Eye on the News

Stefan Kanfer
Made for Each Other
On Columbia and Kathy Boudin
9 April 2013

Some connoisseurs of moral squalor in New York prefer Albany. Others favor the precincts of both political parties in the Bronx. But for real aficionados, there’s nothing quite like Columbia University, an institution that persistently tarnishes its once-lofty reputation.

Recent years have seen the revelations of Columbia Unbecoming, a film documenting the pro-Palestinian bias of the school’s Middle East studies department. Then came an incident that still reverberates far beyond the Morningside Heights campus: Columbia president Lee Bollinger’s disastrous invitation to Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to speak at the university. No less a personage than Barack Obama denounced Columbia for giving the Iranian president a propaganda platform. True, when Ahmadinejad addressed the student body, Bollinger chewed him out for exhibiting “all the signs of a petty and cruel dictator.” But the damage was done.

Then came bullying incidents that mocked the notion of free speech on campus. In a university auditorium, undergraduates shouted down Jim Gilchrist, founder of the Minutemen, when he tried to present his case against illegal immigration. And when Anthony Maschek, a decorated combat veteran and Columbia freshman, spoke in favor of ROTC, he, too, was drowned out, jeered, and denounced as a “racist.”

All of this was prelude to the latest revelation: Kathy Boudin is on staff as an adjunct professor at Columbia’s School of Social Work. The university catalog identifies Dr. Boudin (the title derives from a doctorate in education from Columbia’s Teachers College) as “an educator and counselor with experience in program development since 1964, working within communities with limited resources to solve social problems.” No mention of how the good doctor worked to solve social problems in the sixties, or the seventies and eighties.

For that information, students might refer to histories of the period—or, without moving from their keyboard, they can consult Boudin’s Wikipedia page, which offers some details that Columbia omitted. In the sixties, for example, “Boudin became heavily involved with the Weather Underground. The Weathermen bombed the Pentagon, the U.S. Capitol . . . as well as the offices of multinational companies” as a protest against the Vietnam War. Boudin survived the group’s 1970 Greenwich Village townhouse explosion as well as the premature detonation of a nail bomb intended to go off during a dance at Fort Dix, New Jersey. Had things gone as planned, the device would have killed or maimed scores of soldiers and their dates. Three bomb-makers died in the incident; Boudin escaped with minor wounds.

In 1981, eight years after the end of the Vietnam War and far beyond her extended adolescence, the 38-year-old Boudin, along with several members of the Weather Underground and the Black Liberation Army, robbed a Brinks armored car at a mall in Nanuet, New York. She drove the getaway car. Police stopped the vehicle, whereupon Boudin, feigning innocence, pleaded with them to lower their guns. As soon as they did, six heavily armed fugitives ambushed the four officers. Two policemen and a guard were killed.

Within weeks, the perpetrators were rounded up. The majority received three consecutive sentences of 25 years to life. Boudin’s lawyer arranged for a plea bargain; in exchange for a 20-years-to-life sentence, his client pled guilty to one count of felony murder and robbery. She was paroled in 2003.

Boudin & Co. bear a strong resemblance to the principals in Robert Redford’s hypocritical new film, The Company You Keep—except that Redford’s aging radicals seem about as harmless as an audience for an Andrea Bocelli concert. Some are innocent, some are guilty of a lethal robbery, and some are still on the run. They’re all careful to decry moral equivalence—except for one. The fugitive played by Julie Christie articulates Company’s bottom line: “I’ll turn myself in when the politicians and corporations turn themselves in.” Dr. Boudin could not have said it better.

When it became known that Boudin was hiding in plain sight at Columbia, the New York Post interviewed the nephew of one of the police officers shot to death in Nanuet. He reminded readers of the consequences of that long-ago incident: “Nine children grew up without their dads because of her actions.” None of this, course, has any effect on Columbia. Associate dean Marianne Yoshioka, who hired Boudin, rose to her defense. Kathy Boudin has been “an excellent teacher who gets incredible evaluations from her students each year,” Yoshioka said. “Incredible” does seem the operative word.

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