Firestorm of controversy at Berkeley (8/3/2007)

1.British Petroleum Spills Oil at UC Berkeley
2.Cal's biofuel deal challenged on campus
3.The promise and perils of tech transfer

EXTRACT: BP's half-billion-dollar deal is nothing less than massive greenwashing by a corrupt corporation - supported by a governor eager "to keep his eight Hummers running on alcohol." - Iain Boal, professor of social and environmental history in the geography department at UC Berkeley


1.British Petroleum Spills Oil at UC Berkeley
IndyMedia, Mar 4th, 2007
http://www.indybay.org/newsitems/2007/03/04/18372601.php [go to this link for good pics and links to videos]

Last thursday (3/1) approximately 150 people demonstrated against the $500 million agreement between British Petroleum and University of California, Berkeley. During the protest a mock oil spill was created in front of California Hall, the administration building. 2 students were arrested for dumping the mixture of molasses and water. Below are reposts from The Daily Cal, Berkeley Daily Planet, the San Francisco Chronicle and youtube.


You Tube VIdeos from www.berkeleycitizen.org

from The Berkeley Daily Planet

Week of Arrests, Protests Challenges UC/BP Accord
By Richard Brenneman (03-02-07)

The firestorm of controversy over the $500 million pact tying UC Berkeley to one of the world biggest and most criticized oil giants intensified this week, with a teach-in, a demonstration, a pointed exchange between students and a key administrator and at least one arrest.

The central issue is the role BP-the company formerly known as British Petroleum-will play on the campus of one of the nation's premier public research universities. At the heart of the deal is a plan to genetically engineer grass and microbes to produce ethanol.

According to a UC Berkeley historian Monday night, BP's half-billion-dollar deal is nothing less than massive greenwashing by a corrupt corporation-supported by a governor eager "to keep his eight Hummers running on alcohol."

Iain Boal, professor of social and environmental history in the geography department, joined three other professors, an award-winning science writer and a coalition of students for the first teach-in targeting the controversial plan revealed in a press conference last month.

The BP project has garnered an impressive collection of political endorsements, ranging from Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates to Democratic presidential hopeful Sen. Barack Obamawhose own state of Illinois is another beneficiary of the project.

But opposition is growing as well, with the student activists staging two major events this week -Monday night's teach-in and a protest Thursday afternoon outside California Hall, the seat of campus administration and the offices of Chancellor Robert Birgeneau.

Students also spoke up during a closed meeting Wednesday noon with Paul Ludden, dean of the College of Natural Resources, according to two participants.

Then, at 1 p.m. Thursday, demonstrators gathered outside California Hall to stage a bit of guerilla theater, and two of them, clad in white lab coats emblazoned with the BP logo, each dumped a yard weed sprayer tank of dark liquid outside the main entrance.

Campus police, present in numbers and armed with video cameras as well as more traditional hardware, took the pair into custody, and hauled at least one, Ali Tonack, off to the Berkeley city lockup.

A series of speakers, including professors Miguel Altieri, Ignacio Chapela and Gray Brechin, joined students in denouncing the agreement. As a final gesture to demonstrate the harmlessness of the liquid, Chapela pushed through police, dipped his finger in the substance, tasted it and pronounced it be molasses.

"It's organic, too," called out one of the students.

Among those who spoke was Hillary Lehr, an undergraduate in the Conservation and Resource Studies program at the College of Natural Resources (CNR).

The day before, she had confronted Dean Paul Ludden moments after he began his presentation to a group of students and faculty, asking the 50 or so present for a show of hands [check] on whether they had serious questions about the agreement.

"An overwhelming majority did," said the witness, a critic of the project. "It was wonderful. Most were worried, and they asked questions."

When Ludden told faculty members they'd have ample opportunity to become involved, "he was immediately challenged by" ecosystem science Professor Andrew Paul Gutierrez, who said the agreement threatened academic freedom.

Ludden responded that "any researcher can do anything he wants" at the university.

When students protested the commercialization of research, Professor David Winickoff, a faculty member who helped Ludden draft the proposal, said they should ask legislators to revise the Bayh-Dole Act, federal legislation which gives universities the right to patent research and work with corporations to profit from its exploitation.

