Consumer group urges Cal to forge a tough deal with partner BP;

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UC warned to keep its name out of corporate advertising

The San Francisco Chronicle

Berkeley, CA — UC Berkeley should make the toughest possible bargain with its new energy research partner BP to protect public access to research findings and guard the university’s name from being used in corporate advertising, a consumer watchdog group said Monday.

In a letter to UC officials, the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights cited a similar energy research pact between ExxonMobil and Stanford University.

ExxonMobil has used its association with Stanford in corporate publicity — a situation UC must avoid repeating at all costs, the group said.

The group also complained that the governance and research licensing arrangements in the energy bargain at Stanford favor the corporate sponsor. ExxonMobil and other sponsors “can set the entire research agenda,” the Santa Monica-based group said.

A Stanford spokeswoman said the consumer group didn’t know what it was talking about.

“The claim that Stanford has lost any academic autonomy as a result of sponsored research is preposterous on its face,” spokeswoman Elaine Ray said. “Research under our policies is driven by faculty interest, initiative and direction. We have an ironclad policy that requires the results of research be made public and not be subject to approval or review of any sponsor.”

The watchdog group sent its letter about the $500 million BP deal to UC President Robert Dynes, UC Berkeley Chancellor Robert Birgeneau and individual members of UC’s governing Board of Regents.

“We think any ads about this program need to be approved by the Regents on a case-by-case basis,” said John Simpson, who co-wrote the letter with Jamie Court, the consumer group’s president. “The other thing is — it has to be crystal-clear who’s setting the research agenda.”

“UC is the taxpayers’ brand, and BP should not be able to use this to greenwash their problems,” Court said. “BP has some (public relations) disasters that UC can help it with to the tune of $500 million.”

A BP spokesman, Ronnie Chappell, said the company will not run advertising about the partnership to which the host institutions object. “When the agreement is final, we will have more to say about the future,” he said.

BP‘s Energy Biosciences Institute, to be in Berkeley, will seek scientific breakthroughs leading to mass production of liquid biofuels for use in U.S. transportation. It will bring together 50 scientists from BP and 100 from UC Berkeley, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

The agreement is being negotiated. Some UC Berkeley faculty complain that the university administration has not adequately explained the deal and argue that faculty members should have a role in monitoring the partnership.

UC Berkeley officials have characterized the deal as a standard industry-sponsored research agreement and stringently defended the rights of interested faculty members to participate in it.

At a faculty forum last week, political science and business ethics Professor David J. Vogel gave BP a positive score on corporate responsibility: “On balance the things BP has done well are likely to be more important, more enduring, more significant and more consequential than the things it has done poorly.”

Consumer Watchdog
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