Ayers says he's sorry
Apologizes, but defends cause
Published: Mar 20, 2009
Bill Ayers did not hesitate Thursday to say he was sorry about
helping to bomb public buildings like the U.S. Capitol during the
Vietnam era to protest the war.
[ Listen to the interview:
[ Watch the interview: http://articles.lancasteronline.com/local/18/235291 ]
"Absolutely," he said during a sit-down interview on Millersville
University's campus hours before his much-publicized lecture on urban
But simply apologizing for the bombings does not account for the
lives of American soldiers or Vietnamese lost during the Vietnam War,
"I can completely understand if you or many of your readers would see
(the bombings) as crossing lines of propriety, common sense, the law,
effectiveness. I can see that perspective," he said. "I can see
calling it despicable. But what concerns me always is that 24,000 a
month were being killed (in Vietnam), and there has to be some
accounting for those lives, too."
Ayers answering the question of whether he was sorry which he did
so unflinchingly was about as intense as it would get Thursday as
MU went to great lengths to prepare for massive protests and
potential violence that never came.
Ayers came to MU to deliver a lecture about his urban education
reform proposals, for which he's well-known. But the day was about
much more than that.
Anywhere he goes now he becomes embroiled in two discussions his
education proposals and his past with the Weather Underground, the
radical organization he co-founded during the Vietnam era.
As Ayers spoke Thursday at Gordinier Hall, curiosity seekers outside
the Student Memorial Center slightly outnumbered the dozen or so protesters.
The curiosity seekers arrived by foot, bicycle and skateboard,
sporting MU hoodies and gawking at the six television vans parked
along South George Street or the massive security presence prowling
The protesters didn't put on any obvious displays of outrage beyond
their signs, one of which said "Invite Teachers, Not Terrorists."
They mostly stood on the sidewalk, chatting among themselves and with
Janet Kacskos, spokeswoman for MU, said there were no arrests
Thursday related to the Ayers event.
"I'm just thankful there weren't more protesters," Kacskos said. "I'm
just thankful there weren't any incidents."
The campus looked like a fortress. Police from several municipalities
and campus security patrolled the grounds, and barriers kept parts of
streets closed off.
Ayers said he was "dimly" aware of the controversy that had swirled
in Lancaster County during the weeks preceding his lecture, but that
he didn't lose any sleep over it.
"I don't take all of this publicity or this celebrity or this
notoriety all that seriously," he said. "I get up every morning and
do my work as I do every other day."
Ayers' life has taken on a newfound interest to the media and the
public since Sen. Hillary Clinton and Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin at
separate times during the presidential contest suggested a connection
between the former radical and then-Sen. Barack Obama.
Those who attended the lecture mostly shrugged off his past.
The room in which Ayers spoke Thursday was half-filled with adults
who were most likely children during the Vietnam War and with MU
students born about 15 years after the last American soldier was
evacuated from Saigon.
"It happened so long ago," said 20-year-old Will Trombley, an MU
education major sitting in the front row.
"Personally, to me, he's a professor at Illinois," Trombley's friend,
20-year-old Josh Christman, said. "It's really not that big of a deal."
Ayers said attention to his past during the 2008 presidential
campaign was part of American politics' continued fascination in with
Vietnam. But people under 40 years old simply care less than their
predecessors do about that time, he said.
"The good side of that is it's time to move on." Ayers said. "The bad
side of that is we've never reconciled what the problems were and
what historical lessons we could learn from Vietnam."
Reconciliation was at the heart of the debate over whether
Millersville should have canceled the Ayers event. Seven local
Republican lawmakers wanted the university to do so because they saw
him as an "unrepentant terrorist."
Ayers said he is sorry.
"The carelessness of that, the stupidity of that, is where I would
begin," Ayers continued. "If I would go much deeper, our inability to
end the war, our inability to impact, that led to an awful lot of
rigid thinking, dogmatism, sectarianism. And if I would do it all
over, I wish I would have the wisdom to be more unified, to be more
intelligent, to be more thoughtful."
But he is not sorry for trying to end the war, he said.
"It's also hard for me to say I'm sorry for the destruction of this
property when each time … on that very day a thousand people were
murdered," he said. "I don't see why we can't wrap our minds around
that. And maybe it's too big of a number. We are responsible for
killing 3 million people in a 10-year period in an illegal and unjust
war that was wrong."
We are worth the hassle of protests
By Dr. Barb Stengel
March 18, 2009
What are we afraid of? Bill Ayers is here and we're missing a huge
educational opportunity. We've opted, instead, for prudence.
Nobody will ever know for sure if that was the right choice, but we
can at least meditate a bit on the decision.
We could all - conservatives and liberals, hippies and preppies,
protestors and supporters have been licking our chops.
We could have planned teach ins and special sessions, sold books and
passed around electronic copies of articles, engaged the whole
community, invited them to join us in our dialogue about who we are
as American educators because Bill Ayers embodies two issues that
are the bread and butter of American politics and American education.
The first issue involves civil disobedience. Ayers protested
violently and illegally against the war in Vietnam and the draft
that threatened the lives of his generation of men.
Property was destroyed. Was he right to do so? Does his case meet
Thoreau's standards for challenging the tax collector? How is Ayers'
case different from the Boston Tea Party, for instance?
The second question asks what education is for.
Ayers espouses education for intellectual freedom (rather than for
economic adjustment), not just for those with the means to exercise
such freedom but for those disempowered students who attend urban schools.
Is his position the obvious one for a democratic educator or is it an
anarchist challenge to American capitalism? Or perhaps both?
These are fabulous questions, worthy of our consideration and
definitive of the liberal arts education we claim to provide.
Some say even some who agree with Ayers' educational philosophy and
see, in his Weatherman days, justifiable civil disobedience that we
shouldn't have invited Ayers to give the Lockey Lecture. "Not
prudent" (as Dana Garvey used to say in his imitation of the first
No, it probably wasn't prudent, but it's done now and I'm glad it is.
I have read the often nasty letters to the editor of the past several
weeks, but I have also listened to friends and others near and far
comment on how pleased they are that Millersville is hosting Ayers
and/or that the university is not caving to unreasonable demands.
Unfortunately, though, we're not licking our chops. We are hunkered
down, waiting for this too to pass.
Let me be clear. President McNairy has stood tall on the issue of
academic freedom. She has done so in a dignified way in the face of
I applaud the Administration, not for backing up Bill Ayers, but for
finding a center and staying there. The Administration has exercised
prudence, acting to control the media buzz, the potential circus of
protestors, and the unfortunately real possibility of "counter-terror."
But prudence is preventing learning. We are not engaging the
community; we are excluding them.
Why couldn't CCERP schedule speakers who balanced Ayers' presence,
including especially our own alums who have spoken eloquently on both
sides of both issues?
Why couldn't the Office of Social Equity use their considerable
talents at facilitating dialogue on difficult issues to invite every
single person who wrote a letter to the editor or made a phone call
to sit at a table with a liberal faculty member and conservative
member (there are some, you know), with a conservative student and a
liberal student (there are some, you know) to talk all of this through?
Why isn't the School of Education changing the location to Pucillo
Gym as we did with former Lockey Lecturer Jonathan Kozol in order to
encourage every future and present teacher to attend?
The answer is prudence and that scares me. This "teachable moment"
is passing us by.
Perhaps you aren't familiar with the concept "teachable moment." It
refers to the instant when, for unplanned reasons, the door to the
mind swings open.
All of a sudden, everybody's paying attention because what they have
taken for granted has been challenged. And that, my friends, is the
optimum condition for learning.
Teachable moments are painful even dangerous moments. They are;
there's no way around it.
And often we'd just as soon avoid the teachable moment and pretend
that the problem is temporary and not a persistent opening to growth
and wisdom. But we can't. Once the door is open, students are learning.
So what are they learning now that Bill Ayers' coming opened the door?
They are learning that, we as a community, will stand up for academic
freedom and freedom of speech and that's a wonderful thing. But
they also know that we have chosen prudence over growth and that's
I suppose it isn't prudent of me to write this essay, but no
matter. It is my way of seizing the opportunity that the Ayers'
I don't know if Ayers is worth the hubbub, but we are. We are worth
the hassle of protests. We are worth the struggle to communicate and
to understand even where we can't agree. That is why we are here.
Millersville U. braces for Ayers Thursday
Campus ready for heavy turnout of media, protesters for ex-radical.
Lancaster New Era
Published: Mar 18, 2009
By CINDY STAUFFER, Staff Writer
Remember James Comer?
Of course you don't.
Comer delivered last year's Anna Funk Lockey Education Lecture at
Comer has educational chops, as a Yale University faculty member and
child development expert. His talk on academic achievement and life
success last March did draw a standing-room-only crowd, but it was
largely made up of education students.
And none of them had to pass a security guard's metal-detecting wand
before they entered the lecture.
No TV cameras or reporters were on hand to record every one of
Comer's words. No police officers monitored the event.
This year's Anna Funk Lockey Education Lecture will be a bit different.
