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Problematic companies have no place on campus

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SEPTEMBER 27, 2019

It’s not the best thing in the world to find out that a huge source of funding for your program is tied to problematic organizations. It’s a lot worse to realize that your campus, upon learning about those ties, hasn’t already cut ties with that source.

Palantir — arguably one of the most controversial tech giants today — gives our campus electrical engineering and computer sciences, or EECS, department $20,000 every year as part of the Corporate Access Program, which in turn grants Palantir access to soon-to-be EECS graduates looking for full-time employment. That’s a good chunk of money — tainted with ties to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement — that the department uses to support EECS students. Sure, campus administration itself didn’t contract with Palantir, but its refusal to take ownership for Palantir’s presence on campus through the EECS department sends a pretty telling message. 

This isn’t the first time the UC system has been associated with malignant forces in society. Remember the anti-apartheid movement at UC Berkeley back in the 1980s? Students walked off campus and straight to the UC headquarters in Oakland to demand that it stop doing business with the South African government, in protest of apartheid. Just a couple of years ago, the Afrikan Black Coalition lobbied for the university to divest from Wells Fargo, which financed private correctional facilities. Its campaign was successful — the UC system eventually caved and decided to terminate $475 million worth of contracts with the company. 

Campus needs to nip these relationships in the bud long before students have to spend time and effort protesting the university’s involvement with such problematic companies. UC Berkeley can’t claim to be a safe space for undocumented students while maintaining ties to companies that facilitate policies meant to keep those very students from pursuing their dreams here. 

At this point, we’ve got to ask: Why does it take repeated student action to force administration to cut ties with problematic organizations? Palantir sells tools to ICE that enable real-time surveillance and information sharing with other agencies. Bank of the West’s parent company, BNP Paribas, invests in ICE-contracted private prison companies. Berkeley is a sanctuary city and trying to be at the forefront of supporting undocumented students — it’s time for campus to take part in enforcing that by sending a message and completely separating itself from ICE. 

Students have proven time and time again that they’re a powerful force to help correct the university’s often-skewed moral compass, but they really shouldn’t have to do that at all. Especially now that unethical goings-on are usually hidden and embedded into private practices — which is starkly different from blatantly unjust movements such as apartheid — it’s crucial that campus and the university at large put their money where their mouth is and support companies with society’s best interests at heart.

Editorials represent the majority opinion of the editorial board as written by the fall 2019 opinion editor, Revati Thatte.

NOVEMBER 01, 2019