Letter to the Editor

To the Berkeleyan:

11 December 2008

We, the co-chairs of the Academic Senate Task Force on University-Industry Partnerships, would like to thank the Berkeleyan for its recent coverage ("Big science and Berkeley's soul," Nov. 20) of both our Nov. 13 report on such collaborations, presented at that afternoon's divisional meeting, and the related panel discussion that followed. We write to provide a somewhat fuller summary of our report's conclusions; the report itself is available on the Senate website.

First, as your article noted, we call for early, constructive, and close consultation between the university administration (typically the vice chancellor for research) and the Academic Senate, in the development of proposals for large-scale partnerships between Berkeley and industry, government, or foundations. Our report details the criteria we believe ought to trigger such consultation, including effects on academic hiring, changes to standard intellectual-property terms, significant sub-awarding of research grants, substantial allocations of campus space, and substantial conflicts with Berkeley's ethical and legal principles.

We emphasize that this process of consultation which will be conducted through an ad hoc committee composed of the chairs of Senate committees with jurisdiction over academic personnel, research, resource allocation and academic freedom is not intended to and cannot serve as a vehicle for a faculty veto. It is, rather, a mechanism of shared governance through which a partnership consistent with Berkeley's values and standards can be formed. This process worked well, in our view, in developing the partnership with BP, in the Energy Biosciences Institute (EBI), as well as with Saudi Arabia, for the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology.

Second, beyond the initial consultation, the report lays out a number of principles for structuring the partnerships. We call for: faculty-led governance of the partnership; peer-review processes for all sub-grants, annual reporting to the Senate, and regular full-program reviews; strict adherence to ordinary personnel practices for academic hiring; minimization of the use of central-campus space for closed, proprietary research, or the receipt of substantially above-market rents for such spaces; and consistency with principles of academic freedom for all participants. We also urge the use of intellectual-property terms that maximize the public interest, including the use of non-exclusive or open-source licensing and socially responsible technology-transfer; and we insist on the principle of individual faculty consent to the inclusion of any background intellectual property used within the partnership. We note that Berkeley is lucky to have an intellectual-property office, led by Assistant Vice Chancellor Carol Mimura, at the national forefront of these issues.

Third, while the task force believes that current university conflict-of-interest policies are generally sufficient, we regard this as an area of concern, and suggest that the university may wish to restrict consulting work further, in relation to these partnerships. We also suggest that the university publicly disclose potential conflicts of investigators within such partnerships (for instance, ownership or consulting relationships with the sponsor or related entities), and explain why the current rules do not exclude such conflicts. Given the financial stakes and public visibility of these endeavors, we believe a pro-active university role will benefit all parties.

Fourth, while the principles we outline in our report apply only to large-scale collaborations, not individual faculty research, we note a complementary issue: it appears that bureaucratic processes may hinder the development of some intellectually valuable small-scale collaborations, even where there are limited intellectual property or other university interests at stake. We therefore also call for a system of expedited review of small-scale collaborative projects.

Finally, we would like to thank the other members of the task force John Elwood, Carla Hesse, Calvin Moore, Jasper Rine, Carl Shapiro, and Costas Spanos as well as other members of the Berkeley faculty and administration who helped to inform our report: Beth Burnside, David Hollinger, Todd Laporte, Robert Merges, Carol Mimura, David Mowery, David Patterson, and Anne Wagner.

Christopher Kutz and J. Miguel Villas-Boas