Truce reached at Berkeley over BP deal

Faculty gets to speak, but not interfere, with energy deal.

Michael Kanellos Staff Writer, CNET News.com
Michael Kanellos is editor at large at CNET News.com, where he covers hardware, research and development, start-ups and the tech industry overseas.
Michael Kanellos
2 min read

University of California, Berkeley faculty members and the administration have come to an agreement over how to proceed with a $500 million research proposal between oil giant BP and the university, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.

Earlier this year, BP announced it would fund a $500 million institute in conjunction with Berkeley and the University of Illinois dedicated to coming up with alternatives to gasoline. Among oil companies, BP has been one of the most active in exploring petroleum alternatives.

Some faculty members and activists, however, complained that the deal raises potential conflicts of interest.

Under the compromise, appointed members of the university's academic senate will have an opportunity to advise the university on the deal and other deals. However, the compromise also noted that no unit of the university has the authority to prevent a faculty member from accepting external research money based solely on the source of funds. In other words, a professor from one department can't stop one from another department from taking grants from oil companies.

Princeton, MIT and other universities sought the deal as well. The rise in alternative energy in fact has kicked off a scramble among top-tier universities to land professors, research grants and top students in the field. The belief is that the schools that build the premier departments will become a fountain for start-ups and eventually large alumni donations and even more prestige. It worked for Stanford in the dot-com era, after all.

BP went with the state universities in part because both are connected with national laboratories that have become quite active in alternative fuels and energy efficiency. Research grants from private companies at universities have increased because of a decline in funds from governments.