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Asunto:[LEA-Venezuela] Protest lack of tenure(AP 27 jun 03)/ Open Letter from Ignacio Chapela
Fecha:Miercoles, 2 de Julio, 2003  04:48:40 (-0400)
Autor:Jorge Hinestroza <vitae3>

Biologist Protests his Lack of Tenure


Modified crops critic camps out Berkeley assistant professor camping out to protest lack of tenure

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.

Ignacio Chapela: Biologist Protests his Lack of Tenure MICHELLE LOCKE / AP 27jun03

Ignacio Chapela in his "open office"
Photo by Paul Goettlich

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."




Open Letter from Ignacio Chapela Regarding
His Tenure at the University of California, Berkeley



Berkeley, California, 26 June 2003

We asked the captain what course
of action he proposed to take toward
a beast so large, terrifying, and
unpredictable.  He hesitated to
answer, and then said judiciously:
"I think I shall praise it."

Robert Hass

Dear friends, dear colleagues,

Dr. Ignacio Chapela

Beginning at 6 o'clock this morning, as I  enter the final days of my contract as a faculty member at the University of California at Berkeley, I intend to mark and celebrate them, by doing what I believe a professor in a public university must do: to further reason and understanding.  For the brief time that remains of my terminal contract at Berkeley, I shall sit holding office hours, day and night, outside the doors of California Hall.  This is the building housing the Budget Committee of the Academic Senate, and the office of the Chancellor, the two arms of our university governance in charge of my file.

I am saddened by the failure of the administration and the Academic Senate to resolve in a timely fashion whether to grant me tenure at Berkeley.  I believe that I have contributed to the mission of the university and my heart and intellect are also vested in its health and growth.  All but one of the colleagues who witness my everyday teaching and research in the Department of Environmental Science, Policy and Management have repeatedly stated their support for my tenure, and so have a set of external expert reviewers and the leadership of my College.  To the extent that reason can assess, I do not know of any other academic information on the case that might suggest that a negative decision should be reached.  Yet as of tonight, well over a year into the part of the process conducted in secret in California Hall, no decision has  been made, as far as I am aware.  I must therefore conclude that there is another set of criteria that counterweigh the strength of the case, but that such information cannot be publically shared.   In the face of such lack of transparency and accountability, I choose to hold office hours in public, in the open, and in the midst of our beautiful campus.  I do so in celebration of my vocation and my time at Berkeley, and not in the expectation that such an action will change the course of the decision process, whatever that might be.

It has been suggested that the extraordinary delay in reaching a decision on my tenure case without ostensible reason may be the result of, even retribution for, my advising our campus, academe, the government and the public against dangerous liaisons with the biotechnology industry, as well as my concerns regarding the  problems with biotechnology itself.  Without doubt, the uncertainty and reproach implicit in the silence on campus surrounding my case has had grave consequences for my professional, public and personal life.  But such are the wages of doing work that has significance for the world, and it will be up to those sifting through the files of this case to discern the twists and turns that brought us to this moment, and to pass the judgment of history on the motives and actions of those involved, within and beyond our community.  It is difficult to blame otherwise principled individuals for not voicing their best understanding.  Fear is justified when even the president of the country equates with criminal acts any questioning of the wisdom of deploying transgenic crops.  Against the desire of some to banish critical thinking from the birthplace of the Free Speech Movement, I choose to sit, openly available for discourse, in the heart of our campus.

At least one person has said that I should be banned from the academic system, implying that my work harms the public role of the university as a  hothouse for the agbiotech industry. Indeed I have long stood against the folly of planting 100 million acres with transgenic crops each year, without knowing even the simplest consequences of such a massive intervention in the biosphere.  An increasing number of scientists seem to be reaching the same position.  It seems also true that research in my laboratory has prompted serious public concerns that the industry would rather not address.  An industry on the crutches of public subsidy for a quarter of a century, an industry that trembles in the face of the simplest token of precautionary research, is hardly an industry that deserves to carry the public trust, much less  our best hope for recovery in a flagging economy.  It would seem rational that our university - and the public - should strive to  keep an independent source of advice on the wisdom of supporting such an industry.  Rationality, however, must take a back seat when the university becomes grafted to a specific industry. Such has increasingly been the case at Berkeley and at other universities.

At a time of rampant obscurantism and irrationality, I am proud of the privilege vested in me by the public as a professor at Berkeley.  In fulfillment of the duty attached to that privilege, I intend to share the light of rationality during office hours over the next five days, together with those who might wish to join me.

Fiat lux.

Ignacio H. Chapela
Assistant Professor (Microbial Ecology)
Department of Environmental Science, Policy and Management

Logistical details and contacts:

I will sit in an "office" without walls.  This means that I will most likely not have direct access to an AC electric wall outlet.  Nevertheless, I will have a battery-operated cell phone (USA-510-207 7331). My cell phone will need to be recharged occasionally; if you do not get an answer, please leave a message and I will call back.

My email address is  In case of server breakdown, please use - email responses may be delayed for some hours. 

I will foreseeably be in my "office" 24 hours a day (except for short unavoidable breaks) from Thursday to Monday midnight,  circumstances allowing.  Three chairs will accommodate myself and two others in this transparent office. Bring your own portable chair if you need to.  I hope to be able to offer tea and biscuits, but that is not a promise.  These last days have been on the hot side, but with any luck the natural "breathing cycle" of the Bay Area will bring fog relief for at least some of the mornings between Thursday and Monday.  At meal times, I will have space for company, although the seating may be less than royal, and the menus are still being planned.

Despite President Bush's emphatic demands this week, the House has yet to pass the BioShield legislation, and there may be further delays in the Senate.  Nevertheless,  I am making efforts to comply with the current spirit on our campus and across the nation by surrounding my office with protective, gray, duct tape, for added security.  Visitors from Toronto and elsewhere in the world, please note that I will also have protective face masks and rubber gloves at hand.

After midnight on Monday, I will be travelling to the Gen-ecology laboratory in Norway until 22 July.  I will be underway for a week, subsequently available via my alternate email account:

Background articles on and by Ignacio Chapela

Dr. Ignacio Chapela