9-26-04 by simpson
ABC’s Boston Legal likes to base its plots on real life and the plot of last night’s season premier was drawn from Big Oil U campuses at Stanford University and UC Berkeley. I didn’t watch the show, but this e-mail from my colleague Doug Heller outlines the plot. The show pretty much parallels real events at Stanford where a donor withdrew a pledge of $2.5 million because of ExxonMobil’s activities as well as BP’s whopping $500 million to create the Energy Biosciences Institute at Berkeley. Here’s Heller’s summary:
“Lawyer Shirley Schmidt (Candace Bergen) is sued by Stanford after withdrawing a $3 million pledge to an alternative energy research program created at the university. She withdrew when she learned that Exxon made a $100 million pledge. Stanford claimed breach of contract. Schmidt’s lawyer, Alan Shore (James Spader), argued that the Bush administration has filled 100 environmental posts with people from the oil and pollution industry and now the oil industry is going after the last bastion of independent thought, America’s universities.
“Shore notes (twice in the episode, actually) that it’s not just Stanford, but also Berkeley accepted $500 million from a major oil company and Princeton has also accepted funds. And there were several oblique references to BP (or coincidences) ‘Big Pollution, Big Politics.’ When an expert for the defense took the stand, he argued that much of the research was not really for developing alternative fuel but more geared toward finding new oil reserves (I missed part of this segment, so it is possible that I am describing this incorrectly).
“When Stanford’s witness took the stand, he said something to the effect of: we take the money and do what we want and are not subject to the interests of our donors. Stanford’s lawyer also pointed out that when these billion dollar companies who we all beat up on for polluting give $100 million to study alternative fuel we should be thrilled. Alan Shore retorted that corporate contributions, like political contributions are not made without a motive, and a selfish motive at that (my paraphrase, can’t recall exactly how he put it). In the end the judge ruled against Stanford noting that there was no meeting of the minds and therefore no breach of contract. And Alan Shore (Spader) had sex with Stanford’s lawyer in the elevator. Three times.”
In case you’ve forgotten, here’s the real story: Movie producer Steve Bing rescinded a pledge of $2.5 million when ExxonnMobil started touting its ties to Stanford’s Global Climate & Energy Project, which it funds to the tune of $100 million. The University didn’t sue Bing for the money, but claims the oil giant doesn’t influence the research. In fact the program is governed by a management committee comprising the sponsors. The university doesn’t even have a vote. The committee can decide which discoveries merit seeking a patent. Exxon and fellow corporate sponsors get exclusive rights for five years to patented discoveries made by the project’s researchers.
And at Berkeley, the whopping $500 million deal that threatens to transform one of the nation’s premier public universities into “UC-BP” is nearing completion. When first announced last February estimates were the that the contract would be signed in a matter of months. By May the date had been moved to July. Now, I’ve been told that it could happen by the second week of October. Could it be that the widespread outrage the deal prompted inside and outside the university has had an impact? We’ll know when we see in the contract who controls the research agenda and any discoveries that are made at the Energy Biosciences Institute.
There are no elevator scenes that I know of in real life, but Alan Shore’s analysis about corporate contributions is spot on. Contributions are not made without a motive.