Bob Boikess, Rutgers University organic chemist, was instrumental in preventing Condoleeza Rice, Secretary of State under George W. Bush, from speaking at the Rutgers University Spring 2014 commencement.
The Board of Governor’s of Rutgers University voted in February, 2014, to award an honorary Doctor of Laws degree to Condoleeza Rice, and invited her to give the Commencement speech (and receive $35,000).
Organic Chemistry Professor Bob Boikess introduced a resolution to the Rutgers University New Brunswick Faculty Council that they urge the University’s Board of Governors to rescind its invitation to speak at Commencement because of Rice’s involvement in the Iraq War. The Faculty Council approved the resolution on March 2.
But Rutgers officials refused to rescind the invitation to Ms. Rice. But the faculty resolution, and the refusal of Rutgers to disinvite Ms. Rice, was publicized in newspapers and social media across the country.
The students requested meetings with the Rutgers administration, wrote letters, filed petitions, submitted op-eds in the local and national press, but the administration refused to meet with them. Approximately 160 held a student sit-in on April 28 at the Old Queens administration building to protest Rice’s invitation. Rutgers President Robert Barchi still refused to meet with the students or to respond to letters.
Karl Rove, Senior Advisor and Chief of Staff for George Bush, objected publicly to the treatment of Rice by faculty and students, and called the Rutgers faculty and Boikess out as a “nutty organic chem professor” on Fox News, saying that the pressure against Rice was “politically motivated, poetically aimed, ideologically driven and stupid.” “Shame of the little totalitarians on the left and their faculty agent who perpetuated this.”
On May 3 Ms. Rice informed Rutgers President Robert Barchi that she had decided not to give the Commencement address.
There have been repercussions for Boikess through mail, email, and phone hate messages. His scientific “objectivity” (Aren’t we yet done with the idea that this is possible?) has been questioned, as has his science. Many faculty and students have publicly disagreed with the Faculty Senate action. But Boikess has been an activist all his life, and hate and criticism are part of the package, not important in the bigger scheme of things. The verbal attack by Karl Rove was actually a positive in the eyes of Boikess’ friends and family.
“I’m certainly not personally offended because I learned a very long time ago to ‘always consider the source,’” he said in an interview by Politico. “the senior advisor to arguably the worst president in American history is not a very reliable source.”
Boikess has been an activist since his teens, with a commitment to social justice. He was brought up to be an activist, but was only really propelled into activism by the U.S. war on Vietnam. His activism has taken different forms.
At Stony Brook University, during the duration of the Vietnam War, he was overtly antiwar. For example, when recruiters from Dow Chemical (the manufacturers of napalm) came to the Stony Brook campus to offer deferments to those who took jobs with them, Boikess and Dr. Goldfarb, both members of the Chemistry department and the Organization for Progressive Thought, held a class to discuss the chemical structure of napalm and its effects on people. While at Stony Brook, he also was also invoked in the court decision Boikess vs Aspland, which concerned faculty privacy.
He practiced academic activism through various positions in the University Senate and other campus organizations and committees. He participated in the Student Judicial process and was an advisor to several student organizations. He was also active in the American Association of University Professors (AAUP), a group that functions as a union as well as a foundation and a professional organization. That Boikess is is obviously a committed member of the community and a full participant in university life has no doubt helped in being taken seriously as being someone with more than a personal agenda, and has served perhaps as some protection.
He is involved in Big Pharma and climate change issues, in which his expertise as a scientist is part of the the activism. Most of his activism has not stemmed from his research, but has gone on- side by side- with his scientific work. Bob does not feel that activism has helped or hindered in his scientific career. But he does recommend that scientists wait until after tenure to really get into activism mostly because activism takes so much time.
Bob’s bottom line for young scientists who are considering taking on controversial issues-
“If you don’t do and say what you believe to be right, you’ll regret it later.”
May 28, 2014 email interview