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Ayers' Talk at University of Nebraska Canceled


From guest blogger and EdWeek reporter Dakarai I. Aarons:

The controversy over Vietnam-era-radical-turned-education professor William Ayers shows no signs of dying down. Administrators at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln (alma mater of this guest blogger) canceled a long-planned Nov. 15 appearance by Ayers to speak to education faculty at a research conference after a furor erupted over the event.

Ayers, a professor of education at the University of Illinois at Chicago, has become a central figure in the presidential campaign because of his ties to Sen. Barack Obama, Democratic nominee. Obama served as chairman of the Chicago Annenberg Challenge, an education reform project for which Ayers was one of the key writers of the proposal funded by the Annenberg Foundation. Ayers worked with Obama on a number of occasions during the project’s run from 1995 to 2001. The pair also served on the board of the Woods Fund of Chicago together from 2000 to 2002.

Sen. John McCain, the Republican nominee, brought up the relationship between the two men during last week’s presidential debate and has aired commercials raising questions about their ties.

Ayers had been selected by a faculty committee at Nebraska to speak about education reform and smaller class sizes. He co-founded the Small Schools Workshop at his Chicago university, one of the first to look at reducing class size and school size to boost student achievement.

Nebraska's governor and attorney general (both Republicans) and both U.S. senators (one a Democrat and the other a Republican) spoke out over the selection of Ayers, saying the university should not be associated with his radical past. And a foundation that contributed millions to the university announced it would not give any more money unless Ayers’ appearance was canceled, according to media reports.

In a press release announcing that Ayers’ talk was being canceled, university officials said they made the decision after its “threat assessment group” identified a number of e-mails sent to the university containing threats regarding Ayers.

Harvey Perlman, the university’s chancellor, said at a press conference today that his decision was not the result of political pressure but out of concern for student safety.

"Let me be clear: I believe that the invitation to Professor Ayers was appropriate," Perlman said at the press conference. "He is an expert in his field and during the time in February when the invitation was extended, he was not the central figure of a presidential debate."

Perlman, who was the university’s longtime law school dean, said he would have resigned if he’d been ordered by University of Nebraska System President J.B. Milliken to rescind the invitation.


I am greatly disheartened by the amount of hysteria surrounding William Ayers, particularly those who are bent on tarring everyone who has ever had contact with him with the same brush.

By all accounts, William Ayers is a terrorist who has never shown any remorse for attempting to murder his political opponents. This makes his supposed academic credentials irrelevant. Would he have the same level of sympathy if he had bombed an abortion clinic instead of the US government? I graduated from UNL's teacher's college, so I am doubly disgusted that my alma mater would host this social deviant, and doubly disgusted that, when they canceled, they cited "security concerns", blaming everyone but themselves for their terrible judgment.


"By all accounts," William Ayers is not a terrorist who has never shown any remorse for attempting to murder his political opponent. Nor are his academic credentials "supposed."

The term terrorist is one that has been chosen by the McCain campaign as a descriptor, not because (as they have stated) they care at all about Ayers--but because they can use him to smear Barack Obama. Nor is there any evidence or admission of Ayers' attempts to murder anybody--opponent or not. The organization of which he was a key element attempted to and did bomb buildings--after giving warning to ensure the evacuation of people. The only deaths clearly attributed to the weathermen are the accidental deaths of three weathermen while constructing explosives. Ayers' "lack of remorse" derives from a report by the New York Times--published by unfortunate coincidence on 9/11. Ayers disputes this interpretation of his words and focuses on regrets at not having done more to stop the Vietnam war.

The problem that I have with the constant reiteration of the "unrepentent terrorist" story, though, has nothing to do with Ayers. It has far more to do with the guilt by association mentality that has been fostered. Obama has known Ayers, a terrorist--therefore Obama is under suspicion of being soft on terror, or having ulterior agendas. Ayers espouses social justice education, therefore education schools that also include this in their curriculum are a part of a conspiracy of indoctrination.

This is not only anti-intellectual, I don't find it to be particularly pro-democracy. Whether the university was kowtowing to financial threats or threats on the student body from right-wing extremists, I find the incident to be a troubing indication of irresponsible fear-mongering with political intent.

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