There have been encouraging and significant developments in the tenure case
of Prof. Chapela. The release of two major reports, and key articles
covering them, have appeared in the last weeks. They further increase the
pressure on the university administration to finally grant Prof. Chapela a
fair tenure review. Due to reports and articles such as these, pressure from
the public letter (which many of you signed), Prof. Chapela's two civil
suits, and more, the university is beginning to budge. The upper
administration is finally showing signs that it is willing to enter into
discussions with Prof. Chapela.
As was requested in the public letter, sent to Chancellor Robert Berdahl in
May, the UC Berkeley Academic Senate Privilege and Tenure Committee is
conducting an investigation into the tenure case. An interim report,
released June 28, concludes that Prof. Chapela's rights may have been
violated when his tenure was delayed in an "unjustified" manner and
ultimately denied. It also concludes that Prof. Jasper Rine, a key member of
the one body to recommend against tenure, did have conflicts of interest. A
brief article from Nature, below and at
http://www.chapelatenure.org/index.asp?action=nature040805 , describes the
A two-year investigation into the research contract between
Novartis/Syngenta and Berkeley's College of Natural Resources - of which
Prof. Chapela has been publicly critical - concludes that "there is little
doubt that the UCB-N agreement played a role in" Prof. Chapela's denial of
tenure. It further asserts that there was likely a conflict of interest
among administrators, many of whom pushed fervently for the contract,
regarding the tenure review process. An article from the Chronicle of Higher
Education is at the end of this email, and available online at
http://www.chapelatenure.org/index.asp?action=chronicle070730 , and the
complete report is at
.pdf (1.4 MB PDF file).
In addition, a new Chancellor has been selected. Robert J. Birgeneau, a
physicist, president of the University of Toronto, and an old friend of UC
President Robert Dynes, will assume the position on October 1. I plan on
sending him a copy the public letter and other materials around that time.
Background information is available at http://www.chapelatenure.org . Please
forward this email to your friends and colleagues who may be interested.
They can join the mailing list at the website.
- Jesse Reynolds
Campaign for Chapela Tenure
[log in to unmask]
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Review of tenure refusal uncovers conflicts of interest
Nature 430, 598 (05 August 2004)
[SAN DIEGO] The academic rights of an ecologist at the University of
California, Berkeley, may have been violated when he was denied tenure last
year, according to a report from the academic senate.
Ignacio Chapela was an outspoken critic of Berkeley's controversial
academic-industrial partnership with the Swiss agribiotech firm Syngenta,
which ended last year (see right). He was also the lead author of a disputed
paper in Nature in which he asserted that genes from genetically modified
crops had flowed into Mexican maize, and had become scattered throughout the
genome (D. Quist and I. H. Chapela Nature 414, 541-543; 2001). After a
storm of criticism about the paper, Nature withdrew its support for the
article, but the authors stand by their research.
Against this background, Chapela was denied tenure at Berkeley's College of
Natural Resources in November 2003 (see Nature 426, 591; 2003). He appealed.
The resulting report, issued on 28 June, claims that Jasper Rine, a
geneticist at the university who sat on a key committee reviewing Chapela's
tenure, had conflicts of interest. It says that Rine had financial dealings
with biotech firms, oversaw the Syngenta agreement and had cited Chapela's
Nature paper as an example of poor science in one of his classes. Both the
dean of Chapela's college and his department chair requested that Rine be
taken from the committee four times; but Rine did not excuse himself nor did
the committee chair ask him to leave. The report also says there was
"unjustifiable" delay in the tenure-review process.
"I am glad the senate is able to rise to the occasion," says Chapela, whose
contract has been extended while he appeals. Rine, Berkeley administrators
and senate members would not comment on the report, citing its
confidentiality. Such committee reports are rarely disclosed.
As the senate continues its inquiry, Chapela is hoping for a second tenure
review. He has also filed two claims that may precede a lawsuit. In April,
he accused the university of discrimination, saying that he was denied
tenure because he is Hispanic. Early last month, he claimed he was
victimized by the university for speaking out against the Syngenta deal.
Peer Reviewers Give Thumbs Down to Berkeley-Novartis Deal
By GOLDIE BLUMENSTYK
Chronicle of Higher Education
Friday, July 30, 2004
A team of scholars says universities should avoid unusual and controversial
research agreements such as the one the University of California at Berkeley
had with the company formerly known as Novartis.
The university had invited the team of outside scholars to evaluate its
relationship with the company.
The arrangement at Berkeley, in which nearly an entire department of biology
participated in a five-year, $25-million corporate-sponsorship agreement,
was "outside the mainstream for research contracts with industry," the team
of evaluators concludes.
"While an intriguing experiment, there appears little rationale for
repeating the approach," they say in their report, which is scheduled to be
released this weekend.
The report also suggests that Berkeley's relationship with Novartis created
a potential conflict of interest among administrators that affected the
tenure review of a faculty member, Ignacio Chapela, who was an outspoken
critic of the agreement. He was denied tenure in late 2003. The report does
not offer an opinion on whether Mr. Chapela should have received tenure, but
it does state that "there is little doubt" that the Berkeley-Novartis
relationship was a factor in the tenure decision.
