1.When Corporations Come to Campus
2.Lessons from Lancaster
The webcast can be viewed at www.georgefox6.co.uk/conference.html
NOTE the involvement of Lord Sainsbury - the UK's GM-supporting-and-investing Science Minister - in all of this (item 2).
Lord Sainsbury was the keynote speaker at the corporate venture conference that resulted in the prosecution of the 6 Lancaster University students.
More importantly, his was the investment plan for science and innovation that was pushing British universities to work much closer with business and which ultimately lay behind the corporate venture conference (item 2).
And, as the recent sleazy revelations about Blair's unmerited rewards for Party donors have reminded us, this billionaire former food industrialist effectively bought his ministerial position - a position from which he has been able to push biotech and corrupt science and academia.
For more on this see: 'Blair's latest sleaze project and the biotech peers'
1.LANCASTER STUDENT DEMONSTRATORS IN INTERNATIONAL CONFERENCE ON CORPORATISATION OF UNIVERSITIES
George Fox 6 Supporters Group
Contact: 01524 383012
When Corporations Come to Campus: Can Academic Freedom Survive in a Corporate World?
Wednesday 22nd March, 5.30-8.30pm, Institute for Advanced Studies, Lancaster University, Lancaster
On Wednesday 22nd March, six Lancaster students will talk about their appeal against convictions for protesting against the commercialisation of research at a conference that links them with Berkeley University in California.
When Corporations Come to Campus aims to promote debate about the consequences of corporate ties to academia upon the independence and integrity of university research something that the George Fox Six were hoping to do when they protested at the Corporate Venturing conference at Lancaster University in September 2004(1).
Open to members of the public, the event will take place from 5.30 to 8.30pm at the Institute for Advanced Studies, Lancaster University and will be streamed live on the internet.
Speakers include academics from the UK and the US, among them:
*Dr Ignacio Chapela (2) of Berkeley University, whose story has been deemed one of the most shocking examples of the corporate attempt to censor science,
*Thanos Mergoupis (3) who lost his job researching the economic and social impact of tourism at the London School of Economics when his sponsors took a dislike to his results
*and Matthew Wilson, one of the six students prosecuted for protest at Lancaster University.
They will be joined by Colwyn Williamson of the Campaign for Academic Freedom and Academic Standards (4).
Lancaster University's Vice Chancellor has refused to speak at the conference.
The organisers of the conference hope to draw the attention of the academic world to this important issue.
Joanne Moodie, one of the six Lancaster students says:
"The commercialisation of university research may have very severe consequences. For centuries, universities have been about expanding the general body of knowledge for the benefit of humanity. Now, corporate bodies attempting to cash in on knowledge development at universities threaten the very principles on which universities were built. Already, many academics around the globe have had their funding quashed, or their careers damaged by finding out things that their sponsors didn't want them to find. In a world where we depend on university research for so much, from medicines to climate change, we cannot risk losing the freedom and integrity that have for so long been a part of academia."
The conference will be held at IAS, Lancaster University on 22.3.06 at 17.30 (GMT), and will be simultaneously broadcast over the internet.
The webcast can be viewed at www.georgefox6.co.uk/conference.html
(1) The George Fox Six were convicted of Aggravated Trespass after their retrial which ended in Preston Crown Court last Friday. The six were summonsed to court after a peaceful three minute demonstration on their own campus at Lancaster University.
(2) Dr. Ignacio Chapela lost his position as Professor at Berkeley, University of California, after he revealed the extent of contamination caused by GM Maize in Mexico. After an international campaign he was reinstated.
(3) Thanos Mergoupis is now based at Bath University.
(4) The Council for Academic Freedom and Academic Standards is dedicated to maintaining standards of integrity and practice in academia, to exposing breaches in those standards and to supporting the victims of those breaches. www.cafasorg.uk
2.Lessons from Lancaster
Stifling student dissent is nothing new - what's new is who's doing it, writes Stuart Parkinson The GUARDIAN, 19 October 2005 http://www.guardian.co.uk/comment/story/0,3604,1595169,00.html
Last month, Lancaster University succeeded in having six protestors (four of them its own students) convicted for taking part in a short non-violent protest at a conference held at the university. The case is significant in that it shows that universities are rapidly moving away from the role of guardians of intellectual freedom and freedom of speech.
The protest in question took place over a year ago when a management consultancy organised a conference at the university with the aim of encouraging closer links between business and the university. Lord Sainsbury, the science minister, was the keynote speaker. Delegates included representatives from major corporations such as BAE Systems, Shell and Du Pont.
The six protestors decided they wanted to draw attention to the way corporations involved in controversial activities including the arms trade, oil exploration and GM crops were significantly expanding their influence over university research and compromising its independence. So shortly after the conference opened, they entered the conference hall, unfurling banners, shouting slogans and blowing whistles. The protest was over within minutes, when the six were removed from the hall, and then the building, by university staff.
Five months after the protest, the university began criminal proceedings against the six for 'aggravated trespass'. This law - which had its roots in attempts by John Major's government to restrict anti-hunting protest - prohibits intimidation, disruption or obstruction of those engaged in a lawful activity on private land. In court, the prosecution argued that the six had intimidated conference delegates (an argument rejected by the magistrate) and disrupted the event - the latter being the basis of the guilty verdict.
This case shows not only how little protestors now need to do before their activities are deemed criminal, but also that universities - institutions that have often been in the forefront of dissent and protest against the activities of government and business - now seem to be ready to stifle dissent.
But should we be surprised? Last year the government set out its 10-year investment plan for science and innovation. Central to this document was that universities must work much closer with business and indeed must behave more like business. The plan was bursting with policies and funding programmes to expand not only corporate sponsorship of research, but also entrepreneurial activities amongst academics themselves. The corporate venture conference which was the target of the protest at Lancaster was one manifestation of this policy.
So the dividing line between academic work and commercial work is being intentionally blurred. The potential this has for the distortion of university research is not trivial. Indeed, a swathe of recent studies investigating whether funding from the pharmaceutical industry influences the results of academic research has concluded that - whether intentionally or not - the bias direct funding creates towards the interests of the funder is very real.
This is all the more disturbing when it is realised that only one in every 200 scientific papers discloses possible conflicts of interest, although a recent analysis found that as many as one in three lead authors may be so compromised. There is indeed good reason to be very concerned about the extent of bias right across academic research.
This is not to argue that research should not lead to commercial products or that universities should not talk to or work with business. But there have to be clear boundaries. Strict rules on potential conflicts of interest need to be enacted and the universities' role of public service needs to be prioritised and protected - especially its responsibilities to produce reliable, independent scientific knowledge and to encourage debate on how that knowledge is used.
Unfortunately, the 10-year science plan contains little to indicate that the government has recognised the fundamental problem with a very close relationship between business and academia. The administrators of Lancaster University certainly seem not to have understood the issue. Indeed, they claimed during the trial that they had no reason to believe that the conference would arouse controversy. And they seem not to appreciate the irony that the conference had been held in a building named after the founder of the Quaker movement, George Fox, who was imprisoned several times promoting radical ideas in the 17th century. Which just goes to show that stifling dissent is nothing new - what's new is who's doing it.
The six are appealing against the conviction. For the sake of intellectual freedom and the right to protest, let's hope they are successful.
Stuart Parkinson is the director of Scientists for Global Responsibility