Berkeley, CA — Safeguards must be adopted to prevent oil giant BP from using a $500 million research deal to turn Cal Berkeley into “UCBP,” the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights (FTCR) warned today.
Prof. Iganciao Chapela joined FTCR’s John M. Simpson in speaking out against the latest incursion by “Big Oil U.” They said that UC Berkeley must not allow one of California’s leading public universities to be used by an oil company to bolster the company’s public image, a mistake already made by Stanford University. In addition BP must not be allowed to set the research agenda or control research discoveries made in the public interest, FTCR said.
They spoke at a news conference before a special faculty senate meeting at Boalt Hall to consider the BP deal.
“Universities have an obligation to act in the public interest and this is doubly true with a public institution,” said Simpson. “We can’t allow Big Oil, or any other private interest, to subvert the basic mission of a university to meet a narrow corporate agenda.”
UC Berkeley is planning a $500-million research deal with BP aimed at creating new technologies for carbon-neutral fuel. The deal would create the Energy Biosciences Institute. ExxonMobil has a similar deal with Stanford’s Global Climate and Energy Program, funding that research program with a grant of $100 million. The BP/Berkeley deal envisions 50 BP scientists doing proprietary — or secret — research on campus.
FTCR said safeguards must be in place to prevent BP from controlling the research program, winning exclusive patent rights from any research products, and “greenwashing” its image in a PR campaign about the partnership. FTCR is also critical of the secret way the deal’s negotiations have been handled by the university administration.
FTCR and Chapela supported two resolutions supported that were to be introduced at the special faculty meeting. One called for a review of the BP deal and that it be available for consideration by the senate. The second called for the creation of an independent “blue ribbon” committee to provide oversight of any deal with BP and to develop rules to govern future contracts between the university and for-profit funding sources.
“Passage of these two resolutions will stop the headlong race on the part of the administration and some faculty members to embrace BP unquestioningly, with open arms,” said Simpson. “Should the resolutions fail, the UC Board of Regents must step in and act in the public’s true interest.”
Chapela is a microbial ecologist and mycologist. He is an associate professor of Environmental Science, Policy and Management at UC Berkeley and has been a critic of the university’s ties to the biotechnology industry
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