FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Tenure, Censorship and Biotechnology at Berkeley

by IGNACIO CHAPELA

We asked the captain what course
of action he proposed to take toward
a beast so large, terrifying, and unpredictable.
He hesitated to answer, and then said judiciously:

“I think I shall praise it.”

Robert Hass

Beginning at 6 o’clock this morning, as I enter the final days of my contract as a faculty member at the University of California at Berkeley, I intend to mark and celebrate them, by doing what I believe a professor in a public university must do: to further reason and understanding. For the brief time that remains of my terminal contract at Berkeley, I shall sit holding office hours, day and night, outside the doors of California Hall. This is the building housing the Budget Committee of the Academic Senate, and the office of the Chancellor, the two arms of our university governance in charge of my file.

I am saddened by the failure of the administration and the Academic Senate to resolve in a timely fashion whether to grant me tenure at Berkeley. I believe that I have contributed to the mission of the university and my heart and intellect are also vested in its health and growth. All but one of the colleagues who witness my everyday teaching and research in the Department of Environmental Science, Policy and Management have repeatedly stated their support for my tenure, and so have a set of external expert reviewers and the leadership of my College. To the extent that reason can assess, I do not know of any other academic information on the case that might suggest that a negative decision should be reached. Yet as of tonight, well over a year into the part of the process conducted in secret in California Hall, no decision has been made, as far as I am aware. I must therefore conclude that there is another set of criteria that counterweigh the strength of the case, but that such information cannot be publically shared. In the face of such lack of transparency and accountability, I choose to hold office hours in public, in the open, and in the midst of our beautiful campus. I do so in celebration of my vocation and my time at Berkeley, and not in the expectation that such an action will change the course of the decision process, whatever that might be.

It has been suggested that the extraordinary delay in reaching a decision on my tenure case without ostensible reason may be the result of, even retribution for, my advising our campus, academe, the government and the public against dangerous liaisons with the biotechnology industry, as well as my concerns regarding the problems with biotechnology itself. Without doubt, the uncertainty and reproach implicit in the silence on campus surrounding my case has had grave consequences for my professional, public and personal life. But such are the wages of doing work that has significance for the world, and it will be up to those sifting through the files of this case to discern the twists and turns that brought us to this moment, and to pass the judgment of history on the motives and actions of those involved, within and beyond our community. It is difficult to blame otherwise principled individuals for not voicing their best understanding. Fear is justified when even the president of the country equates with criminal acts any questioning of the wisdom of deploying transgenic crops. Against the desire of some to banish critical thinking from the birthplace of the Free Speech Movement, I choose to sit, openly available for discourse, in the heart of our campus.

At least one person has said that I should be banned from the academic system, implying that my work harms the public role of the university as a hothouse for the agbiotech industry. Indeed I have long stood against the folly of planting 100 million acres with transgenic crops each year, without knowing even the simplest consequences of such a massive intervention in the biosphere. An increasing number of scientists seem to be reaching the same position. It seems also true that research in my laboratory has prompted serious public concerns that the industry would rather not address. An industry on the crutches of public subsidy for a quarter of a century, an industry that trembles in the face of the simplest token of precautionary research, is hardly an industry that deserves to carry the public trust, much less our best hope for recovery in a flagging economy. It would seem rational that our university–and the public–should strive to keep an independent source of advice on the wisdom of supporting such an industry. Rationality, however, must take a back seat when the university becomes grafted to a specific industry. Such has increasingly been the case at Berkeley and at other universities.

At a time of rampant obscurantism and irrationality, I am proud of the privilege vested in me by the public as a professor at Berkeley. In fulfillment of the duty attached to that privilege, I intend to share the light of rationality during office hours over the next five days, together with those who might wish to join me.

Fiat lux.

Ignacio H. Chapela is Assistant Professor (Microbial Ecology) Department of Environmental Science, Policy and Management at the University of California at Berkeley.

Logistical details and contacts:

I will sit in an “office” without walls. This means that I will most likely not have direct access to an AC electric wall outlet.

My email address is ichapela@nature.berkeley.edu. In case of server breakdown, please use ihchapela@yahoo.com–email responses may be delayed for some hours.

I will foreseeably be in my “office” 24 hours a day (except for short unavoidable breaks) from Thursday to Monday midnight, circumstances allowing. Three chairs will accommodate myself and two others in this transparent office. Bring your own portable chair if you need to. I hope to be able to offer tea and biscuits, but that is not a promise. These last days have been on the hot side, but with any luck the natural “breathing cycle” of the Bay Area will bring fog relief for at least some of the mornings between Thursday and Monday. At meal times, I will have space for company, although the seating may be less than royal, and the menus are still being planned.

