Tuesday, April 02, 2013

The latter history of Kathy Boudin

Despite my leftist tendencies, I do have an online subscription to the Wall Street Journal, and I read the tweets of one of their writers, Sohrab Ahmari. He just tweeted today that Columbia University has hired Kathy Boudin, the Weather Underground terrorist who spent many years in prison, as an adjunct professor in the School of Social Work. As the New York Post reports, she is also the Sheinberg Scholar-in-Residence at NYU Law School. Sohrab is interviewed by Mary Kissel on the "Opinion Journal" part of the Journal website - Opinion Journal: Columbia Hires Ex-Con Professor.

Who is Kathy Boudin? She was a member of the Weather Underground, a leftwing terrorist group active in the early 1970s. She was one of the members of the group who survived the destruction of the house where they were living in 1970. It was destroyed by a bomb in the basement of the house - one of the bombs that they were constructing for a terrorist campaign. Three people were killed. She escaped before being questioned by the police, and was on the FBI's most-wanted list until 1981 when she was captured by police. See this New York Times article for more on the destruction of the house.

She spent 22 years in prison for her role in an armored-car robbery that killed two policeman and a Brinks guard. Her role was as the getaway driver for the robbery conducted by the Black Liberation Army on October 20, 1981. She was paroled in 2003.

It is actually not news that she is employed by Columbia. The Post has apparently just learned of her employment at Columbia - she has been teaching there since 2008. I can't figure out why they published the article today, perhaps because they just learned that she is a scholar-in-residence at NYU as well. In March, 2013, she delivered the annual Rose Sheinberg Lecture on the "politics of parole and reentry." According to the NYU article that reports on her speech, she spoke on the politics of parole for violent offenders, and I have to say, reading the summary, that she what she says is quite self-serving. She argues that the recidivism rate for people who have been convicted of homicide is the lowest of all crimes (I'd like to see the evidence for this). She also argues that long-term prisoners are the ones who undergo the greatest transformation during their time in prison. She also says that more punishment does not lead to more accountability. All three arguments certainly would support her release from prison in 2003.

If you go to the School of Social Work web site, her biography mentions nothing about her involvement in a terrorist group or her 22-year imprisonment for her part in an armored car robbery that killed 3 people.

Why would Columbia have hired her? According to the Wikipedia article about her, she was active in starting five programs while imprisoned at Bedford Hills Correctional Facility for Women in New York. The programs were intended for teens whose mothers were incarcerated, the parent education program for incarcerated mothers, the adult literacy program, the AIDS and Women's Health Program, and the College Program, for incarcerated women to take college courses and gain degrees.

When she was released she went to work for the HIV/AIDS clinic at St. Luke's-Roosevelt Hospital Center. She earned an Ed. D. from Columbia's Teachers College.

Based on the work she did in prison, and her subsequent employment at the HIV/AIDS clinic, and her Ed. D from Teachers College, I can see that she would be qualified to teach at Columbia. But why would they decide to employ her in particular? And why would they leave out the very salient facts in her faculty biography about her history as a terrorist, accomplice to murder, and long prison sentence? It's not like these facts are a secret. If you just Google her name, you get many links to articles about her. If you go to the New York Times website there are hundreds of articles about her.

I feel the same way about her that I do about Bill Ayers (whom I wrote about earlier, in 2008). These people should not be lionized or honored. They committed horrible crimes. In Boudin's case, she spent a long time in prison. In Ayers' case, he avoided any punishment because the FBI case against him was tainted by improper surveillance. While they certainly should be able to get any kind of work that they are qualified for, I do not see why it has to be in the most prestigious universities in the United States.

Sohrab Ahmari and Mary Kissel raise a good point in their discussion - would a university in the United States ever hire someone with their same records if they had been involved in a right-wing terrorist cell that had committed bombings and had killed people? If, for example, Timothy McVeigh had not been executed, and had been paroled (admittedly unlikely), I don't believe that any college or university would have hired him regardless of how much he had "rehabilitated" himself in prison. Why do Ayers, and Bernardine Dohrn, and now Boudin, get a free pass?


  1. Great post. It's one of the more nuanced I've read on the whole 60s radicals-turned-professors question. I wonder, though, if Boudin--who has expressed remorse for her actions and has clearly stated that what she was involved in was wrong, should be lumped in with Ayers and Dohrn--who never have and never will express such regret. Other than that I agree with your points. Cheers.

  2. Thanks. Do you have a link to statements by Boudin that she's expressed remorse for her actions? I'd be interested to read them.

  3. Hi, this is her old website which has her statements, letters, and other writings: http://web.archive.org/web/20060616133309/http://www.kathyboudin.com/index.html. In particular see the "Letter from Kathy": http://web.archive.org/web/20060716142905/http://www.kathyboudin.com/kbletter.html. Cheers.