Santa Monica, CA — 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, the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights warned today.
FTCR also called on Stanford to end control over its alternative fuel research by the world’s largest oil company.
UC Berkeley is planning a $500-million research deal with BP aimed at creating new technologies for carbon-neutral fuel. ExxonMobil has a similar deal with Stanford’s Global Climate and Energy Program, funding that research program with a grant of $100 million.
Already ExxonMobil, known for undermining scientists who linked greenhouse gases to global warming, is touting its relationship with Stanford in a major advertising campaign.
FTCR wrote to members of the UC Board of Regents and UC Berkeley (UC President Robert Dynes and UC Berkeley Chancellor Robert Birgeneau) today asking the officials to nix the deal if BP insisted upon control of the program, exclusive patent rights from any research products, and the ability to advertise about the partnership.
Read the letter to UC Berkeley & UC Board of Regents.
“The University of California must not allow itself to be, as Stanford has become, a green wash for one of the world’s largest oil companies,” wrote FTCR’s Jamie Court and John M. Simpson. “BP faces serious criticism and public relations challenges about its negligence in maintaining its Prudhoe Bay pipeline in Alaska and in protecting its workers in a Texas refinery. The University of California should make certain that its good name is not used as a public relations ploy for BP‘s attempts to escape public accountability for its actions.
“If BP and the UC decide upon a partnership, the University of California should control the direction and the results of that research, as well has making sure that BP cannot use the University of California’s name in a marketing program that props up BP‘s image and eviscerates the University of California’s integrity.”
“ExxonMobil wrapped itself in the mantle of one of California’s leading research institutions and is milking that image for all its worth,” said Simpson, an FTCR consumer advocate. “We cannot allow BP to do the same thing with California’s premier public university.”
The San Jose Mercury reported Sunday that movie producer Steve Bing, a Stanford alumnus, protested by canceling $2.5 million of his $25 million pledge to the school. FTCR wrote to Stanford President John Hennessy today protesting the Stanford program and calling for the university to make the results of its research public and end Exxon‘s control of the program.
Read the letter to Stanford.
Exxon receives five-year, exclusive rights to any discoveries resulting from the research. The program is overseen by a management committee comprised of the sponsors. The university has no vote on the committee, meaning that the research agenda could be set by the sponsoring firms.
“To ensure that the public benefits from this partnership — not just ExxonMobil and the other sponsors — we call on you to make the research immediately and publicly available,” Simpson and FTCR President Jamie Court wrote to Hennessy. “Furthermore, the project must be controlled independently by scientists and not be subject to ultimate control by corporate sponsors with their own agendas.”
Questions remain about control of discoveries at the planned BP-Berkeley program. Nor is it clear who will manage the research institute that is created.
“We’re concerned by the secrecy that surrounded the Berkeley negotiations,” said Simpson. “Private institutions like Stanford ultimately can do whatever they want, but we can’t allow our top public institutions to sell their brand names to the highest corporate bidder to fulfill a corporate agenda.”
FTCR noted that last week both Stanford and California joined other major research universities in issuing a white paper meant to protect the public interest when universities grant the rights to their latest scientific advances to companies. The paper says: “Universities have a social compact with society. As educational and research institutions, it is our responsibility to generate and transmit knowledge, both to our students and the wider society. We have a specific and central role in helping advance knowledge in many fields and to manage the deployment of resulting innovations for the public benefit.”
“We call on Stanford and Berkeley to live up to that social compact,” said Simpson. “Giving greedy oil companies the opportunity to greenwash their deservedly poor public image certainly doesn’t provide any public benefit.”
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The Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights (FTCR) is the state’s leading consumer watchdog group. For more information, visit us on the web at: http://www.ConsumerWatchdog.org.