"I don't think it went the way they expected," said the witness.

"Their answers were very inadequate," said Maren Poitras, one of the organizers of Monday night's teach-in. "It became very clear that they weren't going to change the process."

"I asked the dean if he took the Novartis guidelines into account. He said no, the university had not adopted them."

Those guidelines were drafted by researchers at Michigan State University, who were contracted to examine the university's controversial agreement with Novartis, a Swiss agro-pharmaceutical corporation which entered into an agreement with the CNR to fund $25 million in research.

That deal sparked a national controversy over the increasing role played by corporations in modern universities, and drew the attention of science writer Jennifer Washburn. An article on Novartis she wrote for The Atlantic magazine was expanded into her book, University, Inc., She was one of the speakers at Monday's teach-in.

"It's really critical that you get hold of the agreement," she told the students who gathered into the auditorium at Morgan Hall. "I called the university to try to obtain a copy and I was denied access to anything."

Kamal Kapadia, a CNR graduate student, did get a copy, reported in some detail at the teach-in. The San Francisco Chronicle got a look at one and published excerpts Tuesday.

Much of the research will be aimed at creating genetically modified organisms (GMOs), a highly controversial research agenda critics fear will create significant unintended consequences, especially in lesser developed countries where they fear already threatened rain forest will be destroyed to clear ground for planting crops to fuel American cars.

At Monday's teach-in, Boal said oil companies are increasingly setting research agendas for universities around the world, with the $100 million 2003 ExxonMobil accord with Stanford serving as an increasingly typical example.

The 10-year BP agreement with Berkeley he described as part of a "massive greenwashing campaign" funded by a minuscule fraction of the fraction of corporate profits, which amounted to more than $22 billion in 2006.

The same firm has shown a ruthless hand in dealing with critics, he said, hiring a former Central Intelligence Agency to break into the home of one critic and tap his phone, while another was targeted with a fabricated file offering specious evidence of an adulterous affair that never happened.

"How could a major oil company behave differently?" he asked, because of the fiduciary responsibility of directors to generate the highest possible profits for investors.

Under the corporate regime, he said, "science has become capitalism’s way of knowing the world."

Washburn told students that lack of public disclosure of corporate/academic agreements has become all too common at a time when corporate funds are a steadily growing part of university research budgets.

Even though federal coffers remain the largest source of university research dollars, the corporate moneys that accounted for about 7 percent of university research funds in 2000 influenced between 20 and 25 percent of research projects because of matching fund and cost-sharing agreements.

"I am not opposed to corporate/academic relationships," Washburn said. "They have been an integral part of the advance of science and knowledge ... The problem is the way the relationships are organized and structured," jeopardizing the university’s core missions of education an independence.

Miguel Altieri, a professor of agroecology at CNR and an advocate of sustainable agriculture, said the corporatization of research has virtually ended research on non-chemical means of pest control, once a strong emphasis on the Berkeley campus. "The discipline has disappeared," he said.

By focusing research in fields where corporations can hope to harvest patents, other field of science vanish, along with expertise.

Already, patented GMO crops occupy between 80 million and 100 million hectares (one hectare is 2.47 acres), most farmed in vast tracts beyond the scale of traditional farming techniques because farmers who own less than 500 acres simply can't afford the essential machinery.

Reliance on so-called biofuels doesn’t make sense, Altieri charged, and will increase energy consumption in fuel production and raise carbon dioxide emissions.

He criticized BP in particular for working with paramilitary groups in Colombia who have kidnapped and murdered critics of the oil company.

"Will we feel satisfied when filling our cars with a mixture containing six percent of biofuels coming from the Amazon, where peasants and indigenous people were violently displaced, leaving thousands without food security?" he asked.

Altieri described what he call "the green fuel mafia," a consortium of oil, biotech and agricultural businesses allied with car manufacturers and environmental organizations, including the World Wildlife Federation, Conservation International and the Nature Conservancy.

Civil and environmental engineering Professor Tad W. Patzek is one of the university’s most outspoken critics of biofuels, and worked for Shell Oil before joining the Berkeley faculty.

