BERKELEY — An assistant professor at UC Berkeley has sued the University of California, saying he was denied tenure because he criticized a multimillion-dollar research deal with a biotechnology company.

The lawsuit, filed Monday in Alameda County Superior Court, also claims Ignacio Chapela was discriminated against because he is of Mexican origin and that he has been a victim of a secret, unwritten rule of UCs tenure process — that professors shouldnt publicly criticize those giving lots of money to the university.

Chapela, a microbial biologist who has been fighting for tenure since 2001, said the lawsuit takes his fight to a new, public level to illustrate the encroachment of private interests into university research and a resultant atmosphere that squelches scientific inquiry that leads to unpopular conclusions.

The university has lost the capacity to do science, Chapela said Monday in a news conference outside Hilgard Hall, where he still maintains a research laboratory.

This is not a lawsuit against the university, he continued. It is a lawsuit for the university and against the people who have bastardized and taken away what the university used to do.

University officials hadnt seen Chapelas suit Monday afternoon and couldnt comments on its specifics. But UC Berkeley spokesman George Strait said the universitys tenure process is one of the most stringent in the country.

We take it very seriously, Strait said, because it undergirds the excellence of our faculty.

Strait said it was ironic Chapela would accuse the university of squelching opinions.

Were the home of the Free Speech Movement and the champion of academic freedom. For someone to allege we are anything other than that is not to be believed, Strait said.

Chapela said his tenure denial stemmed, in large part, from his opposition to a five-year, $25 million research deal UC Berkeley signed in 1998 with Novartis, a multinational biotech business now called Syngenta.

Chapela was denied tenure in 2003, despite strong support from several faculty committees and an outside panel of experts, the lawsuit said. The sole panel that opposed his tenure was influenced by at least one faculty member who had financial ties to Novartis, the lawsuit said.

Chapela has also been a controversial researcher, who sparked a scientific furor with a 2001 article saying he and a co-researcher had found evidence of genetically altered corn in crops in a remote part of Mexico, challenging assertions that altered crops dont travel by wind. Some researchers questioned the studys methodology, but Chapela said the opposition stemmed from biotech ties to research.

The lawsuit names UCs governing Board of Regents as defendants and seeks unspecified damages for lost wages and benefits, as well as compensatory damages for humiliation, mental anguish and emotional distress.

Meanwhile, UC Berkeley has initiated another review of Chapelas tenure, and a university panel is expected to make a recommendation to the chancellor within the next few weeks, Strait said. Chapela, who joined the university in 1995, has retained his position at the university while the review proceeds.

Chapela has also launched a Web site about his struggle at www.pulseofscience.org/.

In November 2003, Chapela filed a series of claims against the university, alleging discrimination and retaliation. The deadline to file legal action stemming from those claims expires this week, prompting the lawsuit, said Chapelas attorney, Dan Siegel of Oakland.

Contact Michelle Maitre at mmaitre@angnewspapers.com.