Letter to Councils of Deans and Presidents RE: November 17th Protest

Letter | Addendum | Further Reading | Back to main n17 page

December 4, 2000

Dear Council of the Claremont Colleges & Academic Deans Council,

On Friday, November 17, a coalition of Green $olutions and Students for the Field Station gathered to demonstrate at the opening convocation of the Keck Graduate Institute. Eleven people engaged in nonviolent civil disobedience, blocking the entrance to the tent where the convocation was to be held. They were eventually joined by about 200 persons from the demonstration, so that the convocation had to be moved to another location. We are writing to explain briefly how we understand the reasons for these recent events, and to ask you to consider seriously how you wish to respond to them, given how much is at stake.

The reasons for the demonstration and nonviolent civil disobedience centered on two sets of concerns: opposition to the planned building of the Keck Institute on the Bernard Field Station; and rejection of KGI’s attack on traditional ethical standards and protections of academic freedom and independent scientific research. In summary, we could say that there is a crisis in academic freedom and in the independence of scientific teaching and research at the Keck Institute, and a notable lack of democracy in the plans for its relocation. For fuller analysis of these issues, please see the attached addendum, newspaper articles, and reading list.

We have been speaking out about the BFS siting questions for five years and the tenure, ethical, and corporate influence concerns for over a year and a half, but our voices have been ignored by the Keck Institute and the Claremont Colleges leadership. Despite faculty resolutions at four of the colleges in 1996 and five of the colleges in 1999-2000, multiple student council resolutions, many student petitions and protests, widespread community opposition including the recent referendum, and other opposition, the College leadership seems unwilling to listen. It seems that this project has been pushed through by a few people who are not responsive to widespread community sentiment and do not feel that they will be held accountable by the community for their decisions.

This is unacceptable, and so we felt compelled to act. We could not let a celebration of KGI’s opening go by without drawing attention to the seriousness of the issues it raises. These issues include the environmental destruction of the most threatened and valued part of the Bernard Field Station, the lack of tenure, ethical conflicts, corporate control, and the many controversies surrounding genetic engineering. Had these serious concerns been substantively addressed before this point, we would not have felt the need to take such measures.

Up to this point, there has been a leadership vacuum at the Claremont Colleges in response to these crises. No members of the Claremont College administrations have been willing to step forward in active defense of the BFS, in spite of the obvious sentiment by their students and faculty in support of its preservation. The Presidents and Deans of the other Claremont Colleges have not acted when faculty at five of the six Colleges voted last year (1999-2000) to oppose the lack of tenure at the Keck Institute. What issue could be more central to the Academic Deans of the other Claremont Colleges? And they have not acted when issues of ethical relations with corporations have arisen through the structural organization of Keck Institute fundraising mechanisms and their failure to observe long-standing commitments for teaching the ethics of genetic engineering. What issues could be more central to Presidents of liberal arts institutions, who have traditionally served as the firewall between the financial interests of Boards of Trustees and the educational and research independence of their tenured and tenure-track faculty? Some Deans and Presidents have spoken in faculty meetings and privately with faculty and students about the concerns they have as leaders of the Claremont Colleges about the lack of tenure and the high level of corporate involvement at the Keck Institute. When will the Academic Deans and Presidents of the Claremont Colleges begin to speak out publicly about their concerns?

We encourage you to reconsider your roles as leaders of these academic institutions, and hope you will revitalize your commitment to democracy, academic freedom, independent and ethical scientific teaching and research, and the environment, all of which are threatened by the Keck Graduate Institute. Only by publicly drawing attention to the many legitimate concerns with the Keck Institute and its siting can you make this commitment clear. Only by acting to restore the integrity and foundational values and mechanisms of the academic tradition in Claremont can you make your commitment to the liberal arts tradition clear. Only through concrete actions can you convince us that the concerns of the community are truly being taken into account.

We look forward to hearing from a representative of your Council how you wish to respond to recent events and the ongoing crises.
Lenny Molina
Students for the Field Station
Rachel Newman
Green $olutions
Joseph D. Parker
Associate Professor
International and Intercultural Studies
Religious Studies
Pitzer College


Addendum: Concerns and controversies surrounding the Keck Graduate Institute

As you know, the founding of the Keck Graduate Institute in Claremont has been accompanied by a series of controversies, faculty and student council resolutions, Claremont citizen referendums, and other events. After a series of public discussions in the winter of 1996-97 of a proposed seventh Claremont college led by its proponent, President Riggs, several serious concerns were expressed about the siting and mission of the institution. In these meetings and in later statements, President Riggs assured those concerned that the new institution would address issues of ethics, environment, and policy relevant to genetic engineering. The Board of Overseers of the Claremont Colleges and the Presidents and Trustee Board Chairs of the existing Claremont Colleges approved in 1997 the founding of what soon became the Keck Graduate Institute. These votes were in direct opposition to faculty-wide votes at four of the six existing Claremont colleges and Student Council votes at five of the six existing Colleges opposed to the siting of the Keck Institute on the Bernard Field Station. For reasons that were never clear to most faculty and students, the Claremont Colleges seemed to accept a professional training institute into the midst of liberal arts colleges with a hard fought reputation for high standards.

The Keck Institute has since raised the stakes of the discussions in three ways. First, in 1999 President Riggs unexpectedly announced that the Keck Institute faculty would not be provided any tenure protections. This caused wide criticism and discussion, including a series of meetings of David Galas, the academic dean at the Keck Institute, with faculty from several colleges, as well as opposition from Claremont-based chapters and national offices of the American Association of University Professors. When these different meetings were unsatisfactory to the faculty at the liberal arts colleges, faculty resolutions were passed by full faculty and faculty executive committees at five of the six Claremont colleges. (Resolution texts attached.) To date there has been little further public discussion of these resolutions, even though this late development fatally undermines the academic freedom of the Keck Institute faculty.

The second way in which the Keck Institute raised the stakes of the discussion was through planning of their various fund raising mechanisms. In 1998 it became clear that the Institute would provide to sponsoring corporations an unprecedented range of ways in which they could control the research and teaching at the Keck Institute (Please see www.kgi.edu, especially second row from bottom). These include influence on the academic direction of the Keck Institute (through the Advisory Council), selecting actual topics of research symposia (Corporate Partners Program), providing faculty (called “Industry Professors”), selecting topics of research and teaching for Team Masters Projects (Corporate Partners Program), and access to intellectual property rights and licensing of academic research results (Corporate Partners Program). This extraordinary level and range of corporate involvement and control further undermines the independence of the scientific practices and teaching at the Keck Institute.

When this type of arrangement was put into place at the University of California at Berkeley’s plant microbiology department, it generated a national controversy. (Please see the attached Atlantic Monthly article, “The Kept University.”) However, unlike UC Berkeley, the Keck Institute is making arrangements with many such corporations, including a company whose employees have acknowledge stealing research from another UC lab (Genentech—Please see attached LA Times article.) and one that refused to apologize for genetic experiments during the Holocaust until forced to in 1994 when successfully sued by one of the Mengele twins. (Please see the Bayer apology, at www.Bayer.com.) These arrangements constitute a corporate assault on the independence of the teaching and practice of science, and are attempts to incorporate academic scientific work into corporate product marketing and public relations campaigns.

Keck Insititute representatives may tell you that these mechanisms are now common practice in some sectors of the natural sciences and engineering research and teaching, which they are, but these mechanisms are also highly controversial. For example, the National Institutes of Health has encouraged faculty to avoid restrictive contracts with corporate sponsors of research, is beginning to regulate delays of publication, and has even intervened (at the Scripps Institute) when corporate funding threatened the independence of the institute. Moreover, proprietary and secrecy agreements that result from these arrangements have lead to controversies about conflicts between public health and private profits, the firing of tenured faculty, as well as a range of ethical issues (Please see attached LA Times articles.).

The third way in which the Keck Institute has raised the stakes has been by breaking their agreement to hire an ethics professor to teach the complex ethical issues surrounding genetic engineering, as promised in the 1996-97 public meetings mentioned above. Their current ethics faculty member is an adjunct faculty, a status that makes her position quite tenuous; she does not have full graduate training in ethics; and her specialty is product liability law and not the ethical issues of genetic engineering and conflicts of interest related to corporate-sponsored research. This is despite the ongoing crisis in the medical sciences surrounding corporate sponsorship of research, including recent failures of even the vaunted ethics of the New England Journal of Medicine’s review policies. (Please see attached articles.) How can the Keck Institute prepare its graduates for work in this field when it does not prepare them for the ethical challenges that are now so central?

In summary, we could say that there is a crisis in academic freedom and in the independence of scientific teaching and research at the Keck Institute. This crisis involves two fronts: 1) the undermining of traditional standards and protections, through the stripping of tenure protections for faculty and the reduction of ethical training in a field beset by ethical controversy into product liability for entrepreneurs; and 2) the dramatic increase in corporate influence and even direct control of classroom teaching and sponsorship and ownership of research. Taken together, the Keck Institute can no longer be said to be an academic organization furthering education in independent, objective, ethical scientific practices.

In addition to these serious issues, you are well aware that the siting of the Keck Institute has been a source of contention since its founding. After a series of public hearings at which an overwhelming majority of voices were opposed to development of the Bernard Field Station, the Claremont City Council approved such a plan in May of this year. Opponents of this development plan were able to gather over 3,200 signatures during the summer while students were gone, sufficient to put a referendum on the ballot. Since this past Thanksgiving, the City Council has withdrawn its development plan to avoid a public vote on the referendum. Many Claremont citizens, faculty, and students feel that this process has not been fully representational of the will of the majority, and indeed is anti-democratic in nature. The withdrawal of the development agreement looks strongly like yet another back room deal between the City and the Colleges as they attempt to push through a widely unpopular project.

