12/02/2004

Professor of Terrorism

Four years ago, Susan Rosenberg was sitting in prison. She was serving out the 16th year of a 58-year sentence for the possession of more than 700 pounds of explosives and a stockpile of illicit weapons. Then, Bill Clinton pardoned her on the last day of his second term as president. Next month, she'll begin teaching a course at Hamilton College, a small liberal arts school in upstate New York.

Given her continued belief in revolutionary violence, one could ask if Rosenberg has changed at all. A former student activist in the 1970s, Rosenberg’s radical ties include involvement with several terrorist groups, including the Black Liberation Army and the Weather Underground. It is through her affiliation with a Weather Underground affiliate group known as the “Family” that Rosenberg became a suspect in the October 1981 robbery of a Brink’s armored car carrying $1.6 million in which two policemen and an armed guard were murdered. Though Rosenberg has steadfastly denied any part in the robbery, she was indicted both for plotting the robbery and driving the getaway car. Contrary to the claims of many of Rosenberg’s devotees, prosecutors never retreated from those charges; they only dropped these charges in 1984 after Rosenberg had been sentenced to 58 years in federal prison for the possession of dynamite and a weapons cache. Rosenberg could not be reached for an interview.

What rankles more than a few Hamilton professors is that one would know none of the darker details of Rosenberg’s past by taking Kirkland Project’s directors at their word. In one announcement, notable more for what it did not say, the Kirkland Project touted Rosenberg as “a writer and teacher, but also an activist and AIDS educator. She was incarcerated for years as a result of her political activities with the Black Liberation Army and was released through a grant of executive clemency by President Clinton in January 2001.” While in prison, Rosenberg had indeed worked with AIDS sufferers. But the Kirkland Project was silent on the far more objectionable aspects of Rosenberg’s biography. The Kirkland Project further hailed her as “an award-winning writer, an activist, and a teacher who offers a unique perspective as a writer.” It gave not a hint of Rosenberg’s extensive terrorist rap sheet, her confessed commitment to violent revolutionary struggle, and her less-than-distinguished academic background.

This glaring omission has several Hamilton professors furious. Steve Goldberg, a professor of art history at Hamilton, takes heated issue with what he calls the Kirkland Project’s “laundering” of Rosenberg’s biography. “This is not truth in advertising,” says Goldberg. “She’s being presented as someone who was wrongly imprisoned, and who was a victim, rather than the perpetrator of terrorism. And I find that to be absolutely reprehensible.” History professor Robert Paquette agrees. “In the case of Susan Rosenberg, the Kirkland Project presented a remarkably sanitized version of a convicted terrorist.”
Susan Rosenberg was one of over 140 people to whom Clinton issued pardons on his last day in office. Another was Marc Rich, who fled the country 17 years earlier to escape 50 criminal counts and is now entangled in the U.N. Oil-For-Food scandal.

It's difficult to see what educational value Ms. Rosenberg could bring to a college campus, except perhaps to instruct students on why it's good and proper to hate the United States. When you take someone who advocates armed overthrow of the government and put that person on the academic payroll, you send a message to your students: These people are okay. Their actions are okay. You should listen to these people.

Ms. Rosenberg should never have been released from prison in the first place, but that is a mistake that cannot be un-made. Hamilton College would better serve its students by removing Ms. Rosenberg and her political pestilence from their campus.