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Berkeley faculty critical of BP deal / An unstable concoction of interests (9/3/2007)

1.BERKELEY UC faculty critical of BP deal - San Frabcisco Chronicle
2.An Unstable Concoction of Interests - Tad Patzek, Daily Californian

EXTRACTS: UC Berkeley's $500 million energy research deal with oil giant BP took a pounding at a faculty forum Thursday, with a host of speakers critical of the unprecedented partnership -- some bitingly so. (item 1)

...the chosen candidate to run the Berkeley side of the institute is Dr. Chris Somerville, CEO of Mendel Biotechnologies. Mendel Biotech is "completely aligned" (their own wording) with Monsanto and Savia Ltd.

Dr. Somerville's company has received $46,000,000 from Monsanto and Savia to conduct research on genetically modified plants. If the BP-UC Berkeley contract were signed, Dr. Somerville would be busy genetically modifying plants at UC Berkeley to benefit Monsanto, DuPont, Savia and BP, while his wife, Dr. Shauna Somerville, would participate in finding new powerful pesticides and herbicides to protect the genetically modified plants from the environment. This effort would be led by another UC Berkeley professor, Brian Staskawicz, also with Mendel Biotechnologies.

To finish the job, the campus would register the new agrochemicals on behalf of the Somervilles, thus unburdening the corporate customers and producers from legal liabilities... (item 2)

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1.BERKELEY UC faculty critical of BP deal
Professors rail on lack of transparency, academic freedom
Rick DelVecchio, Chronicle Staff Writer SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE, March 9 2007
http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2007/03/09/BAGREOIB201.DTL

UC Berkeley's $500 million energy research deal with oil giant BP took a pounding at a faculty forum Thursday, with a host of speakers critical of the unprecedented partnership -- some bitingly so.

The forum, sponsored by Cal's Academic Senate, was the first gathering of campus promoters, skeptics and curious onlookers since the deal was announced on Feb. 1.

The result was a spirited exchange that drew more than 250 people and shifted the focus of the energy deal from the scientific challenge and social mission of creating alternate fuel sources to what it means for the values and culture of the world's top public university.

The deal provides for $50 million a year in research spending to be shared by UC Berkeley, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and BP.

The money will fund a broad range of research aimed at creating new technologies for carbon-neutral liquid fuels, such as ethanol. The sponsors stressed Thursday that the research will include a parallel analysis of the environmental and socio-economic problems related to a major shift in fuel consumption patterns worldwide.

The meeting put top university officials, including Chancellor Robert Birgeneau, on the defensive as critics said the administration has jeopardized faculty trust by failing to adequately explain the implications of the complex deal for academic freedom and for the university's image.

Anthropology Professor Paul Rabinow cited the 1998-2003 research deal between Swiss biotech firm Novartis and Cal's Department of Plant and Microbial Biology. That deal, which provided for $5 million a year from 1998 to 2003, was intended to develop genetically engineered foods. It sparked campus protests and was criticized at the time by faculty members who felt it was implemented without collegial debate.

"The way the university handled it was completely, recklessly stupid," Rabinow said.

The same mistakes are being repeated with the BP deal, he said.

"It should have been transparent, there should have been consultation," he said. "This is silly. You should have given us more time to debate this."

Art history Professor Tim Clark voiced deep misgivings about the lack of discussion on the conflicts that may occur in a research agreement between a public university and private corporation.

"The tension between one imperative and the other ought to be explicit in whatever deal the university strikes," he said. "The deal ought to be open to inspection."

Faculty governance should have a place of power in the arrangement, he said.

"The ongoing research program of the university should be as relentless in the pursuit of (Cal's) interests as (BP) will continue to be in its," he said.

Charles Schwartz, an emeritus professor of physics, said the Academic Senate should appoint a committee to oversee the deal.

Schwartz also challenged an earlier remark by Jay Keasling, a professor of bioengineering and chemical engineering and a key faculty supporter of the BP deal, that researchers can't afford to fail on a project of such magnitude.

"What the hell kind of scientific attitude is that?" Schwartz asked.

The forum opened with presentations by Keasling and five other panelists, followed by remarks by Birgeneau and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory Director Steven Chu.

The other panelists were Shankar Sastry, director of UC Berkeley's Center for Information Technology in the Interest of Society; Beth Burnside, vice chancellor for research and a professor of cell and developmental biology; Ignacio Chapela, an assistant professor of microbial ecology; David J. Vogel, a professor of political science and business ethics; and Robert Reich, a professor of public policy and labor secretary under former President Bill Clinton.

The forum was unofficial, and no votes were taken.

Reich listed five challenges such arrangements pose for academic freedom. He noted that although standard safeguards are in place to protect the university's academic integrity, the test is how well the safeguards perform in a deal of such a large scale.

How well they are managed with BP "will determine if this deal will be a huge feather in Berkeley's cap or a huge noose around Berkeley's neck," he said.

