From the standpoint of public relations, it has been a bad couple of seasons for Hamilton College, the small, elite liberal arts institution in Clinton, New York. A few years ago, a visiting professor of chemistry stepped down after it was revealed that she was endeavoring to clone a baby with the help of a group that believed in extraterrestrials. In the fall of 2002, Eugene Tobin, an historian and the college’s president for ten years, stepped down after admitting to plagiarizing parts of his speeches. (Is plagiarism bad for your career? Not necessarily: The Chronicle of Higher Education recently reported that President Tobin had been one of the highest paid college administrators in the country. Shortly after leaving Hamilton, Mr. Tobin joined the Andrew Mellon Foundation as a senior advisor.)
Hamilton offers more than extraterrestrials and college leaders who betray some central tenets of scholarly ethics, however. Consider, for example, its recent appointment of Susan Rosenberg, formerly of the Weather Underground, to teach “Resistance Memoirs: Writing, Identity and Change,” a month-long, credit-bearing seminar as an “artist- and activist-in-residence.” Remember the Weathermen? A couple of their members inadvertently blew up a townhouse (and themselves) in Greenwich Village in 1970. The remnants of the group—which included such poster-children of the radical Left as Kathy Boudin, Bill Ayers, and Bernardine Dohrn—went underground (and changed their name accordingly) as they continued their struggle against The System. A bomb here, a bomb there: they did their best to disrupt the society they hated. With unfortunate but admonitory timing, The New York Times ran a flattering profile of Mr. Ayers on September 11, 2001: “I don’t regret setting bombs,” Ayers said. “I feel we didn’t do enough.” Yes, well. Others have stepped in to help you, Mr. Ayers.
In 1981, Ms. Boudin and some of her associates held up a Brinks armored car near Nyack, New York. They murdered a Brinks guard and, in attempting their getaway, two police officers. A motto of the Weathermen and their associates was “the only good cop is a dead cop.” They meant it. Susan Rosenberg was indicted for involvement with this crime. She wasn’t prosecuted because, in 1984, she was sentenced to fifty-eight years for using false identification and possession of automatic weapons and 740 pounds of high explosives. “We’re caught,” she was quoted in The New York Times as saying, “but we’re not defeated. Long live the armed struggle!” (That was in 1984. In 1993, she proclaimed proudly that “I am guilty of revolutionary anti-imperialist resistance” and explained that the FBI’s “war” against the Black Liberation movement showed her “the necessity for armed self-defense.”)
Ms. Rosenberg, who likes to describe herself as a “former U.S. political prisoner,” served sixteen years in prison before President Clinton commuted her sentence just before leaving office in 2001. The person responsible for inviting Ms. Rosenberg to Hamilton is Nancy Rabinowitz, a professor of literature and director of the Kirkland Project for the Study of Gender, Society, and Culture, a semi-autonomous, left-wing redoubt within the college. The Hamilton College catalogue describes the Kirkland Project and lists “an artist/scholar-in-residence program.” Professor Rabinowitz transformed that into an “artist/activist-in-residence” program, thus paving the way for felons, terrorists, and other such “activists” to visit Hamilton and instruct the 1700 undergraduates there in how to make the world a better place.
It is said that Ms. Rabinowitz was inspired to offer the seminar to Susan Rosenberg—whom she describes as “an exemplar of rehabilitation”—after hearing her lecture at Hamilton last spring. But it seems likely that Ms. Rabinowitz already knew Ms. Rosenberg. Nancy Rabinowitz is married to Peter Rabinowitz—also a faculty member at Hamilton—who is the son of Victor Rabinowitz, an attorney with the firm of Rabinowitz, Boudin, Standard, Krinsky, and Lieberman, whose clients have included the accused spy Judith Coplon, Daniel Ellsberg, the Berrigan brothers, Dr. Spock —and Kathy Boudin, a daughter of the firm’s Boudin. Such filiations are, as the Marxists say, no accident.
Naturally, Susan Rosenberg’s appointment at Hamilton has sparked controversy. The college seems to be circling its wagons. In a public statement, it insists that “Ms. Rosenberg is an award-winning writer, an activist, and a teacher who offers a unique perspective as a writer.” 1) It is difficult to say exactly what Ms. Rosenberg has written—we’ve found no published books—or indeed to judge her qualifications since, to date, the college refuses to make her vita public. 2) To say that someone has a “unique perspective” is not to say very much. Timothy McVeigh might have had a “unique perspective.” Would Hamilton have proposed hiring him?
Hamilton College is about to embark upon an ambitious fund-raising drive. Early in December, the college will inaugurate the campaign with a dinner at the New-York Historical Society. We are told that members of the New York City Police Department intend to be on hand to protest Ms. Rosenberg’s appointment. We don’t blame them.
Update 12.08.04: The terrorist-turned-teacher withdraws.
This article originally appeared in The New Criterion, Volume 23 Number 4, on page 2
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