by Zachary Matusheski
The University Senate Judiciary committee ruled last week that the
$900 to bring Bill Ayers of Weather Underground and Robert H. King of
the Black Panther Party was unconstitutional. By the letter of the
law, this may be true. But in a case like this, we must look beyond
the law to the spirit and history of Brandeis in order to fully
understand what Ayers and King have to teach students.
Two radical conceptions were sustained in the founding of Brandeis
University. Sometimes, students forget just how radical they were.
The first principle that Brandeis was founded on was fairness in
admissions; the second, justice across the board for all people.
Brandeis was a beacon of hope and fairness in 1948 when lynching was
still a way for whites to terrorize blacks and many residents of
suburbs were discriminating against blacks, Catholics and Jews.
Some of the great agitators against segregation and ending a shameful
war came from Brandeis. The hilarious Abbie Hoffman used to walk our
campus grounds. He practiced guerilla theater and actually tried to
nominate a pig for president in 1968. Though he has since passed
away, his unique legacy as an activist lives on.
Angela Davis graduated from Brandeis in 1965. Once placed on FBI's
top 10 most wanted list because a gun registered in her name was used
in a murder, her trial and acquittal were among the most influential
in the last 50 years. When Ronald Reagan was governor of California,
he waged a war against her academic career. In 1970 he circulated a
memo firing Davis for her political sympathies. He swore she would
never teach in the University of California system. She boldly ran
against Reagan as vice president on the Communist Party ticket and
now teaches at UC-Santa Cruz.
Davis and Hoffman were both harsh in their criticisms of the
government and society. Likewise, Brandeis' existence itself in the
late 1940s was a criticism of the problems with the government and
society in American way of life. Bill Ayers and Robert H. King
represent contemporaries of Hoffman and Davis. In the spirit of
Brandeis' foundation, we should embrace these two personalities and
welcome them to Brandeis wholeheartedly.
Distinguished alumni like Davis and Hoffman fought for social
justice. This tradition of social justice survives in the Student
Union's Social Justice Committee. While the image of the Black
Panthers, King's group, has been skewed in the public eye as a
radical leftist group, this group was primarily dedicated to the
virtue of social justice that we still value today. The Black
Panthers advocated community solidarity. They pioneered social
programs, some of which are a great deal like the federal programs.
They exercised their Constitutional right to carry guns in order to
point out California police officers' biased tendency to follow a
Both the Panthers and the Weather Underground Organization, Ayers'
group, did unseemly things. Later on in the group's history, the
Panthers tried to extort money from the producers of The Mack. Some
paranoid Panthers shot people they thought were FBI undercover
agents. The Weather Underground participated in open violence to end
a war that was more violent than many can really imagine.
Because of these errors, members of these groups can teach students.
Both the Panthers and the WUO were filled with young, idealistic,
passionate people searching in sometimes extreme ways to fix clear
wrongs. Regardless of whether you agree with their politics, these
people have a special perspective. They can teach students at a
University founded on radical ideas how far to take those ideas. They
paid for their activism and they know the errors of youth better than
most. Their messages and thoughts on their experience provide
excellent learning opportunities for students in how to properly and
intelligently enact the ideals of justice that Brandeis was founded
on and that inspired alumni like Hoffman and Davis. For such a
valuable lesson, $900 is a small price for the University to pay.