"What troubles me is this alignment of public research with corporation goals," he said, resulting in "a public institution now completely aligned with corporate interests."

Patzek’s research has yielded evidence which he says proves that biofuels like ethanol are not viable because, when all costs are added up, including the loss of natural resources diverted to production, only red ink results.

The notion that research on ethanol will solve an energy crisis that stems in large part from over-consumption is dangerous, "and our complicity in this delusion is dangerous and runs against my feelings about the ethics of scientists at a public institution," he said.

While research has shown the productivity of techniques that don’t require GMOs, pesticides and major applications of fertilizer and irrigation water, that’s not the work that draws grants.

"I personally know the chief scientist at BP and I know how things work there," Patzek said, adding that he was "quite opposed" to the agreement "because they don’t know what they want," while the corporation itself "wants an increases in the value of their stock by using a public institution" to make it possible.

"We are a public institution in dire straits in many, many ways. We are here, hat in hand, begging for any donations from any source."

"The university has been penetrated and transformed from the inside," said CNR Professor Ignacio Chapela, who was denied tenure and released by the university following his outspoken criticism of the Novartis agreement.

Chapela told teach-in participants that the university had seen the loss of a once-strong tradition of faculty governance in Berkeley in the face of secret corporate agreements approved by trustees acting for the public. "We are losing the trust of the people," he said, and the people are losing their trust in science.

from Daily Californian Two Arrests in Protest Over Biofuels Deal Students Don Lab Coats, Spill Mock Oil in Rally Against BP Contract By Vanessa Lord

Nearly 150 protesters gathered outside California Hall yesterday to rally against UC Berkeley’s recent $500 million contract with energy giant BP Amoco PLC.

The protesters from the group Stop BP wore white lab coats marked "BP" and staged a mock oil spill, pouring black liquid across the front entrance of California Hall and surrounding the area with caution tape.

The organizers planned to remove the spill to symbolize the need for a cleanup of "oil contamination" on campus.

Graduate student Ali Tonak and freshman Nathan Murthy were arrested on charges of trespassing after spilling the liquid and hanging the caution tape.

According to UCPD Assistant Chief Mitch Celaya, the students will be released with a citation.

Ignacio Chapela, an associate professor in the department of environmental science, policy and management, said it was upsetting that a student was arrested for a theatrical performance.

"The problems this deal will cause for the university are much more damaging than a mock oil spill," Chapela said.

To confirm the black liquid was harmless, Chapela dipped his finger in the mess and tasted it. Chapela said he believed the liquid was molasses.

According to a petition against the BP project, Stop BP is concerned about the deal because of what they say is a lack of student involvement in the decision to accept the contract, the potential harms of biofuels research and the risk to academic integrity that university contracts with private companies pose.

"Students have no saythat is not democracy," said senior Hillary Lehr, an anthropology and conservation and resource studies major. "Even though (the contract) looks democratic because there are forums, the fact of the matter is that it’s not."

The level of student involvement in the protest was great, said alumna Nina Rizzo, a campus organizer for human rights organization Global Exchange.

"This was definitely a great turn-out, especially because it’s only the beginning," Rizzo said.

Stop BP will continue advocating for its cause as the project unfolds, said Lee Worden, a postdoctorate researcher and protest participant.

"This may be a long-term project, but we’re going to get the oil contamination off this campus," Worden said. "We’ll be back."

from Berkeley Daily Planet

by reposts Sunday Mar 4th, 2007 5:07 PM


A campus police officer warns Miguel Altieri, center, to step back after the professor and BP agreement critic challenged the need to detain one of the two UC Berkeley students handcuffed after they dumped molasses in front of California Hall. A second student, Ali Tonack, was booked into Berkeley city jail. Photo by Richard Brenneman.

from Sf Chron

by reposts Sunday Mar 4th, 2007 5:07 PM


UC Berkeley police arrest an ecology student suspected of pouring a mixture of molasses and vinegar at an entrance to California Hall on Thursday to protest a proposed deal between the university and British Petroleum to develop biofuels. The substance, which a protest leader called "fake oil," was part of a student-led campaign to persuade Chancellor Robert Birgeneau not to sign the $500 million deal. Critics say the deal would put the university on the path of becoming dependent on corporate funding for research. Undergraduate Nathan A. Murthy, 19, and graduate student Ali B. Tonak, 24, were charged with misdemeanors.


