Public Comment

Commentary: Time to Re-Name the University

By Dale Becknell
Friday April 27, 2007

In the spirit of cities rolling out the welcome mat for private stadiums, a la Pac Bell Park and McAfee Coliseum, sometimes at the expense of funding such secondary needs as schools, let’s have a contest for renaming the UC Berkeley. British Petroleum has made a strong bid for renaming the school the University of British Petroleum. But that’s a little over the top—maybe we should just put department names up for sale, and at least keep the UCB acronym for the present.  

But in deference to the university PR department (funded by little ol’ you and me and the students) working feverishly to get the half-billion-dollar BP contract, perhaps something like “University for Corporate Bidding” would entice more special interests to fund academic freedom, as defined by shill man Randy Scheckman. He’s the guy who, in the upstanding tradition of Joseph McCarthy, would misconstrue something a colleague critical of the oil company deal said, and have him fired. Having proclaimed this (according to the Daily Planet’s 4-20-07 article) at the Academic Senate meeting rubber stamping the contract with BP, whatever it says, Scheckman reportedly got a round of applause from those faculty heroically defending academic freedom (for those toeing the line anyhow, or “bottom line” from the boardrooms, as it were). It seems Mr. Scheckman took offense at Professor Ignacio Chapela referring to the oil company research deal as prostitution. As a scientist disciplined in reporting data accurately, Scheckman found it more convenient to interpret Mr. Chapela’s comment as calling the chancellor a prostitute. I know its been a while since all you rational professors took the SAT, so I looked it up...“prostitution” means “base or unworthy use, as of talent or ability.” Let’s brush up on our analogies here, too: a person is to selling her/his body as a university is to selling its...? You’re right. Not applicable—a “working” person makes no pretense as to what she/he is doing.  

Another candidate for renaming would be “University of Corrupt Boneheads.” Reportedly it takes about as much energy to convert plants to liquid fuel as it yields, slightly less or even more depending on how comprehensive you choose to be in your analysis. I don’t have a PhD, but I was awake during arithmetic class. If we burn one energy unit of oil to make one energy unit of ethanol, we get one minus one, or zero energy gain. Then we can take our unit of ethanol and burn it to make another unit of ethanol, which we’ll need to burn to produce another unit, ad infinitum. Is there a quicker way to burn more energy to heat the atmosphere than this? Of course it will require a gargantuan expenditure of capital to get there, but who needs more windmills or solar tech? Then there is the matter of converting food crops to ethanol crops, which will necessitate getting any remaining rain forests out of the way and using any unfarmed waterways for new corporate monocultures of artificially mutated plants. More petrochemical fertilizers will be needed to replenish newly depleted soils, and new roads and fleets of trucks to transport it all. Presumably what microbiologist Scheckman and his new bosses think will make all of this work will be to create genetically engineered bugs that release enzymes that will break down plants far more aggressively than any that nature saw fit to evolve. Thank you, God and independent researchers, but you’ve done your part, and you’re fired! BP and associates will take it from here. 


Dale Becknell is a Berkeley resident.