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Hail Columbia

Apr 15, 2013, Vol. 18, No. 29 • By THE SCRAPBOOK
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People have been outraged to learn that Kathy Boudin, imprisoned for her role in the 1981 Brinks armored car robbery and murders in New York and paroled a decade ago, now holds an adjunct professorship in the school of social work at Columbia University, where she has been lecturing since 2008. When asked by the New York Post about Boudin, associate dean Marianne Yoshioka enthused that her colleague is “an excellent teacher who gets incredible evaluations from her students each year.” The Scrapbook is prepared to believe that. What student, even a student of social work, would not be fascinated by the spectacle of a professor who is also a felony murderer? 

Hail Columbia

Kathy Boudin

AP Images / Chicago Police Department

Kathy Boudin, now nearly 70 years old, is practically a parody of a superannuated 1960s radical. The daughter of a famous left-wing lawyer and the niece of the radical journalist I. F. Stone, she dropped out of Bryn Mawr to live and study in the Soviet Union, then joined the terrorists of the Weather Underground, bombing the Pentagon, the U.S. Capitol, various civic and commercial sites in New York and Chicago—and ultimately themselves, in the famous 1970 explosion of a townhouse bomb factory in Greenwich Village. 

Boudin and a handful of comrades (three of whom were killed in the blast) had been making bombs for detonation at a soldiers’ dance at nearby Fort Dix. Boudin was injured, but survived—and then became a fugitive for more than a decade until she and fellow Weathermen and members of the Black Liberation Army robbed a Brinks armored truck in Rockland County, New York, in 1981. Boudin and friends shot and killed one guard and two policemen, and wounded another guard. This time Boudin was captured, was offered a plea bargain, and served 19 years in prison.

In a perfect world, of course, unrepentant domestic terrorists like Kathy Boudin would not be offered plum faculty posts at Ivy League institutions. But as The Scrapbook is well aware, this is not a perfect world—nor especially uncharacteristic of our nation’s more prestigious institutions of higher learning, where the Boudin generation remains in control and anti-Americanism is the predominant faith. Kathleen Cleaver, ex-fugitive onetime wife of Eldridge Cleaver, teaches at Yale Law School; Boudin’s fellow bomber (and Obama pal) Bill Ayers taught at the University of Illinois, Angela Davis at the University of California, Santa Cruz. The list goes on.

The Scrapbook’s view of all this is cautiously optimistic. First, it is entirely possible that, when the academy is finally liberated from its baby boom captivity, the self-consciously radical atmosphere on our nation’s campuses may lift, if only partially. Second, if it had been revealed in, say, 1975 that Kathy Boudin (then probably resident in Cuba) would someday be teaching at Columbia, nobody would have noticed. Today, it’s a big deal. And that’s progress, of sorts: The romantic view of the anarchists and murderers of the left in that era has given way to revision and reassessment and, to some degree, revulsion. 

The Scrapbook has another perspective as well. Such spectacular events as the Brinks robbery tend to concentrate attention on the perpetrators, not the victims, especially when the perpetrators have minor celebrity status. Lest we forget, Kathy Boudin and her comrades shot and killed three men, leaving two widows and nine children. It might be worth asking Dean Yoshioka whether any of those children (or grandchildren now, in some cases) have ever applied to Columbia University for admission, or for employment—and whether, under the circumstances, Boudin’s patron feels any lingering sense of obligation.

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