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Firing of Biotech Critic Ignacio Chapela Mobilizes Students & Professors at Berkeley

December 12, 2004

GM WATCH daily
http://www.gmwatch.org

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Here's a great report on this week's rally at Berkeley in support of Ignacio
Chapela. Here are quotes from some of the speakers:

"I have come to the conclusion that Aristotle could not have made tenure
here. Honesty is not something that's appreciated at this campus." -
Professor Andrew Gutierrez

"If we lose Ignacio, diversity in the biological sciences will decrease by
50 percent. Isn't it a coincidence that Ignacio and I have wound up on the
wrong side of the same corporation that was funding research here at the
university?" - Professor Tyrone Hayes of the Department of Integrative
Biology

"This case send a clear message that faculty who challenge the dominant
paradigm are not welcome, especially if they don't accept corporate
funding." - Ethnic Studies Professor Carlos Munoz

"The university is egregiously violating its own rules. I hope this struggle
continues." - Barbara Epstein, professor of history at UC Santa Cruz

"The Budget Committee knows the chancellor wants to get his hands on that
corporate loot. . . Chapela is exactly the kind of person we need around
here. He has wisdom, and above all he has courage and integrity." - Joe
Nielands, emeritus professor of biochemistry, who came to UC Berkeley in
1952

"[the denial of tenure is] unethical and unprecedented. I would urge the
chancellor to look at the process and grant tenure, Right here. Today. Now."
- Carolyn Merchant, professor of environmental history, philosophy, and
ethics

"[the Chancellor] said, 'Is there something so wrong that it would cause you
to leave?' Ignacio and I replied, 'If there was something so wrong, the last
thing we would do is leave. We would stay and fight'." - Jennifer Miller, an
assistant professor in the English Department

"this is a public university. We cannot allow this hypocrisy... The
university does not belong to the university or to the corporations. It
belongs to us." - Miguel Altieri, a professor of insect biology

Express your support for Ignacio: http://www.gmwatch.org/proemail1.asp?id=7
---
Ousted Professor Holds Final Class
By RICHARD BRENNEMAN
Berkeley Daily Planet, December 10, 2004
http://www.berkeleydaily.org/text/article.cfm?issue=12-10-04&storyID=20257

It began inside a classroom, where a world-renowned professor was holding
his last session with students, barring a decision from UC Berkeley's new
chancellor.

Then it moved outside as ever-growing numbers of students, academics and
journalists marshaled for a march on California Hall.

It climaxed in a chant outside California Hall, a cascading chorus of
protest aimed at Chancellor Robert Birgeneau: "Justice Now! Justice Now!
Justice Now! Justice Now!"

For Ignacio Chapela, a member of the Cal¹s department of Environmental
Science, Policy and Management faculty since 1995, the day marked the end of
the latest chapter of his battles for academic freedom and his challenges to
an increasingly corporatized academic culture.

An overflowing crowd of students, faculty, and supporters crammed into his
last class. As the 8:30 a.m. class drew to a close, Chapella thanked the
crowd and vowed to "keep raising hell." After a standing ovation, the group
led a march to the chancellor's office in California Hall. There they
protested Chapella¹s dismissal and called on the university to grant him
tenure.

Chapela's once-promising career at Berkeley foundered on two critical
issues.

When Swiss biotech giant Novartis (now renamed Syngenta) struck a five-year
$25 million deal with the College of Natural Resources¹ Department of Plant
and Microbial Biology, Chapela was quick to criticize, citing the obvious
potential of conflicts of interest and corporate control of research.

His frankness did nothing to endear him to college Dean Gordon Rausser, one
of the architects of the agreement.

But the crowning blow followed from a discovery made by Chapela and one of
his graduate students, David Quist, one of the founders of Students for
Responsible Research.

A native of Mexico, Chapela has remained deeply involved with his homeland,
conducting research and helping indigenous people work toward economic
self-sufficiency.

Quist and Chapela discovered strands of genetically modified DNA in the
genome of native strands of corn cultivated in the heart of the region where
maize was first domesticated.

Chapela and Quist submitted their findings to Nature, the British scientific
journal which remains the world¹s preeminent scientific publication. Their
publication in November 2001 ignited a firestorm.

Their discovery wasn't the first instance of artificial genetic intrusion.
Reports have surfaced of strands of DNA conferring resistance to the
pesticide Roundup finding their way into the weeds the herbicide was
designed to kill.

But the Chapela/Quist discovery was especially troubling to the agribusiness
giants whose patented strains of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are
being spread throughout the world and generating huge profits.

The implicit threat their research raised was of homogenized crops, of a
reduction of genetic diversity that could render crops far more vulnerable
because diverse varieties with a wide range of resistances would vanish into
a giant genomic blender.

The attack was instant and fierce. A British web site posted scathing
critiques from non-existent scientists who turned out to be creations of a
corporate advertising and Nature received letters, one from a UC Berkeley
colleague of Chapela, who questioned the scientists' methodology.

In the end, Nature published a partial retraction - the first in the
publication's history - that advised readers to make their own
interpretations of the findings.

Other research has since verified their findings, but the damage was already
done.

Chapela was already up for tenure when the Nature furor erupted, but the
flap didn't prevent department members from voting 32 to 1 in favor of
tenure, followed by tenure recommendations from both his department chair
and the dean of the College of Natural Resources.

On Oct. 3, a five-member Campus Ad Hoc Committee voted unanimously in favor
of tenure.

The first blow came on June 5, 2003, when the university's budget committee
made a preliminary vote against tenure.

Then, on Nov. 12, the vice provost asked the ad hoc panel chair to
reevaluate tenure in light of new critical letter, prompting the resignation
of the chair.

After another negative vote from the budget committee, Chancellor Robert
Berdahl denied tenure on Nov. 20, 2003, despite repeated tenure
recommendations from the chair and dean.

Chapela's supporters are hoping for a more receptive hearing from new
Chancellor Birgeneau, an academic with a history of involvement in the civil
rights movement of the 1960s.

Professors, journalists and supporters joined the regular student contingent
for Thursday's final class, an undergraduate course in environmental
biology. They filled the seats, lined the walls and sat on the floor.

The discussion was wide ranging - "part of the class is to show how
environmental biology is connected to everything else" - and he invited all
those in attendance, students and others, to comment on a current event and
show its connection to environmental biology.

One student raised the issue of Proposition 71 as corporate welfare, the
voter-approved $3 billion in funding for stem cell research, embodied in the
California Institute for Regenerative medicine.

"It's the bailout of an industry that was in pretty bad shape," said
Chapela. "It's exempt from public scrutiny. The Legislature can scream and
scream, but they really can't do much."

Another student cited the Bush administration's decision to undo protections
for salmon spawning runs and to include hatchery populations in the census
of wild salmon.

Other issues raised included the implications of Bush administration
research bunker-busting nuclear weapons and UC's long-standing in nuclear
weaponry and the planned nuclear waste repository at Yucca Mountain, Nevada.

During the class volunteers passed out cut sections of ribbons, red and
earthy green, and audience members tied them to their forearms, reminiscent
of two forms of protein on which so much of life depends, hemoglobin and
chlorophyll.

As class drew down to the end, Chapela declared, "I will keep raising hell
in different forms."

After a standing ovation, one after another, professors rose to pay tribute
to their colleague.

"Today is also my last class," Professor Andrew Gutierrez told the crowd.
Unlike Chapela, Gutierrez is retiring.

"I have come to the conclusion that Aristotle could not have made tenure
here," he said. "Honesty is not something that's appreciated at this campus.
The Mario Savio Steps and the Free Speech Cafe are two monuments to
hypocrisy."

Miguel Altieri, a professor of insect biology, urged the audience of "the
need to remember that this is a public university. We cannot allow this
hypocrisy."

Two weeks ago, Altieri said, he had written the new chancellor, "saying this
was your chance. I didn't even get a reply. The university does not belong
to the university or to the corporations. It belongs to us."

Jennifer Miller, an assistant professor in the English Department, said that
the last time she was in Chapela's classroom she'd been lecturing on
oppression

"We are very, very lucky to have had Ignacio as a teacher," she said.

Miller recalled a time when she and Chapela had been serving on a committee
and Chancellor Berdahl had asked them what might cause them to leave the
university.

"He said, 'Is there something so wrong that it would cause you to leave?' "

"Ignacio and I replied, 'If there was something so wrong, the last thing we
would do is leave. We would stay and fight'."

Then everyone filed outside and began the march on California Hall.

After a pair of chants calling for tenure, the audience listened as speakers
addressed them through an amplified bullhorn.

First up was Dan Siegel, Chapela's attorney in his fight for tenure and a
veteran of the '60s protest movement.

"The last time I came to California Hall, I was sitting in," he said. "I was
arrested for protesting the actions of another chancellor."

Birgeneau, he said, "is caught in the conflict between doing the right thing
and doing the expedient thing. As time goes on, we may need to escalate our
tactics, but we will succeed."

Siegel pointed to another colleague of Chapela's who had run afoul of
corporate power, "Professor Tyrone Hayes of the Department of Integrative
Biology, whose research discovered the unintended consequences of corporate
intervention into biology."

Hayes discovered the effects of the pesticide Atrazine on frogs, which
developed severe malformations when exposed to the toxins.

Hayes then stepped forward. "If we lose Ignacio, diversity in the biological
sciences will decrease by 50 percent. Isn't it a coincidence that Ignacio
and I have wound up on the wrong side of the same corporation that was
funding research here at the university?"

Hayes said he had consulted for Novartis and his work had been published in
Nature and by the National Academy of Sciences. "I was lucky I had tenure;
the vice chancellor wrote a letter saying I shouldn't be doing any work here
on campus.

"This is bigger than frogs or corn."

David Quist, Chapela's collaborator on the transgenic corn research, said
Chapela's tenure case should've been open and shut. "Then we get to the top
levels of the administration and they show him the door."

Carolyn Merchant, professor of environmental history, philosophy, and
ethics, said the denial of tenure is "unethical and unprecedented. I would
urge the chancellor to look at the process and grant tenure, Right here.
Today. Now."

"Something is rotten, not in Denmark, but here in Berkeley," said Ethnic
Studies Professor Carlos Munoz. "This case send a clear message that faculty
who challenge the dominant paradigm are not welcome, especially if they
don't accept corporate funding."

Barbara Epstein, professor of history at UC Santa Cruz, blasted the tenure
denial. "The university is egregiously violating its own rules. I hope this
struggle continues."

Joe Nielands, emeritus professor of biochemistry, came to UC Berkeley in
1952. In a firm, clear voice, he decried "the privatization and the
corporatization of the university," harkening back to the days when the
school's funding came primarily from Sacramento.

"The Budget Committee knows the chancellor wants to get his hands on that
corporate loot. . . Chapela is exactly the kind of person we need around
here. He has wisdom, and above all he has courage and integrity."

After more praise from John Garcia, instructor at the University of San
Francisco, it was finally Chapela's turn.

It wasn't his first time outside California Hall. After his denial of
tenure, Chapela had brought a desk and held "office hours" outside
administration headquarters in protest of the decision.

Chapela said the idea of the march first came up Saturday, and when the word
got out, e-mails and phone calls poured in from around the world.

"You are standing here for many others," he told the crowd.

"At exactly the moment this was scheduled, the university scheduled another
media event," a press tour at the university Richmond Field Station, where
the university is planning a major corporate/university research park
adjacent to Campus Bay.

"Now we are all students and teachers together, and I hope you will get the
word out."

And then came the last chant, "We Want Justice!" repeated over and over
again.

While Birgeneau refused to meet with the protesters, one of his staff did
agree to accept copies of a letter signed by 145 university professors and
174 others calling for a review of Chapela's case and extension of his
employment.

Calls placed to the Chancellor's office met with no response.
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SEND YOUR PROTEST: http://www.gmwatch.org/proemail1.asp?id=7

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This GMO news service is underwritten by a generous grant from the Newman's
Own Foundation and is a production of the Ecological Farming Association
www.eco-farm.org <http://www.eco-farm.org/>
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