Chapela Granted Tenure

Jennifer Jamall is an assistant news editor. Contact her at [email protected]

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Outspoken university critic and embattled assistant professor of microbial biology Ignacio Chapela was awarded tenure last week after a two-year public fight and lawsuit against the university.

Chapela, who was originally denied tenure in 2003 and again in 2004 by then-Chancellor Robert Berdahl, said he received a call Tuesday from Paul Ludden, dean of the College of Natural Resources, offering him a tenured position and pay as if he had been tenured since 2003.

"This decision is a clear message of vindication not only of myself, but also the innumerable individual and collective efforts put into this process by (my supporters)," Chapela wrote in a statement posted on his Web site.

Chancellor Robert Birgeneau agreed to offer tenure following a recommendation from the most recent faculty committee formed to review Chapela's case after he appealed the original denial of tenure.

Chapela had fought a high-profile battle for tenure over the last two years.

Shortly after he was denied tenure in 2003, Chapela began protesting the decision by holding office hours in front of California Hall. Hundreds of his supporters marched to Birgeneau's office in December 2004 to present a petition signed by 145 university professors in support of his cause.

Despite Birgeneau's decision in January to review his case again, Chapela sued the UC Board of Regents in April, alleging "the existence of secret, de facto requirements for promotion to tenure" and discrimination by university officials against his Mexican heritage.

After filing his tenure application in 2002, Chapela's colleagues in the department of environmental science, policy and management voted 32-1 in favor of granting Chapela tenure, and a five-member ad hoc committee unanimously voted to approve him.

However, the standing nine-member budget committee, which is the last body to review the tenure application, voted against granting Chapela tenure. At that time, University officials would not comment on specific tenure cases.

Chapela's most contentious published paper, which argued in "Nature," a major science journal, that DNA from genetically modified corn in Mexico ruined original crops. The journal later withdrew its support of the paper, saying "the evidence available (was) not sufficient to justify the publication of the original paper."

Both supporters and critics alike have said that the journal's refusal to stand by Chapela's findings could have played a major in his tenure denial.

Chapela's supporters have also said the denial stemmed from his vocal opposition to UC Berkeley's 1998 five-year $25 million contract granting Novartis patent rights to research conducted by the department of plant and microbial biology, a Swiss biotechnology firm.

George Strait, associate vice chancellor of public affairs, said in a statement Saturday that Chapela's outspoken opposition to the Novartis deal may have helped his campaign for tenure.

Officials added that ethnicity was never a factor in Chapela's tenure review and the decision to grant him a permanent position had nothing to do with legal action. Chapela has not commented on whether he will pursue the lawsuit now that he has been awarded tenure.

After circling Stanley Hall with supporters on bicycles last week in what Chapela called "highly unseasonable rain," Chapela expressed his belief that tenure should not become "a muzzle."

"Tenure should not stop our questioning-yours and mine-any more than rain has stopped our circulation of meaning around and about the bioengineering edifice this week," Chapela said.


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