The speaker will be Bill Ayers, and the preparations for his speech
on urban education Thursday at MU have been a bit more extensive.
Ayers' background as a founder of the Weather Underground, a protest
group that bombed federal buildings to protest the Vietnam War, has
unleashed a firestorm of controversy here.
Local Republican lawmakers at first asked MU to cancel the speech by
Ayers, a professor of education and senior university scholar at the
University of Illinois at Chicago.
Seven of them later met with MU's president, Francine McNairy, and
members of its board, as well as the chancellor of the State System
of Higher Education. McNairy said she would not cancel the speech,
citing academic freedom.
Area residents also have written numerous letters and op-ed pieces in
local newspapers about Ayers, who made national news last year when
he was linked to the campaign of President Barack Obama.
As a result of the hoopla:
• MU staff and students quickly snapped up all available 300 tickets
to Ayers' speech, which will be given at 7 p.m. in the Lehr Room of
Because of the public's interest in the speech, an additional 400
seats are being set up in the Multi-Purpose Room in the Student
Memorial Center, which is across the street from Gordinier. A
simulcast of the speech will be shown on a big screen to people there.
MU has given out 225 of those overflow tickets, with 175 still
available as of presstime today. Remaining tickets can be picked up,
one per person with a photo identification card, until 4 p.m. Thursday.
• Security will be extensive for Ayers' visit.
Backpacks and large bags will not be permitted inside the lecture or
simulcast room. Everyone entering either room will be wanded by
The University Police Department has put together a plan for Ayers'
visit, and will use state police troopers, Millersville Borough
officers and others, said university spokeswoman Janet Kacskos.
Members of the South Central Pennsylvania Regional Counter Terrorism
Task Force also will be on hand.
Details of their preparations or plans are not being disclosed for
The cost of the security will not be known until after the event. It
will be paid for by unrestricted private donations to MU, Kacskos said.
• Protesters will be allowed outside the event, as MU's campus is
open, Kacskos said.
The university is suggesting, but not requiring, that protesters
congregate in a designated free speech area near the bell tower at
the Student Memorial Center.
Police will keep protesters from blocking access to Ayers' speech, or
harming anyone going into the speech sites, she said.
• Media coverage of the speech will be extensive.
MU has received requests for credentials from 29 reporters or media
people, including a Fox News crew out of New York.
• Ayers has been interested in seeing some of the advance coverage of
the controversy surrounding his speech. MU has e-mailed him some of it.
"My understanding is he does know about it," Kacskos said.
Staff writer Cindy Stauffer can be reached at cstauffer@LNPnews.com
Ayers Speech To Detour Traffic In Millersville
Chicago Professor To Speak Tonight At Millersville University
March. 19, 2009
MILLERSVILLE, Pa. - Millersville University in Lancaster County is
getting ready for Thursday's lecture by Bill Ayers.
Ayers is currently a professor from Chicago. But he has a past with
the radical Weather Underground, a group responsible for domestic
bombings in the 1960s and 1970s. Ayers' visit to Millersville is
"There will be a lot of picketing and protests, but everyone has
freedom of speech," said Millersville sophomore Megan McDannell.
"I disagree with members of the community denouncing the actions of
his past. It happened 30 years ago. Now, he's a viable member of
society," said sophomore Jerrod Mertz.
All 300 tickets for the event have been distributed.
The speech will lead to some detours.
Ayers calls teaching 'magical'
Mar 20, 2009
By BRIAN WALLACE, Staff Writer
Amid the police barricades, metal detectors and protesters at
Millersville University, Bill Ayers gave a surprisingly intimate and
upbeat talk Thursday about what it means to be a good teacher.
Ayers, senior university scholar and professor of education at the
University of Illinois at Chicago, was invited to MU to talk about
[ Listen to the entire speech:
[ Watch excerpts: http://articles.lancasteronline.com/local/18/235292/2467 ]
In a soft-spoken address punctuated with humor, Ayers recalled his
own struggles as a young kindergarten teacher in New York City in the
mid-'60s and said the profession "is powered, at its best, by love."
His words were a stark contrast to the "unrepentant terrorist" label
critics have pinned on him for his involvement in the '60s radical
group Weather Underground, which bombed federal buildings to protest
the Vietnam War.
Ayers made little mention of the controversy surrounding his visit,
saying only that he founf the heightened security "complicated and strange."
He addressed most of his talk to the many students in the audience
studying to be teachers.
"I seriously think teaching is one of the most magical things you can
do," Ayers said.
"It's bottomless in terms of its intellectual challenge, it's
bottomless in terms of its ethical necessity, it's bottomless in
terms of the joy that it can bring you and the tears and heartache."
