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:
June 30, 2016
Richard Moser
Clinton and Trump, Fear and Fascism
Pepe Escobar
The Three Harpies are Back!
Ramzy Baroud
Searching for a ‘Responsible Adult’: ‘Is Brexit Good for Israel?’
Dave Lindorff
What is Bernie Up To?
Thomas Barker
Saving Labour From Blairism: the Dangers of Confining the Debate to Existing Members
Jan Oberg
Why is NATO So Irrational Today?
John Stauber
The Debate We Need: Gary Johnson vs Jill Stein
Steve Horn
Obama Administration Approved Over 1,500 Offshore Fracking Permits
Rob Hager
Supreme Court Legalizes Influence Peddling: McDonnell v. United States
Norman Pollack
Economic Nationalism vs. Globalization: Janus-Faced Monopoly Capital
Binoy Kampmark
Railroaded by the Supreme Court: the US Problem with Immigration
Howard Lisnoff
Of Kiddie Crusades and Disregarding the First Amendment in a Public Space
Vijay Prashad
Economic Liberalization Ignores India’s Rural Misery
Caroline Hurley
We Are All Syrians
June 29, 2016
Diana Johnstone
European Unification Divides Europeans: How Forcing People Together Tears Them Apart
Andrew Smolski
To My Less-Evilism Haters: A Rejoinder to Halle and Chomsky
Jeffrey St. Clair
Noam Chomsky, John Halle and a Confederacy of Lampreys: a Note on Lesser Evil Voting
David Rosen
Birth-Control Wars: Two Centuries of Struggle
Sheldon Richman
Brexit: What Kind of Dependence Now?
Yves Engler
“Canadian” Corporate Capitalism
Lawrence Davidson
Return to the Gilded Age: Paul Ryan’s Deregulated Dystopia
Priti Gulati Cox
All That Glitters is Feardom: Whatever Happens, Don’t Blame Jill Stein
Franklin Lamb
About the Accusation that Syrian and Russian Troops are Looting Palmyra
Binoy Kampmark
Texas, Abortion and the US Supreme Court
Anhvinh Doanvo
Justice Thomas’s Abortion Dissent Tolerates Discrimination
Victor Grossman
Brexit Pro and Con: the View From Germany
Manuel E. Yepe
Brazil: the Southern Giant Will Have to Fight
Rivera Sun
The Nonviolent History of American Independence
Adjoa Agyeiwaa
Is Western Aid Destroying Nigeria’s Future?
Jesse Jackson
What Clinton Should Learn From Brexit
Mel Gurtov
Is Brexit the End of the World?
June 28, 2016
Jonathan Cook
The Neoliberal Prison: Brexit Hysteria and the Liberal Mind
Paul Street
Bernie, Bakken, and Electoral Delusion: Letting Rich Guys Ruin Iowa and the World
Anthony DiMaggio
Fatally Flawed: the Bi-Partisan Travesty of American Health Care Reform
Mike King
The “Free State of Jones” in Trump’s America: Freedom Beyond White Imagination
Antonis Vradis
Stop Shedding Tears for the EU Monster: Brexit, the View From the Peloponnese
Omar Kassem
The End of the Atlantic Project: Slamming the Brakes on the Neoliberal Order
Binoy Kampmark
Brexit and the Neoliberal Revolt Against Jeremy Corbyn
Doug Johnson Hatlem
Alabama Democratic Primary Proves New York Times’ Nate Cohn Wrong about Exit Polling
Ruth Hopkins
Save Bear Butte: Mecca of the Lakota
Celestino Gusmao
Time to End Impunity for Suharto’’s Crimes in Indonesia and Timor-Leste
Thomas Knapp
SCOTUS: Amply Serving Law Enforcement’s Interests versus Society’s
Manuel E. Yepe
Capitalism is the Opposite of Democracy
Winslow Myers
Up Against the Wall
Chris Ernesto
Bernie’s “Political Revolution” = Vote for Clinton and the Neocons
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail