Trees at Soda Hall are casualties of much larger fight

At 7 a.m. April 23, the day after Earth Day, UC Berkeley’s private contractors arrived at the redwood grove behind Soda Hall and removed all of the trees, despite repeated assurances from the administration that at least some of the trees would spared and one official’s claim that the trees would not be cleared until the summer. This event illustrates the current UC administration’s pattern of deception, secrecy, hypocrisy and privatization.

The grove was cleared to make way for Jacobs Hall, which is to house a new design institute named and paid for by Paul E. Jacobs, the current chairman of the board of both the College of Engineering and the multinational telecommunications giant Qualcomm. In a 2013 interview about the institute, Jacobs announced that he “strongly believes in being a positive and creative force in the protection and enhancement of the local and global environment,” claiming to find “top-down strategic plans” undesirable and soliciting feedback from the community on the building’s construction. After the decision to destroy the 16 trees behind Soda Hall despite the availability of a lot without trees by Campbell Hall and in defiance of repeated criticisms from students and local residents, it is difficult to take Jacobs’s comments seriously.

The groundbreaking ceremony for the Jacobs Institute was scheduled for April 12 — Cal Day — at 10 a.m., and it was publicly announced that the ceremony would take place at the redwood grove. However, upon catching wind of the fact that members of the student body had planned a demonstration to protest the building’s construction, the administration sent out a limited number of private invitations for a ceremony at the Bechtel Center without any change to the public schedule. The administration’s interest in insulating itself from controversy is understandable. As a result, however, prospective Cal students, their parents, members of the Cal Parents Board and some of the students at the College of Engineering have been kept unaware to various degrees of the dispute over the building’s construction, the 24/7 police presence established there shortly after spring break and the public criticism of Paul Jacobs and Qualcomm’s privileged relationship with the university.

The UC patent policy makes it “mandatory for all employees” and “persons not employed by the University” who use university research facilities to grant patents for their inventions and discoveries to the university. The UC system’s corporate partners, including Qualcomm, can take advantage of this policy at the expense of students and professors by obtaining exclusive usage rights through the university. Although the new building is being marketed as “solely educational,” Qualcomm has a history of intensifying corporate control of technology research through its support for the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement. Article 8.1 of the TPP substantially weakens patentability criteria, making patents available for new forms, uses and methods of using a known product. This allows corporations to successively prolong their monopoly on critical innovations that are necessary for the public good.

What has been happening with the redwood grove and the Paul Jacobs Institute is part of a more fundamental trend in the university’s administrative organization — an increasing alignment with private corporations and military institutions. For decades, Qualcomm has worked as a government contractor, developing a variety of products that include surveillance technology and premium cellphone encryption services for the U.S. military and intelligence organizations. Qualcomm has been directly allied with the NSA and has extensive contracting agreements with the Department of Homeland Security, the federal agency for which UC President Janet Napolitano was the former secretary.

Despite widespread public criticism of how the administration has been handling this situation and enthusiastic public support for the redwood grove, the university has chosen to stifle discussion, plowing ahead with the privatization of its institutions and the corporate control of our education.