08-30-07 by simpson
Students have returned to college campuses across the country, but there apparently is a delay in the fall semester for Big Oil U’s largest extension campus at the University of California at Berkeley.
As you’ll recall, BP announced with great fanfare last February a plan to fund a $500 million alternative energy research program housed at UC Berkeley, now known as “UC BP.” Collaborating with Berkeley on the Energy Biosciences Institute (EBI) are the National Livermore Laboratory and the University of Illinois.
The competitive award was based on a detailed proposal, but a formal contact still had to be negotiated that among other things would spell out who owns and controls any discoveries that are made as a result of the research. That’s known as intellectual property (IP) policy.
At the time of the announcement most observers expected the contract by May or June. In May EBI officials were predicting a July signing. Some cynics suggested it would certainly happen over the summer, after students, some who had voiced well-reasoned concern and opposition to the plan, had left on vacation. That’s the way it always seemed to go in my college days.
Well, it didn’t happen that way this time. Now I’m told by EBI and Berkeley officials that an agreement might come around Sept. 15 and IP policy is a main sticking point. One official told me, "We have a line in the sand."
Oilwatchdog has not flat-out opposed Big Oil funding of university research. What I’ve said repeatedly is that universities should not sell out academic freedom and their public responsibility to the highest bidder and allow themselves to serve a narrow corporate agenda. Safeguards need to be in place to protect a university’s unique public responsibility.
As I’ve argued in newspaper opinion columns, the University of California should control the direction and the results of the research. Any patented discoveries should be licensed to all comers on a non-exclusive basis. Secret proprietary research should not be allowed on campus. Any BP marketing efforts using the UC name should be approved on a case-by-case basis by the university regents themselves.
What the university officials must understand, as noted in the Statement on Academic Freedom from the First Global Colloquium of University Presidents, is that "the pressures and lures of commercial initiatives and alliances can seriously threaten the autonomy of universities and the academic freedom of faculty and students."
If that recognition and Berkeley officials taking a firm stance on IP issues are the reasons for the delay in reaching agreement with Bumbling Petroleum – BP – that is a good thing, indeed. We’ll all know just how good when the contract is made public.
Meanwhile students are back. They can and should ask university administrators what’s going on — and hold their feet to the fire if it’s needed.