The agreement "played a very clear role and an unsatisfactory role in the
tenure process" of Mr. Chapela, said Lawrence Busch, a professor of
sociology at Michigan State University, who headed the evaluation.
More than 200 academics and others have called for an investigation of the
tenure denial for Mr. Chapela, an assistant professor of microbial ecology.
He has said that the Academic Senate's Committee on Privilege and Tenure
will investigate whether he received due process, and that his term of
employment has been extended to December 31, 2004.
A Divided College
The 188-page report is the product of more than two years of work by a team
of 10 Michigan State researchers, who were selected to conduct the
evaluation. Berkeley's Academic Senate requested it when the Novartis deal
was announced, in 1998.
At the time, officials of Berkeley's department of plant and microbial
biology and the dean of the College of Natural Resources, where the
department is housed, heralded the deal as a pathbreaking venture that would
pump up the department's financial base, provide members access to
sophisticated equipment, and help it to win additional research support.
But the deal also had its critics, including two within the department,
several in other parts of the college and campus, and many in academe as a
whole. They said it could compromise faculty members' independence and skew
As it turned out, said Mr. Busch, neither the hype nor the condemnation
"None of the worst fears came to pass," said Mr. Busch, who is director of
the Institute for Food and Agricultural Standards at Michigan State.
But "none of the greatest hopes came to pass," either.
The report notes, for example, that the department did see an overall
increase in its research support during the period that its arrangement with
Novartis was in place. But at the same time, the report says, another
biology department at Berkeley also saw its research support increase. For
purposes of comparison the researchers looked at a plant-biology department
at Michigan State and noted that its financing, too, rose during the same
The deal concluded at the end of 2003. By then Novartis had split off its
agribusiness arm and merged it with that of another company to create a new
No Smoking Gun
While the team found no egregious examples of wrongdoing in regard to the
research itself, it did fault Berkeley on several fronts.
"The perception that the agreement was negotiated behind the scenes without
following normal procedures," the report says, "signaled an erosion of
shared governance to a number of faculty."
The evaluation also raises questions about the broad rights that Berkeley
granted to Syngenta to commercialize inventions. Under the agreement, the
company had the first rights to negotiate licenses on inventions by faculty
members who participated in the agreement, even if the work had been
financed with federal funds.
"Such an occurrence," the report says, "strains conventional thinking on the
proper stewardship of public funds."
Berkeley officials had maintained that the intellectual-property deal
followed principles set out years earlier by the National Institutes of
Health, because Syngenta was entitled to choose no more than one-third of
all inventions from the department to commercialize.
But the report says that the deal "fell short of at least the spirit of the
NIH's guidelines" because Syngenta could see everything and choose what it
wanted. "They could cherry-pick," said Michigan State's Mr. Busch.
Berkeley sought patents on 20 of the department's inventions during the
period of the sponsorship, 10 of which derived at least in part from
Syngenta-supported research. The company expressed interest in six of them,
including two that involved ways to improve grains, but never licensed any.
The agreement also became a lightning rod for divisions within the College
of Natural Resources, where the biology department became identified as a
bastion of support for agricultural-biotechnology research, while other
departments in the college were critical of such work.
Relations among faculty members within the college "continue to be a serious
problem," the report says. "Such a poor state of collegiality hinders the
productive capacity of the college as a whole and the quality of education
that it is able to provide."
Paul W. Ludden, dean of the college since mid-2002, did not respond to
requests for his comments on that assessment.
Berkeley's executive vice chancellor and provost, Paul R. Gray, oversaw the
agreement for the administration. He declined to be interviewed by
telephone, saying through a spokeswoman that he was too busy.
But in a written response to questions, Mr. Gray noted that the
Novartis/Syngenta funds had accounted for only 27 percent of the biology
department's overall sponsored-research budget during the period of the
agreement, and that participants considered it a success.
"The department is substantially healthier" than it was at the outset of the
agreement, he wrote.
He declined to comment on the Chapela matter because it is an "ongoing
academic personnel case."
Robert Spear, a professor in the School of Public Health who was a leader of
the Berkeley Academic Senate when the deal began, said he was disappointed
that the report did not focus more directly on whether the deal had led to a
skewing of professors' research priorities.
He also noted, however, that the issue became less of a concern for faculty
members when it became clear, in 2002, that Syngenta would not renew the
Syngenta never gave a reason, but the presumption was that the strong
antipathy to biotech crops outside the United States had prompted it to
scale back that kind of research.
Mr. Spear said he agreed with a recommendation in the report that Berkeley
review its arrangements with industry to ensure that those ties did not
compromise researchers' ability to be seen as honest brokers of information
and analysis on important issues. The biology department's deal with
Novartis/Syngenta "certainly did compromise the department," said Mr. Spear.
Mr. Busch, in a follow-up e-mail exchange, said that recommendation, like
others in the report, applies to all public universities as well.
The deal created the impression that the department was "on the dole"
and "biased toward the funding source," he said. "Universities as
institutions can only be objective observers on the scientific and
regulatory scene to the extent that some distance remains between them and
industry funding sources."