A Synergistic Union, or Selling Out?

University-Industry Relations, Biotechnology, and the UC-Berkeley/Novartis Partnership
Author: Dunning, Rebecca
Source: Kenan Institute for Ethics at Duke University
Year: 2009
Company Name: University of California, Novartis
Number of pages: 19, 6

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In November 1998, the University of California-Berkeley signed a five-year, $25 million research agreement with Novartis Agricultural Discovery Institute, a subdivision of the pharmaceutical and agribusiness giant Novartis, Inc. The arrangement would give Berkeley’s Department of Plant and Microbial Biology access to research funds as well as to Novartis’ genetic sequencing databases. In return, Novartis held first rights to patent discoveries made over the five-year period. To the department’s researchers, the deal was a bigger and better version of arrangements with which science faculty had long been familiar. Critics, however, accused UC-Berkeley of compromising academic freedom and scientific integrity. Was the university fulfilling its historic mission, pursuing knowledge and discovery while serving the citizens of California? Or was it “selling out” its independence and objectivity to big business?

This case considers the Berkeley-Novartis agreement in light of the modern research university’s struggle to balance competition for resources against traditional expectations regarding higher education’s appropriate role in society. The case also illustrates how the unique organizational features of universities impact and react to shifts in organizational mission and changes in the distribution of resources.

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