The recent “compromise” reached between CUC and the Friends of the Bernard Field Station is another matter of deep concern. 45 acres of an 86 acre Field Station is not an acceptable deal. 86 acres is quite small in ecological terms, and destruction of even the 11 acres slated for KGI (the most ecologically sensitive part of the Station, along with the other section slated for building in the near future) will severely hamper BFS’ usefulness as an educational resource. Two main concerns have been raised by students, faculty and community regarding the plan to build on the Field Station: 1) environmental concerns – the endangered Coastal Sage ecosystem, the contribution to sprawl and global warming, the elimination of the last open space in the heart of Claremont, etc., and 2) educational concerns, which are closely tied to the environmental, as a Biological Field Station is only as good as the ecosystem it sits on. Neither of these concerns is substantially addressed by a “compromise” that will see the Field Station gone within 50 years.

The stakes in these discussions are particularly high because of the specialized subject of the work done at the Keck Institute: genetic engineering. This is a very controversial area of research and production that has been at the center of widespread mass movements all over Europe and in Japan, India, Canada, and many countries of Africa. As you well know, issues at the root of these controversies have been in a wide range of areas, including public health, environmental risk and sustainability, farmer’s independence from corporate control, governmental regulation (particularly food labeling and testing), and the ethics of the patenting of life forms as well as eugenics and even human cloning. The volatility of these issues, and the profound significance they may have for public health and the sustainability of the human and other species in all their diversity, compel all of us to consider them seriously as we address concerns at the Keck Institute. If for no other reason, these issues must be considered in light of how the name of the Claremont Colleges will be affected by association with this increasingly controversial field, in the case that prudent safeguards and risk analyses are not put in place.

The liberal arts have long been the meeting point of the natural sciences, humanities, and the social sciences in the training of leaders for society. As interdisciplinary fields such as environmental studies have arisen to address the limits of science, technology, and development, liberal arts colleges have provided them a home. We have already welcomed into our midst the Keck Institute, a professional school, as a member of the Claremont consortium, and it may take some hard work to maintain a positive working relationship which upholds the basic values of academic learning and independent research, not to mention the liberal arts. Our relationship with the Keck Institute has already seen struggles, and there is good reason for those struggles: as corporations attempt to invade the academy, we must defend our independence and other values that the liberal arts have long upheld.

When you hear that a couple hundred students, faculty, and Claremont citizens have disrupted an event at the Claremont Colleges, there is certainly cause for concern. Academic institutions are meant to be arenas for open, reasoned discussions of the most important issues of the day. But the Keck Graduate Institute is not one of those institutions. It cannot produce for its students and faculty an arena of open discussion without protections of three things: faculty independence; a minimum of ethical standards, and of independent and objective scientific research and teaching. It is up to us at the Claremont Colleges to ensure that the Keck Institute does not harm the hard-earned reputation of Claremont and to protect the independence of academic research and teaching.


Readings on Genetic Engineering and Corporate Involvement in Academic Research:

Dawkins, Kristin, Gene Wars: The Politics of Biotechnology, The Open Media Pamphlet
     Series, Seven Stories Press, 1998.
Duster, Troy, Backdoor to Eugenics, Routledge, 1990.
Goldburg, Rebecca and Jane Rissler, et al, Biotechnology’s Bitter Harvest: Herbicide-
      Tolerant Crops and the Threat to Sustainable Agriculture, Vienna, VA: National
     Wildlife Federation, 1990.
Grace, Eric, Biotechnology Unzipped: Promises and Realities, 1997.
Hightower, Jim, Hard Tomatoes, Hard Times: The Hijacking of Land Grant Colleges,
Ho, Mae Win, Geneti Engineering: Dream or Nightmare: The Brave New World of Bad
      Science and Big Business, Gateway Books (Bath, England) and Third World
     Network (Penang Malaysia), 1998, rev. 1999.
Kimbrell, Andrew, The Human Body Shop: The Engineering and Marketing of Life,
     Harper Collins, 1993.
Lappe, Marc and Britt Bailey, Against the Grain: Biotechnology and the Corporate
      Takeover of Your Food, South End Press, 199.
Martin, Kenneth, Biotechnology: The University-Industrial Complex, Yale University
Rissler, Jane & Margaret Mellon, The Ecological Risks of Engineered Crops, MIT Press,
Shiva, Vandana, Biopiracy: The Plunder of Nature and Knowledge, South End Press,
Soley, Lawrence, Leasing the Ivory Tower, South End Press, 1995.
Starr, Douglas, Blood: An Epic History of Medicine and Commerce,
Taylor, Peter J., et al., Changing Life: Genomes, Ecologies, Bodies, Commodities, Univ.
     Minnesota Pr., 1998.

Letter | Addendum | Further Reading | Back to main n17 page

The Problem | Action Alert! | The Bernard Field Station | KGI's Corporate Sponsors | Stickers Explained
Growing Opposition at the Claremont Colleges | Famous People Against KGI | Links | Home