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Brodhead's letter

Some students still wonder why President Richard Brodhead handled last semester’s Palestine Solidarity Movement controversy the way he did. Was Brodhead just trying to make everyone happy, or does Duke have another administrator/activist in the Allen Building? At least one story from the President’s past suggests he is indeed into activism.

On June 15, 2003, Brodhead signed a letter to the New York Board of Parole urging the release of inmate Kathy Boudin, who was serving a sentence for a 1981 robbery that left two policemen and a security guard dead. Identifying himself as the Dean of Yale University, Brodhead joined others in saying that an ideal justice system “recognizes and rewards inmates like Kathy who have, undergone profound personal growth, and shown genuine remorse.” The letter said Boudin had “earned” parole.

A ’70s radical, Kathy Boudin was a member of “Weather Underground,” an American terrorist group that bombed government buildings. On Oct. 20, 1981, she and other members of the radical Black Liberation Army killed a Brinks security guard while stealing $1.6 million from an armored truck. When the U-Haul they transferred the money to was pulled over by two policemen, Boudin got out and asked the officers to put their guns away. As they did, several armed men jumped out of the back of the U-Haul and shot the two officers dead, one white and one black.

Boudin was arrested while running from the scene of the crime. Police were already looking for her because of her role in an explosion at a Greenwich Village townhouse ten years before. While in jail, Boudin married one of the men involved in the robbery, already the father of her child. She also pled guilty to robbery and murder, though the man she married has still never cooperated with authorities.

Three month’s after Brodhead and others sent the letter, a sympathetic parole board actually released Boudin, prompting great outrage.

Brent Newbury, the President of a Policemen’s Benevolent Association, called Boudin “a cop killer and a domestic terrorist,” adding “it makes physically sick to my stomach to see her walk out of prison.”

Fraternal Order of Police President Frank Ferreyra called Boudin’s release “a slap in the face of every officer in our state and our nation” and a “travesty of justice.”

New York Governor George Pataki also denounced Boudin’s release, saying “It is not a decision that should have been made.… The murder of a police officer is a horrific crime and one that should be punished to the fullest extent of the law.”

Brodhead’s letter probably had nothing to do with Boudin’s release, but it was actually written at the behest of Boudin’s son Chesa Boudin, a Yale student at the time. Chesa’s parents went to jail when he was a baby, and he fought for their release while at Yale. The son ended up a radical himself, often comparing his parents’ imprisonment to larger social problems. In a New York Times interview, he glorified his parents’ past, saying “We have a different name for the war we’re fighting now—now we call it the war on terrorism, then they called it the war on communism. My parents were all dedicated to fighting U.S. imperialism around the world. I’m dedicated to the same thing.”

Not only did Brodhead sign the letter, he also spoke about the need for prisons to not be “vindictive.” In a statement to the Yale Daily Herald, Dean Brodhead explained his reasons for signing the letter, even making a comment about The Scarlet Letter:

Said Brodhead: “This case raises in a very deep way the question of rehabilitation, the question whether punishment and suffering can work a change that makes further punishment just vindictive.

Maybe I’m just a man who has taught ‘The Scarlet Letter’ too often, but I thought this was the case this time.”

It’s unclear whether Brodhead had any other reasons for signing the letter. It’s also unclear whether he would ever use his position at Duke to take similar stands.

Nathan Carlton is a Trinity senior. His column appears Thursdays.

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