Ayers said he learned early, as a 21-year-old, that he didn't have
all the answers for his students, as he was led to believe.
"I was 15 minutes into my first class when a kid said to me,
'Teacher, why does the ball bounce?' and I had this look of stricken
dread on my face," Ayers recalled.
"I was 15 minutes into teaching and I couldn't even answer that. ...
I thought, damn, I'm in big trouble."
Later that morning Ayers faced other questions "Why was his skin
pink when the student's was brown?" "Why was that man sleeping in the
gutter when we walked to the park?" he could not answer.
He experienced a crisis.
Wasn't he, as a teacher, supposed to be the "master and commander
clinging to the podium with all his might delivering pearls of
wisdom" to his students?
Ayers said he quickly learned that a teacher is not a know-it-all,
but an adult on a voyage with his or her students, an explorer, a
questioner, a curious person.
"And if you bring to teaching a curious disposition of mind, you
don't have to know the answer to every question," he said.
Ayers implored the future and current teachers in the audience to
avoid "the toxic habit of labeling kids by their deficits."
When a student is identified as "at-risk" or having an attention
deficit or learning disability, Ayers said, a teacher needs to ask
him or herself: "Is the label I'm putting on this kid or the terms
I'm using to describe (him) overdetermining my vision of what this
kid is or who this kid could be?"
Teachers must avoid such labels and treat all students as
"three-dimensional a heart, a mind, a spirit and a soul, all of
which need challenge," he said.
Even seemingly innocuous labels such as "class clown" or "poor
listener" can be counterproductive, he said, because children "are
dynamic, not finished."
"So, when you say 'class clown,' that's only now. Some other day,
(that student) could be a physicist."
It's the role of teachers to see beyond what is to what could be, he said.
"Your job is to welcome and nourish with one hand and challenge and
push with the other," Ayers said. "And if you're doing just one,
you're not doing your job."
Doing both well is "excruciatingly complex," he said.
The best teachers don't labor alone, Ayers said, but find allies in
the adults they work with, often enlisting parents to be advocates
for their children.
They also create classrooms filled with books and maps, words and
equations that encourage learning.
"You have to understand that the environment itself is a very
powerful teacher," he said. "If you have an illiterate environment,
and it's reading time, don't be surprised if your kids aren't hooked
Teachers also must be constant critics of their technique.
"You're not perfect," he said. "There's more that could be done in
this corner of the classroom. You could have been smarter in response
to Daryl's questions, and you could have had more options for Maria
when she came to you with a problem.
"So tomorrow you will be better because you criticized yourself today."
The key to this self-critique, though, is "waking up every morning
forgiving yourself for being human, for being limited, for being
partial, for being only partway there," Ayers said.
Teachers must be both critical and forgiving.
"If all you do is forgive yourself, you'll become the very teacher
you most don't want to become: the smug, self-assured, self-righteous
I-know-the- kids-are-a-bunch-of-bums teacher," he said.
"Don't be that teacher. Be a teacher who really makes a difference in
No disruptions at Ayers' visit
Published: Mar 20, 2009
By AD CRABLE, Staff Writer
There were no hecklers inside where Bill Ayers spoke. And the couple
dozen students and people who supported or protested the former
radical's appearance outside politely agreed to disagree.
With a massive police presence and tight security, feared
confrontations, speech disruptions and even possible violence did not
materialize, and Ayers' entire visit on Millersville University's
campus Thursday took place in peace.
Not that people didn't feel strongly about a man who admitted to
bombing government buildings during the Vietnam War being invited here.
"What he did was so wrong," said Nancy Leed, 56, of Washington Boro,
taking a break from her job as a cashier on campus.
"I know he's not coming here to discuss his past and it will be about
education, but still he left a mark a bad mark and I don't think
this is the place that we need to hear it," said Leed.
"I know people say it was in his past, but hey, I'm from the Vietnam
War era, and he went over the line," she said.
Students from both the Republican and Democrat campus chapters spoke
out vociferously against bringing Ayers to campus.
"We are outraged that he is here," said Ryan Barrick, president of
the college Democrats chapter. "This is an outrage to any student at
Millersville University or resident of Lancaster County.
"His reputation as an unrepentant terrorist precedes him, and for him
to come here to talk about urban education is flat-out wrong."
"MU Why?" read one of the signs group members held outside the
Student Memorial Center, across from where Ayers spoke.
Another group held a sign that said, "MU Grads Against Terrorists."
