05-29-07 by Simpson
Chevron announced another extension campus of “Big Oil U” today saying that it would enter a research deal with Texas A&M Agriculture and Engineering BioEnergy Alliance.
They say they plan to accelerate the production and conversion of crops for manufacturing ethanol and other biofuels from cellulose.
As reported in Inside Greentech, both the oil giant and the university officials are playing their cards close to the vest. Neither would say how much money Chevron plans to pump into the deal.
Details of who will control any research results were vague as well.
Once again, here’s what’s wrong with Big Oil U: Big Oil companies are pumping money into university research projects across the country. By academic standards the sums are huge. For instance, BP wants to put $500 million into the UC Berkeley deal; ExxonMobil has pledged $100 million to Stanford and Chevron has $25 million deal at UC Davis. To the oil giants, the money is pocket change.
In return for the cash the companies set research agendas and get preference in controlling any discoveries — thereby locking up future rights to alternative fuels and perpetuating the stranglehold they now have on the gasoline market. And, too frequently, they trade on the university’s good name, citing the research programs to “greenwash” their dirty corporate image.
In sum, Big Oil U subverts the underpinnings of academic integrity as the institutions allow themselves to become mere outsourced oil company research departments.
Yes, Big Oil ought to be required to fund alternative energy research. However, the research ought to be done in the companies’ own laboratories or if the money goes to universities, safeguards need to be implemented to protect the schools’ academic freedom and integrity.
Four points are essential:
- The university must maintain complete control of the research agenda and the research results.
- Any patented discoveries should be licensed on a nonexclusive basis to all comers.
- No proprietary research should be done on campus.
- Any PR campaign about a university research project by an oil company must be approved by a university’s highest authorities on a case-by-case basis.
Without essential safeguards in place, the universities are simply selling out to the highest corporate bidder. Taking Big Oil’s money may appear an expedient course to cash-strapped universities. In the long run, however, it undermines everything universities are supposed to stand for.