Bill Ayers Disinvited To Speak At University of Nebraska
University officials at University Nebraska-Lincoln are saying that “safety reasons” prevent them from going forward with a planned speech by Ayers (l), although they’re not saying just what it is that would stop Ayers from appearing at a College of Education and Human Sciences event.
It sounds like it was pressure from Nebraska Governor Dave Heineman, who condemned the planned talk and asked the school to cancel the event. Furthermore, an Omaha foundation said it would pull contributions to the university and that donors threatened consequences if Ayers were allowed to appear.
Heineman said Ayers’ invitation was “an embarrassment” to the state and that it goes beyond the bounds of the university’s mission.
“Our citizens are clearly outraged and want action,” Heineman said in an interview. “This is their university. This isn’t even a close call. The university should immediately rescind the invitation.”
Democratic Senator Ben Nelson and Republican Congressman Lee Terry also asked that the speech be cancelled. State Attorney General Jon Bruning said the school did the right thing by axing Ayers.
Last I checked, however, we have a First Amendment which should not be compromised by government officials leaning on a University to shut down speech. And institutions of higher learning are exactly the kinds of places where free, controversial speech should take place. It’s a shame that wallet-packing donors and high ranking legislators can’t see how destructive putting the pinch on Ayers and the university is to the kind of democracy we purport to have in America.
Update: The chancellor of the university Harvey Perlman, issued this statement today about the Ayers speech cancellation:
I regret that during the controversy regarding William Ayers’ visit to campus, I was in China and thus largely absent from the discussion. I am this morning meeting with the media.
I believe the controversy about Bill Ayers visiting this campus was heightened by a confluence of events which no one really could influence or predict. In February of this year, the College of Education and Human Sciences selected a speaker for its annual student research conference.
The topic was “qualitative methodology” and the committee eventually decided to invite William Ayers, a nationally recognized scholar in the field. In the 1960s Ayers engaged in violent acts in protest of the Vietnam War, for a while was a fugitive from justice, and eventually turned himself in. Prosecution of Ayers for these crimes was unsuccessful.
This year the research conference featuring Ayers coincided with a weekend in which the college also scheduled some significant events in its celebration of its centennial. Since the college expected alumni to be visiting the college, they were also invited to the conference, although the signature event for the centennial celebration was a dinner at which Ayers was to play no role.
Although I do not agree with this reaction, I can understand it and the concerns expressed. Given Ayers’ background, reasonable people could regard him with disgust, yet our traditions permit individuals to speak, even if their backgrounds or ideas are objectionable. Nebraskans care deeply about their university. We cannot have a great university if the selection of speakers, faculty, curriculum, or activities is governed by the passions of the moment or even the views of the majority.
I want to emphasize one point as strongly as I can. I do not think the selection of Ayers to come to Lincoln to address a student research conference on research methodology was in any way inappropriate. He is an acknowledged scholar, a tenured faculty member at the University of Illinois Chicago, and a high ranking officer in the association dealing with this type of research. He was named “Chicago Citizen of the Year” in 1996 and has worked tirelessly to improve the Chicago public schools. Ayers has spoken at more than 70 universities, including Iowa State, North Dakota State, Indiana, Purdue, the University of Missouri, and Michigan State. In the final accounting of his life, there will be very negative entries for his conduct 40 years ago and there will be more current positive entries as well.
The outrage by many Nebraskans was understandable but I think unfortunate to the extent it led them to seek to prevent him from coming. Most alarming, however, were some responses that were threatening to the security of the campus. As many of you know, we have faculty on this campus who specialize in assessing the level of threat in any situation and they informed me by e-mail in China that the tone and tenor of the e-mails, the phone calls, and the blogs, suggested that the reaction to any Ayers’ visit would represent a significant threat to the safety of the campus. Moreover, it could create an environment that would prohibit the University from taking advantage of his expertise. The student research conference would turn into a three-ring circus.
After consultation between Barbara Couture, myself and Dean Kostelnik, it was decided to cancel his visit. There are some who are skeptical of this explanation for the cancellation and believe we were ordered by the Board of Regents or President Milliken to cancel the visit. I can assure you that we were not ordered to cancel the event and that I would resign before following such an order.
I find it difficult to accept that the actions of a few individuals can deprive this university of its right to select speakers who can contribute to the education of our students. Nonetheless I take seriously the responsibility I have for the safety of members of this community, particularly the students. It seemed cancellation was the most responsible action…Click here for reuse options!
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