The Daily Californian (Berkeley, CA)
UC Berkeley faculty members yesterday called for the formation of an academic oversight committee to advise administrators about the proposed partnership with BP Amoco PLC to create a $500 million biofuel research center.
The senate also dismissed calls from some professors for total restriction of corporate funding.
Nearly 300 people, including about 250 faculty members, filled Boalt Hall’s Booth Auditorium for a special meeting of the campus division of the Academic Senate to consider two resolutions expressing faculty concerns about the BP deal, which some said will tie research too closely with corporate interests.
The senate first considered a resolution put forth by art history professor Anne Wagner that required the campus contract with BP to be available for full consideration by the senate.
Wagner’s resolution, sponsored by 16 other members of the Academic Senate, referenced a 1991 Michigan State University study which cautioned UC Berkeley against entering into large corporate partnerships. The study was written after controversy erupted over a research contract between UC Berkeley‘s College of Natural Resources and pharmaceutical company Novartis.
The resolution’s purpose was to determine whether administrators are considering that study in their BP negotiations, said associate English professor Celeste Langan, who was a sponsor of Wagner’s resolution.
But molecular and cell biology professor Randy Schekman, who introduced a substitute resolution that recognizes the faculty’s right to accept corporate funding for studies, said the Michigan State study is not relevant to the current deal.
“(The study) is not written in stone,” Schekman said, adding that even if the resolution presented by Wagner had passed, he thought Chancellor Robert Birgeneau would have ignored it and it may have led BP to pull out of the contract.
A second resolution calling for an “impartial” faculty committee to oversee the Energy Biosciences Institute was replaced by one calling for a team comprised of four Academic Senate committee chairs to serve as the advisory board.
John Simpson, the stem cell project director for the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights, said the process at the meeting yesterday discouraged faculty members from expressing concerns over the campus negotiations with BP and that he felt the decision to pass the new resolutions “had already been settled in advance.”
Simpson said the deal could threaten UC Berkeley‘s reputation.
“We don’t want to say the university has changed from the state’s premiere institute of higher learning into ‘UCBP,’ ” he said.
Angelica Dongallo covers academics and administration. Contact her at [email protected].