Page One

UC Student Senate Urges Caution on BP Contract

By Richard Brenneman
Friday April 27, 2007

Members of the Associated Students of UC Berkeley’s Senate voted Wednesday night to urge administrators to hold off on signing a $500 million contract with BP (British Petroleum) until their concerns have been addressed. 

The grant would create and fund the Energy Biosciences Institute, to be staffed by scientists from the university, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and the University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana in a push to create transportation fuels from plants. 

Students asked campus administrators not to sign unless the agreement received “a thorough and ongoing external review by experts who have considerable professional and academic expertise in the fields of ethics, intellectual property rights, public-private conflicts of interest, and the social and environmental impacts of the proposed research.”  

The students also asked that the results of the review be published before any contract was signed with the British oil company. 

Their vote contrasts sharply with the two-to-one majority of faculty members attending the April 19 Academic Senate meeting who resisted a similar call for oversight. 

That vote specially barred any mention of the recommendations of the review of the university’s last controversial academic/corporate contract, the 1998 Novartis Agreement. 

Microbiologist Randy Schekman, sponsor of the winning Academic Senate resolutions, provided for an oversight group comprised of four of the senate’s committee chairs. 

That committee would serve in an advisory capacity, reporting to Chancellor Robert Birgeneau, the project’s most outspoken backer and a harsh critic of any effort to rein in corporate funding of university research. 

Their charge is also much less specific than that called for by the students. 

The student senate resolution was adopted without opposition, said Jamie Tzeng, a member of the student group, who attended the meeting. 

A similar resolution had already been passed by the students in the university’s Graduate Assembly April 7, which also sought to have graduate students included on the panel. 

Meanwhile, critics of the BP proposal continue with their program of teach-ins and other activities. One teach-in was held Thursday night and another is planned for next Wednesday (May 2) at the Hillside Club, 2286 Cedar St. 

That meeting will feature presentations by science journalist Jennifer Washburn, three UC Berkeley faculty—Professors Ignacio Chapela, Carl Hayden and Jean Lave—and, by phone from Brazil, James Thorlby of the Pastoral Land Commission and Hillary Lehr, a student and slam poet.