Burnside said the deal came together at "warp speed" last fall.

"Our objective was to treat this as an ordinary, though a little bit oversized, industry-sponsored research project," she said. "All the procedures we followed are standard."

Birgeneau said the overwhelming response he has received about the deal has been positive.

He took issue with critics who would block researchers who took the initiative to seek BP's support in pursuing their chosen work.

"The idea that any person in our university would try to inhibit, prevent them, from doing their research because they don't like the source of their funding -- I consider that to be abhorrent and to violate the basic principles of academic freedom," he said.

In the open forum, anthropology Professor Charles Briggs responded: "I'm baffled by the logic of your argument. We're talking about a structural issue."

Birgeneau then underlined his position. "Those faculty need to pursue their research goals," he said.

E-mail Rick DelVecchio at rdelvecchio@sfchronicle.com

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2.An Unstable Concoction of Interests
Tadeusz W. Patzek
The Daily Californian, March 9 2007
http://www.dailycal.org/sharticle.php?id=23751

In 1988 BP Amoco PLC became the first major oil company to destroy its U.S. research center. In 1998 BP acquired Amoco and in 2000 Arco, and proceeded to destroy their research centers too. Among the thousands of people who lost their jobs in both mergers were most of the acquired researchers. BP was not alone in raiding its precious resources and exchanging them for cash. I left the venerable Shell Development in 1989, the year it began falling apart; soon thereafter it disappeared altogether. This group gave us Hubbert's peak, modern geophysics, 3D seismic data acquisition, petrophysics, and computer memory, the patent to which was sold to a typewriter company called IBM for one dollar. Chancellor Robert Birgeneau and Steve Chu, director of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, both boast about their AT&T Bell Labs heritage, yet we do not hear that this once formidable laboratory was spun off by AT&T around 1995, and became a mere shadow of itself within five years.

After dismantling their own idea-breeding grounds, large corporations in need of research expertise must invade public institutions and "extract value" from them. Their strategy, to direct the vital functions of the university to further their corporate goals, is analogous to that of cancer or viruses. Like their biological analogs, these invader corporations alter and often destroy their hosts. Many juicy examples litter the historical record, but now UC Berkeley is to be altered irreversibly through the BP-Berkeley Energy Biosciences Institute.

BP is eager to place 50 of its own researchers in UC Berkeley. It is doubtful that BP alone has people to fill these positions, but researchers can probably be extracted from their business partners. These BP-related employees would be housed in buildings funded and equipped by the public. The public would then be blocked from entering the BP-occupied buildings. Most information would flow through and be filtered by the BP personnel and their UC Berkeley affiliates, who would need to sign non-disclosure agreements, making it impossible to distinguish between their private and public roles.

For example, the chosen candidate to run the Berkeley side of the institute is Dr. Chris Somerville, CEO of Mendel Biotechnologies. Mendel Biotech is "completely aligned" (their own wording) with Monsanto and Savia Ltd. Monsanto controls most sales of GMO seeds worldwide. Savia is the world's largest dealer of non-commodity crops: trees, flowers, vegetables, grasses, etc., and is deeply vested in GMO manipulations. Dr. Somerville's company has received $46,000,000 from Monsanto and Savia to conduct research on genetically modified plants. If the BP-UC Berkeley contract were signed, Dr. Somerville would be busy genetically modifying plants at UC Berkeley to benefit Monsanto, DuPont, Savia and BP, while his wife, Dr. Shauna Somerville, would participate in finding new powerful pesticides and herbicides to protect the genetically modified plants from the environment. This effort would be led by another UC Berkeley professor, Brian Staskawicz, also with Mendel Biotechnologies.

To finish the job, the campus would register the new agrochemicals on behalf of the Somervilles, thus unburdening the corporate customers and producers from legal liabilities. As it may take decades to find out all deleterious effects of the new GMOs and their associated field poisons, these liabilities may be in the hundreds of millions of dollars.

So if you think that Berkeley is getting a good deal here, think thrice or more, as this is how many times the public will pay for the activities of the happy new BP, UC Berkeley, Monsanto, Savia, DuPont, (and Cargill, and Mendel and Amyris) family. In the words of the social-sciences leader of the proposal, professor Dan Kammen: "new ecosystem of companies will be generated" by the deal.

What about the science of it all, you may ask. Well, briefly put, the Earth is too small to deliver the grandiose promises made by some of our faculty and administrators. Genetically altered organisms will be released into the global environment, probably starting from the poor tropical countries with no controls, but plenty of land and solar radiation. If we are lucky, these GMOs will die quickly outside of their controlled environments. If we are not so lucky, the Earth may be a different planet.

So cheers everyone, let's drink to this fabulous deal that would help the campus become a better corporation and a much worse public university. But if UC Berkeley becomes yet another corporation, will there be another great public university to take its place?

Tadeusz W. Patzek is professor of civil and environmental engineering at UC Berkeley. Reply to opinion@dailycal.org

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