Higher-order Bullying: Challenge the Rulers, Risk Your Children?

The national campaign against bullying and hate may be in the news, but it’s nowhere in evidence as an American university wreaks revenge, not just on a dissenter who ran for Congress–but on his children, and on a brave professor who blew the whistle.

Michelle Obama may deplore playground name-calling, humiliation, and taunting. But she says nothing about powerful administrators wrecking the careers of our most promising students and distinguished professors, by actions and not just words?

Here’s the background: In one of the most astonishing races in the 2010 election, renowned scientist Arthur Robinson took on 12-term progressive incumbent Peter DeFazio for his congressional seat in Oregon’s District 4. DeFazio won the 2008 election with 82% of the vote. When the polls showed Robinson coming very close to winning, DeFazio unleashed a last-minute smear campaign.

That much is not unexpected. Americans have gotten used to vicious lies by politicians. Character assassination seems to be protected political speech.

But on November 4, after the election results were known, another campaign took off: against the three younger Robinson children, who are working toward their Ph.D. degrees in nuclear engineering at Oregon State University (OSU). The stellar academic records of all six home-schooled Robinsons (a Ph.D. in chemistry from Caltech, two veterinary medicine doctorates from Iowa State, and undergraduate degrees in chemistry or mathematics for the younger Robinsons) were an embarrassment for DeFazio, who is strongly supported by public education unions.

The twins, Joshua and Bethany, have nearly finished work that would qualify them for a Ph.D. at any normal university. They are highly regarded by the scientists and engineers who have worked with them. They continued to work hard, while noticing some oddities–that made sense when Professor Jack Higginbotham alerted them to plans hatched in closed-door departmental meetings. Political ideologues in control of the department had decided that Joshua and Bethany, and if possible their younger brother Matthew, would not be allowed to complete their degrees at OSU.

Getting good grades, following all the rules, working hard–and achieving mastery of a difficult, important field in which few Americans can qualify–are not enough, if your name is Robinson.

The Robinsons tried to work with university procedures. Things looked better when Joshua passed his oral qualifying examination with flying colors, despite apparent attempts to rig the process against him. But the university attacked Professor Higginbotham, in an effort to ruin his distinguished career. That serves as an example to the rest of the department, lest anyone might be inclined to help a Robinson. Higginbotham’s staff and students, including Matthew Robinson, will be collateral damage in this scorched-earth campaign.

Last week Joshua was denied entry to the facility where he needs to do his work, which was continuing under the direction of his former advisor, who is now at a different university ( Is there something wrong with his work? The university declines to tell Joshua. And it is evidently good enough to be seized by the husband of the department chair, to advance his own career (he is now just an instructor) and that of two other graduate students. Joshua has been told he will get no credit, even though he designed and built the apparatus.

Art Robinson went public, and OSU has received thousands of phone calls, letters, and emails, protesting the university’s actions. The response: stonewalling. OSU spokesman Todd Simmons invokes federal law against discussing student records, although Joshua signed a waiver. In any event, the issue is the university’s actions, not the students’ records.

Is the university violating its own procedures? Is it seizing and plagiarizing Joshua’s and Bethany’s work for its own benefit, in violation of basic academic ethics? Is it acting under the direction of the Democrat political machine? (Note that DeFazio, a life-long opponent of nuclear energy, got an exclusive VIP tour of the nuclear engineering department during the campaign.) Did it violate federal law during the congressional campaign? Are departmental policies tainted by nepotism and other conflicts of interest? Does the department use double standards in evaluating students, perhaps tolerating cheating by favored students? Are the Robinsons perhaps in an unusual position of knowing too much about departmental corruption, and being able to speak about it without implicating themselves because they did not participate in it? If so, it would be very convenient to get rid of them and discredit them in the process.

The university administration apparently believes it can get away with violating its own rules as well as civility, human decency, academic ethics, and perhaps even federal law. After all, the taxpayers will pay its legal fees and any damages in the event of litigation. It is also willing to risk its reputation and academic standing. Why?

Maybe Arthur Robinson is a bigger threat. He came too close to unseating Peter DeFazio, who brags about helping to bring in $27 million in federal earmarks. Robinson has already announced his candidacy for 2012. And there’s more: OSU brings in lots of grant money to “find” evidence for human-caused climate change. Art Robinson distributed the petition, signed by 31,000 American scientists, that explodes the myth of consensus about the catastrophic climatic effects of atmospheric carbon dioxide (

The President’s Commission on the Status of Women announced concerns about bullying at a January meeting at OSU. None of the involved officials have been interested in helping the Robinsons, however. For one thing, they are not members of a “suspect class” (those considered vulnerable to discrimination, e.g. gays or minorities).

Freedom-loving Americans had better take notice. In totalitarian states, one of the Party’s most devastating tactics to maintain its grip on power is to threaten the families of dissidents. Such horrors develop in small incremental steps, as the regime learns what people will tolerate, and gets them used to atrocities in small doses. Your children could be next.


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