AU students, faculty protest new Board of Trustees member

Wesley Bush under scrutiny for ties to defense industry

AU students, faculty protest new Board of Trustees member

The Mary Graydon Center, pictured in 2016. 

When the American University Board of Trustees announced new member Wesley Bush’s appointment in January, students and faculty soon began a campaign to remove him over his previous employment at an aerospace and defense technology company.

Until 2019, Bush was the chairman and chief executive officer for Northrop Grumman, one of the world’s largest weapons manufacturers and military technology providers. A letter-writing campaign started by Dissenters, a student group that hopes to divest schools from war, has sent over 40 letters to the University as of March 16 citing this as a major concern.

“Wes Bush has built a career off of making money from war. As concerned students, community members, and university affiliates, we are calling for Wes Bush’s immediate removal from the American University Board of Trustees,” the petition says. 

Helen Luffy, a sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences and a member of Dissenters, said that Bush’s background does not align with AU’s values.

“This cannot fly for a university that its entire motto of one of our schools is ‘waging peace,’” Luffy said. 

Under Bush, Northrop Grumman built the MQ-4C Triton, a naval surveillance aerial vehicle for tracking ship movements and large areas of ocean, and also played a role in building the F-35, a stealth aircraft which is the most expensive weapon ever built. Additionally, the company also built VADER, an airborne radar system used by U.S. Customs and Border Protection to track combatants along the U.S.-Mexico border. It’s also been used in Afghanistan to track insurgents, according to a fact sheet provided by Dissenters. 

Although the University has emphasized Bush’s philanthropic work, Luffy said that it doesn’t take away from his work in the defense industry. 

“It’s completely the antithesis of what AU believes its message to be and just because he’s a member of Conservation International, for example, doesn’t mean that the things he’s done is good,” Luffy said.

David Vine, an anthropology professor in the CAS, wrote a letter to the University asking AU to consider removing Bush from the board. 

He said he was appalled by Bush’s history leading a company that builds various vehicles used as weapons of war.

In an interview with The Eagle, Vine said AU should not embrace Bush’s values. 

“This is AU getting in bed with the military-industrial complex,” Vine said. “And that should be deeply troubling to all of us.”

Vine also said he has concerns over what hiring Bush signals to students and faculty. 

“Recruitment would be another concern, by weapons manufacturers,” Vine said. “But I was also concerned that it might signal the desire for some AU faculty to go after Pentagon contracts or to partner with Northrop Grumman or other weapons manufacturers in research.” 

At a student media briefing following a recent Board of Trustees meeting, Board Chairman Marc Duber said that he did not have a comment about the petition, as he had only just become aware of it.

Bush “offers a lot to the board from his history in business and also in the education space through his wife’s involvement in education,” Duber said. 

Matthew Bennett, AU’s vice president and chief communications officer, said that Bush is “eager to engage with the community on these issues.”

In an email to The Eagle, a University spokesperson said, “Members of the Board of Trustees, including Wes Bush, represent a wide range of backgrounds and experiences, all of which are critically important for advancing the university’s mission. His extensive experience in the corporate and philanthropic sectors will augment the board’s efforts and contribute to our work and our community,”

Vine and Luffy both agreed that someone who better represents the values of the University and its students should fill Bush’s spot on the board, were he to either step down or be removed by the University. 

“His company produced killing machines, weapons of war that murder and take the lives of other human beings,” Vine said. “Those are not the values that I think AU represents and they're not the values I embrace and want to see AU embrace.”

The University did not make Bush available for comment to The Eagle. Northrop Grumman did not respond for comment.

nheller@theeagleonline.com, aveitch@theeagleonline.com 

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