2.Cal's biofuel deal challenged on campus
Critics say energy alliance with oil giant BP endangers school's integrity, independence
Rick DelVecchio, Chronicle Staff Writer San Francisco Chronicle (page A - 1), March 8, 2007

Andrew Paul Gutierrez, a 67-year-old professor of ecosystems science in UC Berkeley's College of Natural Resources, has a word for those who believe human ingenuity and productivity are boundless.

He calls them "cornucopians."

He thinks cornucopians are misguided and prone to taking big risks that can backfire.

That's one of the reasons he is upset that the university where he has spent his entire academic life is joining with oil giant BP in a $500 million, 10-year program to discover how to mass-produce clean, safe transportation fuels -- such as ethanol -- from biomass in an environmentally safe and cost-effective way.

The Energy Biosciences Institute is to create high-tech energy farms as productive as oil fields but without the carbon waste that adds to climate change. The harvests would be processed into sugar-based fuels for filling the gas tanks of vehicles.

Institute scientists "will be unified and propelled by a common purpose to solve a global problem of great magnitude and urgency," according to the proposal written by a UC Berkeley-led team and accepted by BP.

The BP deal has been presented as an environmental call to arms, but Gutierrez is among a loose-knit group of faculty members and students not falling in line. The critics don't agree on what they disagree about but share a fervor that contrasts with the administration's self-confidence at landing history's richest academic-industry research partnership.

The heretics fall into three camps: those who question the science program, those who feel the deal taints the university's independence, and those who fear it conflicts with UC Berkeley's time-honored collegial process for hiring and promoting faculty.

They're few in number on a faculty of more than 1,500 but have been so persistent since the deal's announcement five weeks ago, that time had to be set aside for everyone to speak. That time is from 4 to 6 p.m. today at a campus forum sponsored by Cal's Academic Senate.

"These are arguments that have to be taken seriously," said Bill Drummond, a journalism professor who is chairman of the Academic Senate.

To give the sponsors of the BP deal their due, supporters say, leaders of the giant petroleum company are considering the issue of global warming in broad ecological and socioeconomic terms. No previous effort has even attempted such a comprehensive approach.

"I've met a bunch of the VPs at BP," said Chris Somerville, a Stanford professor who is the top candidate for the Energy Biosciences Institute's top job. "They're people like you and me. They're trying to do the right thing. They want the right thing for their children and grandchildren."

Gutierrez, interviewed at his office in Mulford Hall, said he believes it's important to pursue alternative fuels but was hard put to find anything to cheer him up about the BP deal's approach.

"You'd think this proposal is exactly what we needed because it's promising a lot to reduce greenhouse gases," he said. "The problem is, how do you separate the hype from the facts?"

Another reason he's upset is he thinks the deal marks a step backward for the university's intellectual independence.

He criticized the administration for entering into a relationship in which 50 corporate researchers will work hand in hand with university scientists. Gutierrez said partnerships between individual faculty members and corporate sponsors have been common during his career, but a partnership on the institutional level is something new.

"There used to be deals between individual professors and industry -- they would provide funding, and they could provide any kind of relationship you wanted," he said. "But you didn't have people coming in from industry with all the rights of a professor who's been through the academic sieve."

What is being introduced in the BP deal, Gutierrez said, is a public-private hybrid he calls a "corporaversity."

BP's corporate scientists and engineers will be able to profit from what they learn on campus, which is not only normal but also desirable if the research is to have a rapid social impact, according to the sponsors. But they also will be encouraged to embrace campus intellectual life, including, as the BP sponsors suggest, helping design courses, mentor students and promote science careers to schoolkids.

"It's a harbinger," Gutierrez said. "As this big money starts coming in, first we'll become addicted to it, and secondly, in becoming addicted to it, they'll start demanding more things from the university in terms of what the relationship is all about."

Gutierrez, a New Mexico cowboy's son who worked nights at a gas station to help pay his way through college and grad school, comes to his critique as an expert in modeling natural systems. His recent work includes plotting the impact of climate change on the spread of the olive fly, and the ecological backlash from cotton genetically modified to kill bugs.