Despite President Bush’s emphatic demands this week, the House has yet to pass the BioShield legislation, and there may be further delays in the Senate. Nevertheless, I am making efforts to comply with the current spirit on our campus and across the nation by surrounding my office with protective, gray, duct tape, for added security. Visitors from Toronto and elsewhere in the world, please note that I will also have protective face masks and rubber gloves at hand.

After midnight on Monday, I will be travelling to the Gen-ecology laboratory in Norway until 22 July. I will be underway for a week, subsequently available via my alternate email account: ihchapela@yahoo.com.

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

Weekend Edition
February 24, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Pierre M. Sprey - Franklin “Chuck” Spinney
Sleepwalking Into a Nuclear Arms Race with Russia
Ajamu Baraka
Malcolm X and Human Rights in the Time of Trumpism: Transcending the Master’s Tools
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Exxon’s End Game Theory
John Laforge
Did Obama Pave the Way for More Torture?
Mike Whitney
McMaster Takes Charge: Trump Relinquishes Control of Foreign Policy 
Paul Street
Liberal Hypocrisy, “Late-Shaming,” and Russia-Blaming in the Age of Trump
Patrick Cockburn
The Coming Decline of US and UK Power
Louisa Willcox
The Endangered Species Act: a Critical Safety Net Now Threatened by Congress and Trump
Vijay Prashad
A Foreign Policy of Cruel Populism
John Chuckman
Israel’s Terrible Problem: Two States or One?
Matthew Stevenson
The Parallax View of Donald Trump
Norman Pollack
Drumbeat of Fascism: Find, Arrest, Deport
Stan Cox
Can the Climate Survive Electoral Democracy? Maybe. Can It Survive Capitalism? No.
Ramzy Baroud
The Trump-Netanyahu Circus: Now, No One Can Save Israel from Itself
Edward Hunt
The United States of Permanent War
David Morgan
Trump and the Left: a Case of Mass Hysteria?
Pete Dolack
The Bait and Switch of Public-Private Partnerships
Mike Miller
What Kind of Movement Moment Are We In? 
Elliot Sperber
Why Resistance is Insufficient
Brian Cloughley
What are You Going to Do About Afghanistan, President Trump?
Binoy Kampmark
Warring in the Oncology Ward
Yves Engler
Remembering the Coup in Ghana
Jeremy Brecher
“Climate Kids” v. Trump: Trial of the Century Pits Trump Climate Denialism Against Right to a Climate System Capable of Sustaining Human Life”
Jonathan Taylor
Hate Trump? You Should Have Voted for Ron Paul
Franklin Lamb
Another Small Step for Syrian Refugee Children in Beirut’s “Aleppo Park”
Ron Jacobs
The Realist: Irreverence Was Their Only Sacred Cow
Andre Vltchek
Lock up England in Jail or an Insane Asylum!
Rev. William Alberts
Grandiose Marketing of Spirituality
Paul DeRienzo
Three Years Since the Kitty Litter Disaster at Waste Isolation Pilot Plant
Eric Sommer
Organize Workers Immigrant Defense Committees!
Steve Cooper
A Progressive Agenda
David Swanson
100 Years of Using War to Try to End All War
Andrew Stewart
The 4CHAN Presidency: A Media Critique of the Alt-Right
Edward Leer
Tripping USA: The Chair
Randy Shields
Tom Regan: The Life of the Animal Rights Party
Nyla Ali Khan
One Certain Effect of Instability in Kashmir is the Erosion of Freedom of Expression and Regional Integration
Rob Hager
The Only Fake News That Probably Threw the Election to Trump was not Russian 
Mike Garrity
Why Should We Pay Billionaires to Destroy Our Public Lands? 
Mark Dickman
The Prophet: Deutscher’s Trotsky
Christopher Brauchli
The Politics of the Toilet Police
Ezra Kronfeld
Joe Manchin: a Senate Republicrat to Dispute and Challenge
Clancy Sigal
The Nazis Called It a “Rafle”
Louis Proyect
Socialism Betrayed? Inside the Ukrainian Holodomor
Charles R. Larson
Review: Timothy B. Tyson’s “The Blood of Emmett Till”
David Yearsley
Founding Father of American Song
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail