An important new website, 'Tenure Justice' has been launched in support of the researcher Dr Ignacio Chapela: www.tenurejustice.org
It was Ignacio Chapela who with his graduate student, David Quist, exposed the Mexican maize GM contamination scandal, causing international uproar. And now as a result of subsequently being denied tenure at UC Berkeley in the most extraordinary of circumstances, Chapela has just 2 more months to go until his contract there is terminated.
Among the many interesting items on the site is a video of a student protest at Chapela's denial of tenure while UC Berkeley's Chancellor was delivering his Charter Day speech last Thursday. A group of students interrupt the speech chanting: "Academic Freedom, Tenure Justice now!" while holding a banner bearing Chapela's name. They were quickly removed by police. The video can be seen at http://www.tenurejustice.org/pages/charterday2004.html
In addition to the video and links from the site to a whole series of articles by or about Ignacio Chapela, there are a number of particularly interesting articles about the tenure issue, like 'Berkeley accused of biotech bias as ecologist is denied tenure,' (Nature, December 11, 2003 - PDF File) and a still more recent piece ,'Novartis Gone but not forgotten', (February 2004 California Monthly), as well as the just-published letters in response (all supportive of Chapela). 3 of the letters are reproduced below.
Novartis and Chapela
The vice provost for academic affairs claims that, in Chapela’s tenure case, "the system worked." Did it? Despite repeated requests, the Budget Committee has refused to provide information about how often it has gone against the recommendations of the departmental committee, the entire department, the department chair, the dean of the college, dozens of external letters, and its own ad hoc committee--all of which supported Chapela. Nor is there any data on how often a member of the Budget Committee has a personal conflict of interest. Unless these are common practices, Chancellor Berdahl owes the University community a public explanation of why he contradicted the advice of nearly everyone involved in the tenure review process.
Jesse Reynolds, M.S. ’00
As a non-academic staff member in the College of Natural Resources from 1989 to 1999, I would like to add the following key information. Your story mentions that Chapela was chair of the executive committee of the college’s faculty, a prominent and powerful position in the college's decision-making process. It is important to state explicitly that his appointment was unusual since he was only an assistant, untenured professor. Faculty leadership positions are not usually offered to, nor demanded of, junior professors, for a number of obvious reasons. It is also important to state that he was appointed to this position by then-Dean Gordon Rausser, who very much wanted the Novartis deal and knew it had to go through the executive committee.
Connecting the dots: A powerful dean, who has an endowed chair, "asks" a junior faculty member (who can’t say no) to head the college's most powerful faculty committee, through which the dean’s deal must go. Did the dean assume that this junior professor, new and lacking the protection of tenure, would just go along? Did the dean estimate that this junior professor in particular would support the deal because Chapela had once worked for Novartis? After this junior professor found substantive scientific, procedural, and ethical reasons not to go along with the powerful dean, guess who did not get tenure?
There are other issues behind the tenure case of Professor Ignacio Chapela that have not yet surfaced in the media. Specifically, in the last five years all professors of color have been denied tenure in the Department of Environmental Science, Policy, and Management (ESPM), while all white professors have been offered tenure. Four minority professors have either been denied tenure or, because of extremely portentous signs, “chosen” to leave before being denied. Tracy Benning fits the last category. The three other professors--Ye Qi, Mahsoud Ghodhrati, and Ignacio Chapela--were all denied tenure.
Ph.D. candidate, ESPM