During his interview with The Chronicle, he returned again and again to the theme that natural systems are all about limits. Modern human systems, on the other hand, are all about consumption. So there's a battle.

Gutierrez does not bet on technology to win the battle. He says biological systems will strain to reach equilibrium and frustrate the cleverest of the cornucopians trying to adjust them to benefit humans' insatiable consumption.

"What do you know about all the pest problems that are going to be created when you start producing these plants that are going to be different?" he asked. "Pretty soon you start making a system that starts out with good intentions but becomes more complicated.

"That's what happened with bioengineered crops. In some areas it simplifies the system. But in others it makes it so complicated."

The biofuels push has been compared with putting a man on the moon. Gutierrez doesn't see the connection.

"As a scientific adventure and quest of man and all that good stuff, it's wonderful," he said, "and I recall exactly where I was when they stepped off onto the moon. This is different. We're messing with the whole environment."

The vision of rolling Midwestern fields of bioengineered fuel crops is, Gutierrez thinks, "nonsense."

He thinks of south-central Brazil, with its sugar-cane plantations in place of what had been a mix of forests and diverse croplands. The cane is harvested to make ethanol, a substitute for fossil fuels in transportation. "It's sugar cane as far as the eye can see," he said. "The rivers run red with the runoff."

He fears more such scenes around the world.

"At a certain point there's a carrying capacity to the environment," he said. "Even if you plant the last hectare with biofuels, the demand keeps growing. Then what?"

E-mail Rick DelVecchio at [email protected]


3.The promise and perils of tech transfer
Universities mull industry partnerships
Tom Abate, Chronicle Staff Writer San Francisco Chronicle, March 7 2007

About 25 years ago, Congress encouraged universities to commercialize federally funded research by allowing both schools and scientists to profit when they patented discoveries and licensed them to private firms.

This week, hundreds of top university officials will gather in San Francisco as the Association of University Technology Managers meets to mull the promise and perils of this process known as technology transfer.

To Bay Area residents, tech transfer is as familiar as the myth of Silicon Valley: Take knowledge, add capital and create startups.

"This is not only good for the country, this is good for the communities around the universities,'' said John Fraser, president of the association and director of tech transfer at Florida State University.

The meeting, which starts tonight and runs through Saturday, comes as the controversy around university-industry partnerships is flaring up again, thanks to the proposed $500 million research partnership between the University of California and British Petroleum to develop fuels.

"I am deeply concerned that universities are continuing to run full speed down a path that is going to destroy the university as an institution for serving the public good,'' said author Jennifer Washburn, whose book title encapsulates her critique -- "University Inc.: The Corporate Corruption of Higher Education."

Even academics who favor tech transfer acknowledge that the practice carries perils such as conflicts of interest. Officials from Harvard, Stanford, the University of California and other top schools are issuing a white paper today that boils down to this: Keep doing tech transfer, but be careful.

"On the one hand, we are very proud of our contributions to the Bay Area and the larger economy that have resulted from Stanford research,'' said Arthur Bienenstock, Stanford vice provost and dean for research and graduate policy, who co-authored the white paper. "On the other hand, we have to be constantly vigilant to ensure that the education of students and high-quality research remain the goals of the university."

Bayh-Dole Act crucial

The prod that drove the ivory tower closer to Wall Street was the Bayh-Dole Act of 1980, which the Economist magazine calls "possibly the most inspired piece of legislation to be enacted in America over the last half-century."

The act said that universities and other federally funded labs owned their discoveries. The law encouraged researchers to commercialize their work by letting both scientists and their institutions share in any profits.

The result has been a burst of academic entrepreneurship that in the Bay Area has spawned not merely companies, but industries. Workstations, scientific visualization, biotechnology, Internet routing and search engines are among the commercial developments that originated with inventions at the region's three premier universities: UC Berkeley, UCSF and Stanford.

"People have heard of the knowledge economy -- and that sounds wonderful -- but they don't know what it means in their everyday lives,'' said Fraser, adding that governors understand that university spin-offs create high-paying jobs.

