Academic Rehabilitation

Who says crime doesn’t pay? Just look at academia. The blogosphere was abuzz last week after the New York Post ran a piece about former Weather Underground radical Kathy Boudin, 69, who spent 22 years in prison for an armored-car robbery that killed three people, including the first black police officer on the Nyack police force, and left nine children fatherless. After her parole in 2003, Boudin was awarded a prestigious adjunct professorship at Columbia University (my alma mater) and this year was named the Sheinberg Scholar-in-Residence at NYU Law School.

The context for the story? As the Post puts it, “Boudin’s bounce-back into respectability … comes to light a week before the release of Robert Redford’s movie ‘The Company You Keep,’ loosely based on the $1.6 million heist.”

For a fuller account of the academic/Hollywood route to respectability, you can turn, of all places, to this afternoon’s “Daily Beast.” There you’ll find former Reason magazine senior editor Michael Moynihan’s “How 1960s Radicals Ended Up Teaching Your Kids,” a catalog of academic “rehabilitation” efforts.

With their Obama connections, former Weather Underground bombers Bill Ayers and Bernadine Dohrn, the husband-and-wife team at the University of Illinois, Chicago, and Northwestern Law School, respectively, are well know, of course. (As Moynihan writes, Dohrn was “also a former Sheinberg Scholar-in-Residence at NYU, which must consider bomb-making skills when making its selection.”) But did you know about Howard Machtinger at the University of North Carolina? Or Ericka Huggins at California State University, East Bay? The account of her doings will curdle your blood. Now she lectures on “human rights.”

And how are the universities handling these, well, delicate histories? As Moynihan writes:

Boudin’s Columbia University biography doesn’t mention her violent past, describing her simply as “an educator and counselor with experience in program development since 1964, working within communities with limited resources to solve social problems.” Neither does an official NYU press release announcing her new gig, instead explaining that Boudin “has been dedicated to community involvement in social change since the 1960’s.” Well, that’s one way of putting it.

So it is. But if you thought the Daily Beast has gone soft for running this piece, just look at the comments. They must have wanted simply to tweak their natural audience.