[cw: sexual harassment] Open Letter to the REC Foundation

Already, there have been several extremely credible allegations made by past employees against Tony Norman and other IFI employees. These go into great detail about specific examples of abuse, sexual harassment, and other blatant misconduct in the daily goings-on at the IFI office.

I was able to talk to a source (who wishes to remain anonymous) close to the IFI inner circle of executives, where the problems lay. Here is some of what they told me:

What is wild to me is that even RECF is tainted, and people do not understand the entanglements. Allegedly the reason two execs just quietly left was due to a secret affair. Now those two are supposedly running their own company and are hosting the inaugural signature event in Las Vegas, with support from guess who: Tony.

acceptance of misogyny is rampant among the exec level. An exec who just left was among the worst offenders. Would make outright passes at the young women in the office.

Tony was never around, but always had to be the decision maker.

I would hold Paul [Copioli], and every executive accountable, to an extent. Enough people knew where the issues stemmed from, but were unwilling to form a party to fix it, therefore complicit in allowing the environment to exist for harassment to thrive.

As the source explains, a former executive turned signature event partner, someone clearly endorsed by the REC Foundation, is themselves allegedly guilty of similar misconduct.

It is beyond clear that this is a systemic issue within IFI and RECF, and not something specific to a single individual.

The Robotics Education & Competition (REC) Foundation’s global mission is to provide every educator with competition, education, and workforce readiness programs to increase student engagement in science, technology, engineering, math, and computer science.

This is the REC Foundation’s mission statement.

@DanMantz, how can the RECF justify its continued partnership with VEX, given what we know to be true about conditions in and around IFI?

How does interns being “both verbally abused and threatened with violence, by Tony, while at work” serve to increase student engagement in STEM?

How does textbook quid-pro-quo workplace sexual harassment further the stated goals of the RECF to encourage girls “to try new things, and be a part of changing the definition of what a STEM expert looks like”?

It doesn’t.

How can the community continue to trust the REC Foundation to provide quality programs for students, given what we know to be true about the leadership in Greenville?

How can we have trust in the safety of students in and around RECF-sanctioned events?

We can’t.

How can the REC Foundation claim to be a force for good in the education and STEM communities when you are complicit in allowing - and sometimes active participants of - the culture of toxicity and abuse that has been so thoroughly documented by all the people here and on Chief Delphi courageous enough to come forwards?

You can’t.

Do better.

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It’s time for the leadership at IFI/RECF to start taking accountability for its actions. I hope we can see some kind of reform come for the poor behavior of those in charge at these important organizations. Unfortunately, we’re reliant on them to do what’s right, as there’s no other options for most VEX Robotics competitors.

Unfortunatelly, I afraid, they can’t, because IFI has a lot of control over RECF, and given all this new evidence, Tony Norman seems to be a type of a control freak, who would fire @DanMantz or anyone from RECF/GDC who dares to speak up.

What I see here is a great educational program and mostly volunteer ecosystem that was taken hostage by a few controlling individuals.

I say that because, while FIRST competitors could still turn to alternative suppliers, those of us who do vrc are forced to use vex parts.

It is not possible for us to take our dollars elsewhere and similarly many school STEM programs are locked into a single vendor. They even recently elliminated independent vex resellers.

I think we should all fight to free our beloved program from the strangling hold of a few individuals with the dark toxic souls.

If you are a student in vrc or a stem program, ask your adviser to reach out to RECF and directly to the major RECF sponsors about their knowledge of the situation!

It is against the laws for many school districts to use any vendor that doesn’t have reporting process in place for such allegations in accordance with the state law. Especially, if there are credible reports of sexual misconduct, then your school officials need to investigate it and report the findings to the board.


Sylvie, thanks for posting this. What really concerns me is the information concerning the Vegas Signature event. While I have heard rumors about EP-related issues concerning the event,

now that we know a bit more about the seemingly unknown EPs in question,

I think that it is time to reconsider going to this event. Is it worth traveling to Las Vegas and participating in the planned events/tours when the very event is sponsored by individuals who contributed to systemic issues at IFI? Is it okay for said individuals to be allowed by the RECF to host events when the very workplace culture they contributed to is against the RECF’s global mission? Does there need to be a better process for the RECF to vet event partners?