In a booklet titled "The Better World Report," the association cataloged 100 products that grew out of tech transfer, including a blood-clotting agent discovered at the University of Santa Barbara now carried by Marines in Iraq; drought-resistant grass developed at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln for golf courses and lawns; and a process developed at UC Davis, still undergoing clinical trials, that may yield a new way to detect breast cancer.

But critics warn that the commercial winds blowing over academia have made researchers leery of sharing research, sparked legal battles over discoveries, and rewarded short-term payoffs in institutions that are supposed to take the long-term view.

"The university culture is supposed to be an open culture for sharing cutting-edge ideas that may not have any short-term utility,'' Washburn said, arguing that science is now following the money.

But Regis Kelly, former UCSF executive vice chancellor, challenged "the premise that the culture of the university has changed."

Kelly, who heads a special research institute called QB3 based at the UCSF Mission Bay campus, said QB3's 150 researchers were chosen because their studies were considered commercially relevant. But getting them to pay attention to tech transfer "is like pulling teeth," Kelly said.

Deal prompts misgivings

The deal that crystallized misgivings about university-industry collaborations was the 1998 agreement between UC Berkeley and the Swiss biotechnology firm Novartis. That $25 million deal, which ended in 2003, was intended to develop genetically engineered foods. It sparked campus protests and prompted many inquiries, including one commissioned by UC Berkeley's faculty and conducted by independent researchers at the Michigan State University.

Michigan State University sociologist Larry Busch, who led that inquiry, said the same concerns about conflicts of interest and undue influence raised in the Novartis deal have resurfaced with a proposed $500 million collaboration with British Petroleum. Under that proposal, a consortium of universities and research laboratories led by UC Berkeley will help BP develop clean, renewable fuels. Busch, without passing judgment on the proposal, said: "The general concern I have is that universities over the last 25 years have been more and more squeezed; state appropriations have not kept up with costs."

Washburn, the critic, is blunt: "The problem now is that universities are so desperate for industry money that they are allowing industry to dictate the terms."

On the flip side, tech transfer fans complain that universities can take too long to make deals and ask too high a price for their intellectual property.

"Universities have become, especially from industry's perspective, more difficult to interact with,'' economist Ross DeVol of the Milken Institute told the Scientist magazine in an article titled, "The Trouble With Tech Transfer."

Public universities like UC Berkeley, subject to political oversight, are even more likely to agonize over deals -- before and after they sign on the dotted line -- than are the private schools like Stanford that do not face the same outside scrutiny.

"Berkeley emerged as a lightning rod in part because it is public," said C. Judson King, director of the Center for Studies in Higher Education at UC Berkeley.

"There is a public university role in helping the state to improve economically and socially," King said. "If we can do something with the federal government or BP, or even with Novartis, that makes the lives of Californians better. I think we're fulfilling our mission."

But Miguel Altieri, a professor of insect biology at UC Berkeley's College of Natural Resources, said that when universities take big industry grants, it pushes science down certain avenues of inquiry, while fields that can't make the case for an industrial payoff are likely to wither, irrespective of merit.

"To serve the public that can afford it, that's what these deals do,'' said Altieri, who studies ecological techniques that are not as marketable as patented technologies.

As the tech-transfer tribe gathers here, amidst complaints they're either writing deals too quickly or too slowly, it's easy to believe they could do things better. It's tougher to imagine them not doing such tech transfer at all -- especially now that the practices of university-industry partnerships, encouraged by the Bayh-Dole Act and exemplified in Silicon Valley, are being emulated by ambitious foreign competitors.

"When we developed this legislation, the Japanese and the Germans were eating our lunch," recalled former Indiana Sen. Birch Bayh, who is scheduled to address the association later this week. In a telephone interview from his law offices in Washington, Bayh said the incentives in the act "awakened the American genius that had been slumbering." But, he cautioned, this is no time to rest on laurels.

"Now we have an equally clear threat on the horizon that the Indians and Chinese are following the example we set and trying to make the same connections between industry and research,'' Bayh said. "That's the kind of competition we have to deal with in this day and age."

Chronicle reporter Rick DelVecchio contributed to this report. E-mail Tom Abate at [email protected]

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