that consistently rank in the top echelon of the nation’s universities while UT has only its “flagship,” UT-Austin. To add insult to injury, UC is flush with faculty members and administrators who are internationally recognized and close to the centers of intellectual and political power in the nation. UT System Chancellor Mark Yudof, talking to Texas Monthly editor Evan Smith in 2004, put that into perspective. “For us to, say, catch up to a Berkeley, I think if you’re talking about the very top rung, at least a decade,” said Yudof. “Remember that the University of California at Berkeley has more members of the National Academy of Engineering, National Academy of Science, the premier scientists of the country… than the whole state of Texas.” And to top it all off, \(\(crown jewel of science,” Los Alamos. Needless to say, UT has a bit of an inferiority complex. UT has been gunning for a piece of the national labs since at least 1996. At that time, then-Chancellor William Cunningham and Vice Chancellor for Special Engineering to put Los Alamos up for bidding. They argued that UC’s monopoly on the lab had gone unchallenged for too long and that others, for example, UT, should have a chance to pitch a new way to run the lab. The DOE declined UT’s offer. In late 2001, the Board of Regents approved more than $800,000 to spend on a potential bid for Sandia. The DOE never opened the lab to competition and Lockheed retains control, but the failed bid succeeded in introducing UT to Sandia and the DOE as an eager and pliant academic collaborator. “We got to know each other very well through the course of a potential competition with one another for the management of Sandia, and that includes officials at the DOE who got to know the UT System very well and that includes the folks at Sandia who were obviously looking at the UT System very closely,” said Michael Warden, a UT spokesman. Attempts to interview other UT officials by phone were directed to Warden. In the ensuing years, the University of Texas would pull out all the stops to court Sandia: high-level meetings between Chancellor Yudof and Sandia CEO Paul Robinson, a “Metroplex Day” to showcase the UT-Arlington and UTDallas research campuses, and the help of political power10 THE TEXAS OBSERVER SEPTEMBER 9, 2005