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MSU group reviews Berkeley venture into brave new science funding world

EAST LANSING, Mich. When a big corporation acquired the research enterprise of an entire California university science department, it hoped it was sowing a bounty of discovery and profit. Instead, a new report indicates, it probably reaped more grief than it was worth.

That is the greatest legacy of the nation's closely followed and much-debated marriage between University of California-Berkeley and the Swiss pharmaceutical and agrochemical company Novartis.

Today, a group of social and natural scientists at Michigan State University released a report commissioned by the faculty senate at Berkeley that examines the fall-out of an unprecedented partnership.

It was a campus controversy that expanded to become a symbol of the tensions and angst over the very state of contemporary public higher education in California, in land-grant institutions, and across the country.

"This incident was a kind of lightning rod for a whole set of issues about what universities are going to be in the 21st century," said Lawrence Busch, a University Distinguished Professor of sociology and principal investigator. "A lot of people were very unhappy with the general direction of the university. We recommend avoiding these kinds of agreements in the future. While most of the concerns of critics did not materialize, this type of agreement is just asking for trouble and is going to get you more grief than benefits."

The group of 10 MSU experts essentially conducted a post-mortem on the unprecedented partnership that began in November 1998 on the Berkeley campus. Its Department of Plant and Microbial Biology (PMB) signed a five-year collaborative research agreement with Novartis in which the company agreed to pay the department up to $25 million in research support over a period of five years.

In this widely discussed and criticized private sponsorship of university research, the PMB also was given access to Novartis' gene-sequencing techno
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Contact: Lawrence Busch
Lbusch@msu.edu
517-355-3396
Michigan State University
2-Aug-2004


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