Leopold’s Ghost: How One Man’s War Crimes Upended a College’s Sense of Purpose
It was a dark December afternoon in 2008 when a young man called at my office. He was gracious, polite, and fashionably dressed, a representative of NBC News.
“This seems like a nice college,” he said, a bit condescendingly, of the bucolic Goucher campus, just north of Baltimore. “But you have someone working for you who has done terrible things.” I gulped, and my imagination ran wild—fraud, drugs, cheating, sexual misconduct? But he said he could not tell me more without consulting his senior colleague, a former CIA lawyer turned investigative reporter. They would be back in the morning, together with their crew, to tell me why our college would have the honor of being featured on The Wanted, a new series they were producing for NBC.
Goucher is a small, residential, coeducational liberal-arts college with all the values and sense of mission you’d associate with such a place. I had been president for seven years, since just a few months before 9/11, a career journalist who came from two years directing Voice of America and thought one of the most important things a small college could do in this era would be to introduce its students to the broader, changing world. We promised our students they’d become “global citizens,” and it wasn’t just rhetoric: Within a few years we had established the country’s only study-abroad requirement, and my colleagues and I began looking for ways to bring the world to us.
A young member of the philosophy department told me about the “scholar-at-risk” network—an appealing, increasingly fashionable way for colleges and universities to give shelter to intellectuals from around the globe threatened by government repression, civil strife, war, or the pinch of intellectual and political cultures less accommodating than our own. At its best, this could be a way for even the smallest schools to assert their role as progressive safe havens devoted to free discourse in a world disappointingly inhospitable to those values—and certainly it would make a nice contrast to the way some universities cozy up to foreign tyrants for financial purposes.