Oil and the University of California

In the latest news of problems at the University of California system, apparently many campuses have rather questionable relationships with big oil. According to a piece by Laurel Rosenhall in the Sacramento Bee:

Under the contracts [between oil companies and universities, including those between UC Davis and Chevron, UC Berkeley and BP, and Stanford and Exxon.], the oil companies have paid the universities between $2.5 million and $500 million to conduct research on the development of alternative fuels, such as ethanol and biofuels.

The report concludes that the arrangements generally compromise academic freedom for the universities while granting commercial benefits to the companies.

The report, “Big Oil Goes to College”, was released yesterday by the Center for American Progress. According to the report, many oil companies are now using American universities to perform research, particularly on alternative fuels. There is a total of $833 million in oil money going to academic research.

What’s odd about all this is that, according to the analysis, the contracts seem to give incredible power to the corporations funding the research and very little power to the academics actually conducting it.

According to the report, “Many of these agreements fail to make any clear distinctions between independent, academic research and commercial research for hire.” This has unfortunate implications for the quality of research, especially considering the importance of getting accurate, unbiased information on alternative fuels in the current economic and environmental climate.

Meanwhile, California’s public university system is still struggling. Due to a massive decline in state funding, the University of California has increased student fees, enrolled more out-of-state students, and instituted cuts across all 10 campuses.

If the system is going to sell out to big oil like that, you’d think it would at least have arranged an agreement so that it would be a little better compensated.

Daniel Luzer

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer