The Daily Californian
In a letter sent Friday to the UC Board of Regents, three national organizations urged the campus to delay sealing its $500 million partnership with energy giant BP, saying the public has not had a chance to review the contract before its finalization.
The letter — signed by directors of Greenpeace USA, the Foundation for Taxpayer & Consumer Rights and Washington, D.C.-based public awareness organization Essential Action — warned that the agreement with BP should be scrutinized for public comment to preserve academic freedom on campus.
“The prospect of giant carbon polluters directing research related to and gaining control of key energy technologies is very troubling, especially when the research is conducted at, and the technologies are developed in collaboration with, public institutions,” the letter states.
UC spokesperson Chris Harrington said university officials are reviewing the letter.
Since it was announced in February, the deal — which would establish an alternative energy research institute on campus with scientists from UC Berkeley, BP and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign — has drawn criticism from students, professors and community members who say its planning process lacks transparency.
“The letter reflects many of the concerns that we’ve been raising for almost a year now, especially the great concern of such a contract on such a huge scale between a multinational, private oil company and public university that’s supposed to research for public good,” said Ali Tonak, a member of the student-driven coalition Stop BP-Berkeley.
Nine months since the deal was first announced, numerous delays have kept the stakeholders from signing the final contract.
Tonak called the delays a “perfect indicator of how wrong this contract is.”
“Who knows why what’s going on, what are the problems?” he asked. “We as students at this university have a right to know about this.”
Campus spokesperson Robert Sanders said officials are “pretty close” to signing off on the Energy Biosciences Institute by end of the month, adding that the contract so far is not substantially different from the initial proposal.
“We feel that the process that this contract is going through was reviewed by lots of people in the Berkeley community and office of the president,” Sanders said.
He noted that campus officials posted the proposal for the Energy Biosciences Institute online shortly after its announcement.
But John Simpson, consumer advocate for the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights, said he is concerned the final contractual terms could let corporate interests taint UC Berkeley research.
“We feel it was done with too much behind closed doors, when you have something like this which has the potential of completely altering the face of public education,” Simpson said. “There’s the notion that 50 BP scientists are going to be able to come onto campus and public facilities and do secret propriety research that they won’t share with anybody.”
Contact Stephanie M. Lee at [email protected].