If enough teams reconsider their registration and unregister from the event, the event could drop a qualification level or lose its spots at all. If not enough teams are registered for the event (which it looks like might happen for the VEXU event), the event will lose its status as a Signature Event and get canceled. By hosting an event of this size and influence, it obviously seems like the execs in question have the desire to stay connected to the world of competitive robotics, but I’m not sure they should, considering the recently made (and highly credible and concerning) allegations. As a community, we hold at least some control over the future of this event and need to reconsider the ethics of it and the inherent value of going to it.

One thing that I feel I should mention - We know exactly who this is.




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When I read this and it’s sibling thread, as well as linked Chief Delphi discussion, it makes me shake my head in disbelief of how this type of behavior could been going on for so long in the youth and minor oriented program. And VEX is famous for organizing and running interstate and international programs giving scholarships and inviting minors from all over the World.

I don’t live in Texas, so I have no idea how much you can get away with thanks to a cozy relationship with the local police. But I don’t think it is enough to perpetually cover one’s behind facing federal investigation that has any of the following keywords in the title: interstate, international, minor, sexual, harassment.

If I were a VEX/IFI or RECF employee, I would start preserving any official and unofficial company and chat records and retain a lawyer, in case any of the management approaches you with a request to delete uncomfortable discussion or a chat topic.

Frankly, over the years many people in the community got sick and annoyed of the continuous attempts of the top VEX/IFI management to force anti-competitive and authoritarian decisions on the VRC competition and supply chain.

And now, when we start seeing some interworkings of the IFI control structure, and the source of those unpopular decisions, I don’t think many people have the appetite to let it slide and pretend that nothing bad had ever happened.

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Wow, this is some pretty horrible stuff. It is quite heartbreaking to see all these horrific accounts come to light.

However, with all that in mind, I do think it is really important that we don’t let this devolve into a witch hunt, which would undoubtably hurt the community far more than the probably quite extensive damage already done. People have already lost a lot of trust, and the facts are still emerging, but we won’t have a full picture until we hear both sides. I know this is probably going to be quite controversial, but it is very important that we hear what IFI/VEX, the RECF, and the accused individuals have to say before people start jumping to conclusions. Although, due to the nature of these claims, I suspect the courts are going to extract a bit more detail and evidence out of this whole situation.

Honestly, I’m just disappointed to see the community fall into disarray like this, and it really makes me question what the future of competition robotics is going to look like.

Reading through this thread is extremely depressing, and I really feel for those that have been directly affected by this stuff.

I just wanted to make a comment on this as I feel that anyone in the community should make their thoughts on this topic known. This is extremely disheartening and terrible to learn about. To know that the people who organized this competition, that I have spent years competing in, was involved with such things is disturbing to say the least. It isn’t even just a few low level employees too, not to say that any sort of sexual harassment is acceptable at all, but the fact that some of the very high ranking officials were involved with this just makes the whole thing worse. The more and more I learn about this and think about it the more depressing and disturbing it gets. It honestly feels wrong to even continue doing vex. Furthermore, when thinking about how VEX has programs such as girl powered that is meant to get females interested in STEM to close the gender gap this just makes the whole situation worse. How is an organization involved with something like this when they are meant to get women and just anyone interested in STEM. Just the pure fact that Vex/IFI is mainly used by people who are in HS and are still minors makes all of this worse too. Like I said before, the more you think about it the worse and more depressing it gets.

I feel that after going through everything that these reports are without a doubt credible and in that case there is absolutely no excuse for any of this. As @crumey said we do of course need to hear what VEX/IFI and RECF has to say about this, but there is nothing that can excuse any of this. Regardless we are certainly due an explanation or statement from all parties involved and I will certainly be looking forward to that.

I hope everyone who came out about this is recovering well, and thank you to everyone who did come out about it. Doing something like that certainly is not easy and takes bravery.

Unfortunately, due to the nature of the accusations, we’re unlikely to ever get an actual statement directly addressing anything. Realities of corporate PR.

@DanMantz could easily say that they hear the community’s concerns and they are doing their own investigation if true

I really hope he does, especially in light of the horrifying new information that has come to light thanks to Chuck. Some kind of response is necessary for the community to be able to continue believing that the RECF’s mission is legitimate.

Read Chuck’s post if you haven’t! There is no excuse good enough for the RECF to continue on silently in their partnership with VEX if nothing changes.