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Palantir is welcome here

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Last week, the Duke Student Government Senate passed a resolution that urged Duke to terminate its “partnerships” with Palantir Technologies with the immediate aim of stopping the firm’s recruitment efforts on campus. This action by the DSG Senate - while perhaps emotionally satisfying for many of its members - is short-sighted, blatantly partisan in nature, largely uninformed by fact, and unnecessarily paternalistic when it comes to dictating the employment opportunities of Duke students.

While I can understand why a subset of students here take issue with Palantir’s specific contracts with ICE, I would encourage them to take a more nuanced approach. One must consider the entire breadth of Palantir’s work and, in the aggregate, the incredible good the company has done and continues to do.

Palantir brings much-needed innovation and modern software solutions to some of the most pressing problems of government. Software developers at Palantir have immensely aided our collective national security. Their software products are generally held in high regard by national security practitioners and especially by intelligence analysts. Palantir products have been leveraged by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to detect Medicare fraud, by the FBI in criminal probes, and extensively in the ongoing global war on terror. Even more recently, the World Food Programme has partnered with Palantir to streamline supply chains for emergency relief operations around the world. I have even had the opportunity to use Palantir-products firsthand during a summer internship and they are – simply put – fantastic. We ought to not only roundly applaud Palantir for this work, but we should recognize how and why some of our fellow students may want to work for the firm and support such efforts.

In addition, on-campus critics of Palantir seem to be suffering from misplaced priorities and are dishing out criticism in an inconsistent and seemingly hypocritical manner that becomes obvious upon looking at the myriad of other ICE contractors. For instance, a band of activists on this campus, while small in number but disproportionately loud, have made a crusade out of pursuing Palantir but are conveniently silent when it comes to other firms that contract with ICE – several of whom recruit strongly here at Duke. Here are a couple of notable firms (including Palantir for reference) along with the approximate dollar figure of their cumulative ICE contracts since 2010:

-        General Dynamics Corporation ($276 million)

-        Deloitte ($249 million)

-        Booz Allen Hamilton ($148 million)

-        Palantir Technologies ($121 million)

-        Dell ($37 million)

-        McKinsey & Co. ($26 million)

-        U.S. Bancorp ($38 million)

-        Microsoft ($15 million)

I presume that critics of Palantir also take issue with the efforts of Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) as well. So, I have taken the liberty of noting two of their prominent contractors that recruit strongly here as well:

-        Northrop Grumman ($328 million)

-        Accenture ($161 million)

While I find the DSG Senate’s efforts towards Palantir to be misguided in the first place, I would at least ask them to be consistent in their actions and avoid hypocrisy by passing similar measures aimed at the above-named firms and renouncing their desire to work / participate in recruiting with the above-named firms. I am not holding my breath. I have heard that DSG Senate participation looks great on resumes when it’s time for consulting recruitment….

Instead, I’ll propose an alternative, more probable, and ultimately sane solution: individual choice and responsibility. Duke prides itself on the intelligence and free-thinking of its student body. Thus, it is reasonable to think that each student here is capable of deciding for themselves if they want to work for a firm that contracts with ICE - be it Deloitte, McKinsey, Dell, or Palantir. 

In other words, we should allow members of this student body to make their own decisions rather than preempt them with particular notions of social justice. We certainly do not want a small and aberrant minority of voices to dictate the employment opportunities available to the entire student body. 

Thankfully, Michael Schoenfeld, our vice president for public affairs and government relations here at Duke, seems to agree with this thinking. He stated in an email to The Chronicle in October that Palantir is still “welcome” on campus and that “students can and should be able to make their own choices about their future work and given the wide range of backgrounds at Duke, we should expect there to be an equally wide range of interests”. The DSG Senate would be wise to take note and emulate this reasonable stance. 

Matthew Noles is a Trinity senior and a Chronicle columnist. The views presented herein are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the US Department of Defense or its components. 

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