Professor camps out in protest at UC Berkeley
Professor camps out to protest lack of tenure
ASSOCIATED PRESS, June 27, 2003
BERKELEY A biologist known for his outspoken criticism of genetically modified crops was camping out at UC Berkeley on Friday to protest his lack of tenure. Ignacio Chapela, who began his protest Thursday morning and planned to continue through midnight Monday, said he is not sure what is preventing administrators from confirming him as a professor.
He said he wanted to move his office outdoors to serve as a transparent contrast to the closed-door secrecy of the tenure process.
Chapela, who is in the Environmental Policy, Science and Management department, began teaching at Berkeley in 1996. He is on a "tenure track" which means if he is not granted tenure, a permanent appointment, by the end of his contract he must leave the university.
Chapela's contract was scheduled to expire on June 30. However, on Thursday, university officials informed Chapela his contract had been extended for one year. Administrators say they decided on the extension before Chapela's protest began, noting that the letter announcing it is dated June 19.
Chapela says he was approved for tenure by his department last year, but he has yet to hear from university administrators about his case.
Chapela has been a controversial figure on campus, loudly opposing a five-year, $25 million deal Berkeley signed with Novartis Corp., a Swiss-based agriculture giant, in 1998. Two years ago, Chapela co-authored a study published in the journal Nature that concluded that DNA from genetically engineered corn contaminated native maize in Mexico.
The study was denounced by the biotechnology industry and Nature later said there wasn't enough evidence available to justify publication of the paper. The journal did not retract the original paper but printed two harsh criticisms of the work as well as a defense by the researchers, who presented new data.
Chapela's supporters say one of the professors reviewing Chapela's tenure has ties to the biotech industry. UC officials declined comment on that or any of the details of the tenure case.
On the question of whether Chapela is being punished for his controversial stands, George Strait, Berkeley's assistant vice chancellor for public affairs, said Chapela "is a valued and respected member of the Berkeley faculty. We respect his scholarship and his teaching."
Chapela's camp out was proving a rigorous one as Berkeley abandoned its usually wintry June weather for temperatures near 90. Chapela, who is maintaining a 24-hour presence with some short breaks, said he'd discovered it is legal to be on campus at night, but not to sleep there. "You have to keep your eyes open. The police come by and check."
Friday morning, Chapela was greeting a stream of supporters, some of whom brought offerings of coffee and muffins. His office, parked under a shady tree, consisted of a few chairs and a small bookcase.
Earlier, Chapela had taught a high school chemistry class brought to campus by their teacher, said supporter Jason Delborne, a graduate student in the environmental department. "This has been a crazy couple of days," Delborne said.
Biotech researchers say their work splicing foreign genes into a variety of plants to enhance such traits as pest resistance will produce more food. But critics worry the consequences of the work are not known.
"My concern is really with the widespread release into the environment of transgenic organisms," Chapela said.
Some view the tenure-track period as a time to avoid controversy, but Chapela said he doesn't regret speaking out. "If you're scared enough to shut up for tenure you'll be scared enough to shut up for (office) space, for privileges here, for recognition there," he said. "I would rather be able to look at myself in the mirror every morning than be a professor at Berkeley."