Trump and nuclear weapons
(David Horsey)

When choosing a university, students should be weighing class sizes, major options or even the dining hall food quality. But what they shouldn’t have to consider is if their dream school helps to build nuclear weapons.

A new report reveals that nearly 50 U.S. colleges and universities contribute to building and maintaining U.S. nuclear weapons, in direct contradiction to their mission statements and often without the knowledge of their students and faculty. Three local universities are among these schools of mass destruction: Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore and George Washington University and Georgetown University in Washington, D.C.


Johns Hopkins’ Applied Physics Laboratory is a Defense Department-affiliated research center that works on nuclear weapons, which helped Johns Hopkins receive $828 million in research and development grants from the Defense Department for Fiscal Year 2017 — more than twice as much any other American university. The laboratory renewed a seven-year contract in 2017 to continue a strategic partnership with the Air Force Nuclear Weapons Center.

The laboratory operates away from the prying eyes of most students and faculty in a 453-acre, off-campus location. While Johns Hopkins generally exempts classified research, there is a blanket exemption policy for classified research at the Applied Physics Laboratory.

George Washington University maintains a Stockpile Stewardship Academic Alliance Center of Excellence, receiving $12.5 million in grants over five years for research relevant to the nation’s nuclear stockpile.

Georgetown University is a university partner of Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. While the details of the partnership are not public, Lawrence Livermore receives 86% of its funding from the U.S. National Nuclear Security Administration Weapons Activities Appropriations for the design, engineering and evaluation of nuclear warheads.

College students should learn how to make the world a better place, not how to develop the tools to end it. Universities themselves make this point in their mission statements. Johns Hopkins sums up its mission as “knowledge for the world.” The mission of George Washington University is to “educate individuals in liberal arts, languages, sciences, learned professions, and other courses and subjects of study, and to conduct scholarly research and publish the findings of such research.” Georgetown University’s website states that at the core of its Jesuit tradition are “transcendent values, including the integration of learning, faith and service; care for the whole person; character and conviction; religious truth and interfaith understanding; and a commitment to building a more just world.”

It is time for these universities to live up to their own moral objectives.

As a first step, universities must provide more clarity about their work to support U.S. nuclear weapons so that students and faculty can make informed choices about where they would like to invest their intellectual capital. Johns Hopkins should reconsider whether permitting classified research at the Applied Physics Laboratory is in line with its “commitment to openness in documentation and dissemination of research results.

George Washington University should shut down its “Stockpile Stewardship Academic Alliance Center of Excellence,” unless it receives a legally-binding guarantee that none of the basic research the center conducts will be applied to maintaining and expanding the U.S. nuclear weapons arsenal.

Georgetown may continue to partner with Lawrence Livermore on the minority of the laboratory’s research that contributes to “building a more just world.” But it must explicitly reject research for the laboratory’s main objective — building and maintaining nuclear weapons.

Universities can play a key role to equip the next generation of leaders with the knowledge and skills to make the world better a place. Nuclear weapons don’t belong there.

Alicia Sanders-Zakre (alicia@icanw.org) is policy and research coordinator of ICAN, Winners of the 2017 Nobel Peace Prize.