The recently-released movie “The Company You Keep,” directed by and starring Robert Redford, examines what happens when an investigative journalist reveals the hidden Weather Underground past of a mild-mannered Albany attorney implicated in a botched bank robbery in the 1970s during which a security guard was killed.
But if celluloid art were to imitate life, the fugitive radical would be hiding in plain sight, in the world of legal academia.
You see, while law school teaching gigs have been increasingly difficult to come by in the traditional manner, being publicly disgraced, disbarred or even convicted of a felony seems to be the fast track nowadays to the academy.
Forced to resign from high office after a public scandal? No problem. Shortly after achieving public ignominy as “Client No. 9” in a prostitution sting and resigning as governor of New York, Eliot Spitzer was welcomed with open arms to teach “Law and Public Policy” at City College of New York during the fall of 2009.
James McGreevey stepped down as New Jersey’s governor in the face of corruption allegations and revelations of an affair with a male aide. That didn’t stop Kean University from inviting the now-openly-gay former governor to lecture on “ethics, law and leadership” in 2007.
Former U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales also left office with his reputation in tatters after revelations of his controversial role in the firings of nine U.S. attorneys for political reasons. Yet that didn’t deter Texas Tech University from hiring Gonzales as a professor in 2009, nor did it dissuade Belmont University College of Law in Tennessee from installing the former Attorney General in an endowed professorship in the fall of 2011.
Just as resigning in disgrace seems to pose no obstacle to a future in teaching, neither does actual jail time. Bill Lerach achieved national notoriety for his law firm’s aggressive tactics as a “go-to” plaintiffs’ class action boutique. But after it was revealed that members of his firm had paid kickbacks to lead plaintiffs in securities class action litigation, Lerach pleaded guilty to conspiracy in 2007.
Upon his release from prison in 2010, Lerach promptly proceeded to find himself in demand for teaching future lawyers. He lectured at the University of San Diego Law School and the University of California-Irvine School of Law used taxpayer dollars to have Lerach develop and teach a course entitled “Regulation of Free Market Capitalism—Why Have We Failed?”
Although the Wall Street Journal published an op-ed applauding his hiring (saying “The felon has lessons to teach lawyers”), much of the public, including other legal academics, were outraged.
One commentator summed it up this way: “Law school is supposed to teach, among other things, what it means to play by the rules . . . . What message about the rule of law will Lerach convey to his law students?”
I’ve previously written about Lynne Stewart, the radical activist lawyer (since disbarred) convicted in 2005 of assisting terrorism, being invited to lecture on legal ethics at Hofstra Law School in 2007. But apparently, the real road to a law professor gig that academics would kill for is to, well, kill somebody.
If you’re a former militant '60s Weather Underground radical who’s done jail time, you’re likely to find yourself on the fast track to teaching at a prestigious law school. Just look at former Weather Underground member Eleanor Raskin, who went on the run after being indicted for bomb making in the 1970s.
In 1981, Raskin and her husband were arrested in connection with an explosives dump found in 1979 by New Jersey police. The charges against Raskin were dropped (her husband was put on probation), and she is now an associate professor at Albany Law School.
Bernadine Dohrn, a notorious Weather Underground radical who graced the FBI’s 10 Most Wanted List and later served seven months in prison, is now a member of the law faculty at Northwestern. Her faculty bio lists her role as founder of the Children and Family Justice Center and her scholarly interest in “children’s law, juvenile justice, the needs and rights of youths, and international human rights,” but oddly enough makes no mention of her jail time or her bomb making skills.
Perhaps most outrageous is the case of former Weather Underground member Kathy Boudin, who pleaded guilty in 1984 to second-degree murder for her role in the infamous 1981 Brinks armored car robbery in Nyack, N.Y., (in which three people were killed, including the first black police officer on the Nyack police force). Boudin was sentenced to 20 years to life, but was paroled in 2003.
By 2008, she landed a plum professorship at Columbia, where her bio describes her as “an educator and counselor with experience in program development since 1964, working with communities with limited resources to solve social problems.”
Earlier this year, it was announced that Boudin was named the Sheinberg Scholar-in-Residence at NYU Law School, where she will lecture on “the politics of parole and re-entry” (Dohrn is also a former Sheinberg Scholar-in-Residence—anyone see a pattern here?).
The coveted appointment has outraged the survivors of Boudin’s victims (nine children grew up fatherless due to the actions of Boudin and her fellow accomplices). Josephine Paige, widow of slain Brinks guard Peter Paige, said “she doesn’t deserve a job at all. She doesn’t deserve anything.”
So, if you want to be a professor, forget about hard work and all that “publish or perish” nonsense. Simply find yourself expelled from public office in disgrace or commit a crime.
Of course, if you’re going to make bombs, rob a bank or shoot innocent people, make sure to say you’re doing so in the name of a leftist cause, and after being caught, call yourself a “political prisoner” rather than a convicted felon.
When you get out, you’ll be a professor in no time.