Coalition members stage press conference in protest of weapons of mass destruction research at the University of California

Students from five UC campuses spoke out by the UC Office of the President building in Oakland on March 20 to demand an end to weapons of mass destruction research at the Los Alamos and Lawrence Livermore laboratories.

Denied a face-to-face meeting with the UC Regents, students from the Coalition to Demilitarize the University of California held a press conference outside the Office of the President building in Oakland, California on March 20, demanding that the UC Regents discuss the UC’s involvement with weapons of mass destruction, or WMDs.

Michael Coffey, representative from the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, explained that since the Regents meeting was cancelled, they hand delivered the letter to the Office of the President.

“We had our own press conference. We went to the Office of the President building in downtown Oakland on 9 a.m. Thursday, March 21, the morning after the war broke out,” Coffey said.

Michael Cox, coalition representative from UCLA, stated that the students want the UC relationship with the nuclear weapons lab changed.

“We’re not seeking the termination of the long-held contract to run the Los Alamos and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratories-this is a last resort,” Cox said. “If the UC Regents don’t take steps to negotiate our demands, then we will call on the termination of the contract.”

Under the leadership of the Department of Energy, the University of California manages three national laboratories: Los Alamos in New Mexico, Lawrence Livermore in California and the Lawrence Berkeley laboratory, also in California.

The Nuclear Age Peace Foundation states that these laboratories “modify and monitor nuclear weapons.”

Cox declared that the coalition is against the continual research and development of nuclear weapons.

“We’re calling on any new research and development to stop completely,” Cox said. “[We’re] asking that the labs change functions from the efforts of proliferation to the international campaign of arms reduction and verification.”

According to Tara Dorabji, a Tri-Valley CAREs spokeswoman, student leaders presented a letter requesting to “disarm and democratize the weapons labs” to the Regents secretary from four UC campuses.

They requested a response to the letter by April 21.

The coalition’s original plan was to meet directly with the UC Regents during their meeting.

The UCOP office did not state a specific reason as to why the meeting was cancelled, but the Regent secretary stated that it was probably attributed to the outbreak of the war.

“The students were promised a meeting, but despite being persistent [UCSC Chancellor MRC Greenwood] now will not meet with them,” Dorabji said.

The coalition student group has partnered with local community organizations including Tri-Valley CAREs in Livermore, the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation in Santa Barbara and Western States Legal Foundation in Oakland.

A press statement from the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation states the main belief of the Coalition to Demilitarize the UC, in that “no institution in the U.S. or abroad should continue to design and develop nuclear weapons.”

Coffey attributes the coalition entirely to student efforts.

“This campaign is student-led. Students let us know what type of support they need and we do our best to provide it,” Coffey said.

According to Coffey, the coalition gives students a forum to discuss the role of nuclear weapons’ management by the UC. There are currently five UC schools involved: UCLA, UC Berkeley, UCSB, UCSD and UC Davis.

“We had someone at UC Irvine, but she didn’t gain very much support there. I think administration didn’t give her a great response either,” Cox said.

The main declaration from the coalition is the Unity Statement, outlining the “steps the UC Regents need to take, like disarming and democratizing the weapons labs, if they are to continue managing the National Labs.”

“The abolition of all nuclear weapons is a core value uniting the group,” Dorabji said.

UC Spokesman Jeff Garberson stated that there is much history behind UC’s involvement with the laboratories.

“There’s a historical reason,” Garberson said. “The United States government has always asked the [University of California] to operate the labs.”

According to Garberson, UC manages these national laboratories for historical reasons as well as for service to the public.

“[The] first reason—historical precedence that the university has always managed the labs. The university has seen it’s operation of the labs as a public service. They do important national work, some for national defense, some of it not,” Garberson said.

Garberson also stated that both the Los Alamos and Lawrence Livermore laboratories deal with national security. While the labs are involved in the design, research and maintenance of nuclear weapons, the weapons themselves are constructed elsewhere.

Garberson said the UC Regents stand behind the laboratories and all of its work.

“The university has always been willing and proud to manage the national labs,” Garberson said.

In response to the UC involvement with nuclear weapons, UC President Richard Atkinson supported the UC in a July 2002 letter to Armin Tenner, a former UC professor and member of the International Network of Engineers and Scientists Against Proliferation. “Ensuring these remaining weapons are safe and effective without nuclear testing is a challenging scientific problem—one that requires the efforts of outstanding technical experts such as those at the Los Alamos and Lawrence Livermore national laboratories,” Atkinson said. “The University of California takes this responsibility very seriously.”

Atkinson continued to say that the role of the UC with nuclear weapons is a significant one.

“The University of California takes this responsibility very seriously. If the university did not manage these laboratories, the weapons would not, of course, go away,” Atkinson said. “But we would then worry more about the future of the planet.”

Cox hopes that the coalition will soon be able to voice their opinions directly to the UC Regents.

According to Cox, the March UC Regents meeting was rescheduled for later on this week through a teleconference meeting.

“If they do allow time for public comment, then we will definitely be participating in that,” Cox said.