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BP partnership splits UC Berkeley

Gene Bernardi joins in a protest Friday in Berkeley, Calif.  (Associated Press)
Gene Bernardi joins in a protest Friday in Berkeley, Calif. (Associated Press)

BERKELEY, Calif. – BP’s catastrophic oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico is fueling opposition to the University of California, Berkeley’s research partnership with the British company, with activists and professors on the famously liberal campus calling for a severing of ties.

The oil giant gave UC Berkeley a $500 million grant in 2007 to create the Energy Biosciences Institute, which works to develop new sources of plant-based fuel. The 10-year deal, believed to be the largest-ever corporate sponsorship of university research, has outraged many students and professors who worry the global oil company will exert too much influence over academic research and damage the university’s reputation.

“Our bottom line is the public good, and their bottom line is profit,” said Ignacio Chapela, a UC Berkeley professor of environmental science. “There comes a point where those positions are irreconcilable, and I think that point is now.”

On Friday, a group of activists staged an anti-BP demonstration next to the site where the university is building a new facility to house the research institute.

But UC Berkeley officials say the university has no plans to end its research partnership with BP.

“The horrible events in the Gulf should only strengthen our commitment to find alternatives to fossil fuels,” said Graham Fleming, UC Berkeley’s vice chancellor of research. “Why would anyone’s interest be served by stopping this research?”


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