Bill Ayers Denied Emeritus Status Because Of Long-Ago Reference To Sirhan Sirhan As Political Prisoner
One-time Weather Underground radical Bill Ayers, recently retired as professor of education at the University of Illinois at Chicago, was denied the title of “professor emeritus” by the school’s board of trustees. The head of the board is Christopher Kennedy, son of Robert F. Kennedy, who was murdered by Sirhan Sirhan. Ayers’ 1974 book Prarie Fire included a dedication page that included the words, “To All Who Continue to Fight” and “To All Political Prisoners in the U.S.” Among those listed was Sirhan Sirhan.
“My own history is not a secret,” Kennedy told fellow board members in September, explaining why he would vote against conferring the title on Ayers. “There can be no place in a democracy to celebrate political assassinations or to honor those who do so.”
The faculty senate protested the move as a violation of “academic freedom” that could “cast a spell on open discussion.” Ayers explained his position to NEWSWEEK.
In a rare interview, Ayers told NEWSWEEK that while he “felt very sad” for Christopher Kennedy and his family for “having to revisit this,” the board had unwisely “reacted emotionally” by denying him emeritus status. Ayers said he had “nothing to do with” Sirhan being listed on the page of names, work that he claimed was done by an artist conveying criticism of “the national policy of mass incarceration.” While he shared the artist’s critical views on prison policy, he said, he did not consider Sirhan to be a political prisoner.
In an interview I did with Ayers in 2009, he denied any participation in violence. However, it’s his views, and being a lighting rod in the 2008 presidential campaign, that many have contributed to the current controversy.
Jon Bean of the National Association of Scholars, a group that calls for a return to classic education, says Ayers and his backers are probably correct in saying that politics drove the decision by the university board. But he remains unsympathetic. “Ayers was an academic entrepreneur who made a career of his radicalism,” says Bean, a history professor at Southern Illinois University. “Academic politics can bite you back.”Click here for reuse options!
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