Rosenberg always knew he wanted to pursue a path of public service. As a student at Amherst, he learned how to think and how to question in ways that relate directly to his work in Maryland’s General Assembly, where he has served since 1983. On his very first day of classes at the College, Rosenberg had an American Studies seminar with legendary political science professor Ben Ziegler. Ziegler would become his mentor. “I would see him once a week to talk about politics,” Rosenberg recalls. “That’s when I really learned the Socratic dialogue—both in his class and in his office.”
Those lessons serve him well to this day. “As both an adjunct law professor and a committee member, I use that method—when bills are heard before my committee, when there’s debate on the floor,” he says. “Nobody down here would ever say, ‘I enjoyed that Socratic dialogue with you on your bill,’ but that’s what it is.”
Rosenberg has done a lot with what he learned from Professor Ziegler—as well as Professors Hadley Arkes and Bill Taubman. In nearly four decades as a delegate, he has written Roe v. Wade into Maryland law, expanded access to the ballot and deterred activities intended to suppress voter turnout, and extended Maryland’s civil rights law to prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, among many other legislative accomplishments.
“The most profound thing I will ever do is to repeal Maryland’s death penalty,” says Rosenberg, who was the House of Delegates leader in this effort. “I was on campus when I learned that the repeal bill would not be petitioned to referendum. I walked across the Quad to Johnson Chapel, where the portrait of Charles Hamilton Houston is hung. Houston was Thurgood Marshall’s legal mentor. Marshall defended people facing the death penalty in Maryland courts. I touched the frame of the Houston portrait, and I felt like I had touched the Western Wall in Jerusalem.”
Rosenberg is also responsible for creating two programs that encourage students to enter public service: one repays a portion of the educational debt of people who choose lower-paying public interest jobs and the other provides stipends to students for public service internships. “Of all the issues that I’ve worked on in 38 years in the legislature, the ones that mean the most to me are those that help people to go down the path of public service,” he says. “I’ve tried to do that with my philanthropy as well.”
And so he has. Rosenberg has made several gifts to Amherst that are variations on this theme. In 1999, he created the Sylvia C. Hecht and Benedict L. and Babette H. Rosenberg Internship Fund, honoring his grandmother and parents, to support Amherst students undertaking summer internships in nonprofit organizations and government agencies. The Rosenberg Fund for Teaching, established in 2011, is a resource for Amherst students who serve as teaching interns in underserved areas. The Rosenberg Fund for Introduction to Government and Non-Profits was created in 2014 to support the Loeb Center’s Careers in Government & Nonprofit program, which offers professional development opportunities for students who want to pursue public service, politics or nonprofit work. And the Ed Wall Fund, behind which Rosenberg was a leading force, is an endowed scholarship fund in honor of former Dean of Admissions Ed Wall.
“I graduated from Amherst with no debt, so I could do what I wanted career-wise,” Rosenberg says. “With the funds I’ve established at the College, I’ve tried to make that a little more possible for some of today’s students.”
As he reflects on all that he’s been able to get done in his home state’s legislature, Rosenberg expresses both clarity and gratitude: “This is the job I should have, and I hope that the things I’ve funded at Amherst will, in some small way, help others to find the same.”