Sign Chapela inquiry letter/latest news on tenure case (27/4/2004)


Prof. Ignacio Chapela of the University of California, Berkeley has been denied tenure by Chancellor Robert Berdahl after a protracted and irregular three-year process, despite the near-unanimous recommendations from experts within Berkeley and around the world in favor of tenure.

He previously had the bravery to speak out against a $25 million research agreement with the biotechnology giant Novartis. After publishing research showing that transgenic DNA has contaminated native corn in Mexico, he withstood an industry-coordinated smear campaign.

A public letter - which calls for an independent investigation, a continuation of Prof. Chapela's term in the meantime, and a public question-and-answer session with Chancellor Berdahl - is circulating and collecting endorsements.

Prof. Chapela's position with UC Berkeley [was] scheduled to end on June 30 [but see update below]. The letter will be delivered to Chancellor Berdahl and the other recipients in early May.

Please join the other endorsers [see below], and add your name to the letter. [add your name here: http://www.chapelatenure.org/index.asp?action=sign]

We must act promptly.

Prof. Chapela has announced that there will be an investigation by the Committee on Privilege and Tenure of the Academic Senate, and that his term will be extended to December 31, 2004.

The University administration, perhaps anticipating the sort of scrutiny and pressure this sign-on letter [below] provides, has made some concessions.

However, as Prof. Chapela has made clear, this letter remains important.

First, there is no guarantee that Prof. Chapela will not be unemployed and uncertain of his future if the investigation continues past December 31. Second, the Committee on Privilege and Tenure must be aware that there is much concern and interest regarding this case in the broader academic community. Finally, Chancellor Berdahl should still participate in a public question-and-answer session to explain his decision to deny tenure.

THE LETTER [and how to sign on] http://www.chapelatenure.org/index.asp?action=letter

To: Robert Berdahl, Chancellor, University of California, Berkeley [etc.] Ronald Gronsky, Chair, Academic Senate, Berkeley Division [etc. - see http://www.chapelatenure.org/index.asp?action=letter]

Dear Chancellor Berdahl and Prof. Gronsky,

The tenure process for Prof. Ignacio Chapela of the Department of Environmental Science, Policy, and Management (ESPM) has been extraordinary.

After three years and much international attention, Chancellor Berdahl denied tenure despite the near-unanimous support from the reviewers from within and beyond ESPM. We are concerned that this appears to be not only a failure of the tenure system, but also that it may represent the stifling of academic freedom and an assault on the credibility of the University of California.

Prof. Chapela is no stranger to such international attention. He was one of the few faculty members in the College of Natural Resources to publicly criticize the unprecedented $25 million research agreement between the College and the biotechnology giant Novartis (now Syngenta). This was despite the fact that, as an untenured professor, he risked the retribution of the dean of the College, who was a primary proponent of the agreement.

In 2001, Prof. Chapela and David Quist published research indicating that genetically modified DNA had contaminated the indigenous strains of corn in its native region of southern Mexico, despite a multi-year ban on the cultivation of GM corn there. The biotechnology industry subsequently coordinated a smear campaign against Prof. Chapela and the research. Although these findings were later verified, the journal Nature partially withdrew its support for the article. The result was an unprecedented politicization of the peer review process.

During the last three years, Prof. Chapela has undergone an arduous tenure review process. Despite the overwhelming recommendations for tenure from an ad hoc departmental committee, the entire ESPM faculty, the chair of the department, the dean of the College, external letters, and an ad hoc expert committee appointed by the Budget -Interdepartmental Relations Committee of the Academic Senate ("the budget committee"), this budget committee recommended against tenure. Members of this committee have professional and personal connections to the biotechnology industry, and have criticized Prof. Chapela publicly in the past. Nevertheless, Chancellor Berdahl concurred with the budget committee and denied tenure - despite the fact that fifty-nine individuals in the tenure review process supported tenure, compared to two who opposed.

A member of the ad hoc committee of the budget committee, Prof. Wayne Getz, has gone public with his concerns, asserting that the process has "gone awry", "I've been a member of the faculty for 25 years, and have served on these [ad hoc tenure-review] committees half a dozen to a dozen times. I broke rank because I was shocked that our recommendation was overturned.... It's almost like the budget committee, instead of representing the faculty in the tenure process, is saying: 'The faculty wasn't smart enough to give the right answer, so we're going to change it.'"

Like Prof. Getz, we are concerned that Prof. Chapela may have been unjustly denied tenure. We are concerned that, like the response to the Nature article, an unjust denial would stifle and politicize academic freedom. We are concerned that, like the Novartis contract, this is indicative of the University fostering a climate conducive towards the biotechnology industry, often at the expense of the public interest. We are concerned that such actions will tarnish the reputation of the  University of California as an unparalleled institution of research and education.

It is not too late to restore the honor of the University and give Prof. Chapela the proper review he deserves. We request that the Academic Senate investigate the tenure process of Prof. Chapela, to examine the reasons the budget committee contradicted its own ad hoc committee of experts, any documented and undocumented influences (including any personal conflicts of interest that may have existed), and the historical normalcy of both recommendations of the budget committee and the length of the tenure review process.

We request that Prof. Chapela's appointment is maintained while any investigation or review is underway. He should not lose his tenure track position during this time.

Finally, Chancellor Berdahl, we request that you participate in a public forum where you can answer questions regarding your decision to deny tenure to Prof. Chapela. The University community deserves to know why you went against the recommendations of nearly sixty people involved in the tenure process.


David Andow, Professor of Entomology, University of Minnesota

Jon Beckwith, American Cancer Society Research Professor of Microbiology and Molecular Genetics, Harvard Medical School

Diane Beeson, Professor of Sociology, California State University, Hayward

Gerald D. Berreman, Professor Emeritus of Anthropology, University of California, Berkeley

Harvey Bialy, Resident scholar, Institute of Biotechnology, Autonomous National University of Mexico, Cuernavaca

Paul  Billings, Professor (Adjunct) of Anthropology, University of California, Berkeley; Chair, Council for Responsible Genetics Associate Professor of Community Health, Tufts University

Paul Connett, Professor of Chemistry, St. Lawrence University

Edward D'Angelo, Adjunct Professor of Philosophy, Quinnipiac University

Cliff DuRand, Professor Emeritus of Philosophy, Morgan State University

Troy Duster, Professor of Sociology, New York University; Chancellor's Professor of Sociology, University of California, Berkeley

Barbara Epstein, Professor of History of Consciousness, University of California, Santa Cruz<

Michael M.J. Fischer, Professor of Anthropology and Science and Technology Studies, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Scott Frickel, Assistant Professor of Sociology, Tulane University

joan fujimura, Professor of Sociology, University of Wisconsin, Madison

Philip Gasper, Professor of Philosophy, Notre Dame de Namur University

Michael Goldman, professor of sociology, university of illinois

Roger S. Gottlieb, Professor of Philosophy, Worcester Polytechnic Institute

Hugh Gusterson, Professor, Public Policy, Georgia Institute of Technology

[and many many more - see http://www.chapelatenure.org/index.asp?action=names

 - add your name here; http://www.chapelatenure.org/index.asp?action=sign]  

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