Nancy Rabinowitz

Nancy Rabinowitz

: Photo from Wikimedia Commons / Author of Photo: Nancy Sorkin Rabinowitz


* Professor of Comparative Literature, Hamilton College
* Former director of the Kirkland Project for the Study of Gender, Society, and Culture
* Offered a Visiting Professorship to convicted Weather Underground terrorist Susan Rosenberg
* Invited Professor Ward Churchill to speak at Hamilton College

Born May 31, 1945, Nancy Rabinowitz is a professor of Comparative Literature and the former director of the Kirkland Project for the Study of Gender, Society, and Culture at Hamilton College, a venerable liberal arts school in Clinton, New York. “We need to train our students to listen, think critically and speak up,” observes  Professor Rabinowitz, who joined the Hamilton faculty in 1978. “We don’t need to protect them from things that they might disagree with.” Yet her Rabinowitz’s ecumenicism doesn’t extend to conservative faculty, who are non-existent in her department and with a handful of exceptions absent from the Hamilton faculty.

In 2004, Professor Rabinowitz offered a teaching position to convicted terrorist Susan Rosenberg, a onetime member of the “Family,” a radical leftwing terrorist group affiliated with the Weather Underground, who was arrested with 740 pounds of dynamite and a list of government targets she intended to bomb. Rosenberg was also a suspect in the 1981 robbery of a Brinks armored car, which resulted in the deaths of two police officers and an armed guard, leaving nine children without fathers. Kathy Boudin, a leader of the terrorist group that conducted the roberry, is part of Professor Rabinowitz’s extended family. Rabinowitz’s late father-in-law is the Communist lawyer Victor Rabinowitz, whose partner and closest friend was Kathy Boudin’s father, Leonard. (Both men were counselors for Cuban dictator Fidel Castro and heavily involved in the defense of the Weather terrorists.)

Upon her arrest, Susan Rosenberg exclaimed, “We’re caught, but we’re not defeated. Long live the armed struggle!” She was sentenced to 58 years in Federal prison for her crime, but only served seventeen. At the request of New York leftwing congressman Jerrold Nadler, Rosenberg received a presidential pardon from Bill Clinton on Clinton’s last day in office. Four years later, Rabinowitz offered Rosenberg the professorship at Hamilton, a move that was part of an effort to rehabilitate the Weather terrorist network. As part of this program, another convicted Weather terrorist, Laura Whitehorn, was invited to speak at Duke University and other campuses where she was billed as a “champion of human rights” by university faculty who invited her.

To accommodate Rosenberg, Professor Rabinowitz changed the name of the Kirkland position from “artist/scholar-in-residence” to “artist/activist-in-residence.” Rosenberg was slated to teach a creative writing course titled “Resistance Memoirs: Writing, Identity and Change;” One of her poems, titled “To free Mumia Abu Jamal,” (in honor of the convicted cop-killer and Black Panther), reads, “Do not be Black / Do not be radical / Do not be a political prisoner / There is still time to SHAKE IT LOOSE / to pry open this iron fist to shake spirits free into the light.”

A national controversy erupted over the invitation, when police officers whose comrades had been killed in the Brinks robbery came to a Hamilton fund-raising event in New York City to protest. Their protest was repored by the press and caused a public reaction that resulted in the withdrawal of sizeable donations from Hamilton alumni. Amid the controversy over Rosenberg’s violent past, she was forced to withdraw her name and give up the appointment.

“This whole event and the way it unfolded,” commented Professor Rabinowitz, raises significant questions about academic freedom, about who decides who is fit to speak, who is fit to teach.” Professor Rabinowitz revealed the consistency of her standards on who is fit to teach when she followed up the fiasco by inviting another radical activist with links to the Weather terrorist network (he claimed to have trained them in the use of weapons), University of Colorado professor Ward Churchill.

Rabinowitz’s February 2005 invitation of Churchill to speak at Hamilton provoked an even larger controversy than the Rosenberg fracas when a student uncovered a 2001 article by Churchill describing the victims of 9/11 as “little Eichmanns” and indicating that the terrorists hadn’t finished the job. (“One of the things I’ve suggested,” added Churchill, “is that it may be that more 9/11s are necessary.”) This new scandal prompted the Hamilton administration to cancel the event two days before it was scheduled to take place, allegedly because of  “credible threats of violence [which] have been directed at the College and members of the panel.”

Defending her invitation to have Churchill speak, Rabinowitz said, “We try to train [students] to be critical thinkers and to respond intelligently to what they hear. I think the students should hear his whole argument before they boil it down to a few sound bites.”

Before canceling the Churchill appearance, the Office of the President at Hamilton College had appointed a faculty committee to review the Kirkland Project. Said Professor Rabinowitz, “The College is still supporting Ward Churchill coming, but because of its timing, this review could send the signal that it doesn’t support the Kirkland Project. So it looks like a veiled attack on free speech.” Shortly thereafter, Professsor Rabinowitz stepped down as director of the Kirkland Project. She announced:

“I am resigning under duress, for I would have preferred to stay on until I took my long awaited sabbatical; however, my strengths have been in the intrinsic work of the Project itself, and what the Project needs now is someone more adept at the kind of political and media fight that the current climate requires. Therefore, it is in the interests of the mission of the Project itself and of the College and for no other reason that I am yielding to requests that I resign.”

As a writer, Nancy Rabinowitz has often blended her knowledge of ancient Greece and Rome with her radical feminist worldview, an admixture that has resulted in a number of books she has written and edited, including: Among Women: From the Homosocial to the Homoerotic in the Ancient World. The book description of the latter, which Rabinowitz co-edited, reads as follows: “The essays in this book [explore] a wide variety of textual and archaeological evidence for women’s homosocial and homoerotic relationships from prehistoric Greece to fifth-century CE Egypt. Drawing on developments in feminist theory, gay and lesbian studies, and queer theory, as well as traditional textual and art historical methods, the contributors to this volume examine representations of women’s lives with other women, their friendships, and sexual subjectivity.”

In 2003, Rabinowitz presented a lecture at Hamilton titled, “Tragedy and Terror: Women at the Margin or Center.” According to Rabinowitz, “In this talk, I look at terrorism, specifically the events following the attacks on the World Trade Center and the ways in which women were used in the public discourse around those events, in connection with Greek tragedy. What can we learn from tragedy . . . about the relationship between gender and war?”

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