But right next to them were the six members of the campus chapter of
Students for a Democratic Society, a group that Ayers split from in
the 1960s to form the more radical Weather Underground.
"I don't approve of his tactics, but he is trying to make a better
world," said Josh Redd, SDS chapter president.
Joanne Roda, 56, of Lancaster, attended Ayers' speech because she was
interested in his views on education.
What about the speaker's past? she was asked.
"If there's a problem, then it's with the federal government because
they chose not to prosecute him," she said. "He went on to lead a
good life at least a purposeful life."
Widespread media attention and concerns trouble might erupt in a
charged atmosphere prompted Millersville University officials to
arrange for a huge security presence.
Several dozen police officers included campus police, Pennsylvania
State Police, Lancaster city police, Ephrata police, the Lancaster
County Sheriff's Department, at least two police dogs and about 20
members of the South Central Pennsylvania Regional Counter Terrorism
Task Force, a regional conglomorate of public agencies.
However, the task force asked to man the event as a training exercise.
Police cars and barricades blocked streets around the building where
Ayers spoke and at a closed-circuit broadcast of the speech in the
nearby Student Memorial Center.
MU spokeswoman Janet Kacskos today said she did not know precisely
how many law-enforcement officers were on hand and how much it would
cost to pay for them.
"Anybody who wants to be paid will submit invoices," she said.
However, she emphasized that all costs for security will be paid with
private funds, not by the taxpayers or students.
Asked if the university had any regrets about mobilizing such a large
police presence on campus, Kacskos said no and noted that the
university received "hostile" phone calls and e-mail messages through Thursday.
"We needed to be prepared to protect our students; that's our first
priority," she said.
Ayers' most recent talks, though certainly controversial, have
invoked mixed reactions from those actually attending the events.
Last October, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln uninvited Ayers to
speak on campus after the university's threat-assessment group
identified safety concerns.
His talk in January before 500 people at St. Mary's College in
California drew a mixture of boos and cheers from the audience, some
of whom disrupted his speech before being led away by police.
A March 5 talk at the University of Colorado drew a loud ovation and
no disruptions. Only a few protesters waved signs outside the event.
At Ayers' most recent campus talk, at the University of Illinois last
week, a man was arrested for repeatedly approaching Ayers on four
successive nights. The county's state attorney later decided not to
Staff writer Ad Crable can be reached at acrable@LNPnews.com or 481-6029.
Man who interrupted speech by Ayers won't be charged
By Mary Schenk
Wednesday, March 18, 2009
URBANA The Champaign County state's attorney has decided not to
charge a Dewey man in connection with his disruption of an activist's
speech on the University of Illinois campus last week.
"I am simply not interested in giving Mr. Thompson or Mr. Ayers any
more of a platform than they've already had here," said State's
Attorney Julia Rietz.
Mark Thompson, 50, was arrested Thursday night by UI police for
resisting arrest after he disrupted a speech by UI-Chicago professor
Bill Ayers at Allen Hall in Urbana.
Ayers was a guest speaker in residence at Allen all last week, his
trip having been paid for by students who live there.
On Thursday, Thompson showed up for the fourth night in a row to hear
what Ayers had to say and to confront the former Weather Underground
member and anti-Vietnam war activist. Thompson had been warned
earlier in the week that his questions were to come after those from
the students who had paid for Ayers' visit.
UI spokeswoman Robin Kaler said Thursday evening that Thompson tried
to give Ayers a Bible and a copy of Ayn Rand's "Atlas Shrugged." In
response, Ayers retreated from the stage and police moved in to
"Thanks to the wonders of the Internet, I was able to watch the
exchange on You Tube afterwards," said Rietz. "I thought Mr. Thompson
was obnoxious and the UI police were appropriate in their response
but it was clear that the crowd was not impressed by Mr. Thompson so
I don't think he accomplished anything.
"I could charge him with disorderly conduct but that would require us
to bring Mr. Ayers back for a trial and I don't think it is worth it.
It would be a circus for a Class B misdemeanor," she said.
UI police had given Thompson a notice to appear in court on the
charge this week.
UJ votes against Ayers Senate Money Resolution
by Destiny Aquino
The Student Union Judiciary ruled unanimously that a $900 Senate
Money Resolution to help bring Bill Ayers and Robert H. King to
campus violated the Union's constitution because the events were not
"Union projects," according to the UJ's majority opinion.
The statement released by the Union Judiciary last Tuesday stated
that "in order to qualify as a Union project, the project must, at
the very least, represent a true collaborative effort between the
Union and another individual or group."
The case was brought before the UJ March 7, when Senator for the
Class of 2009 Eric Alterman filed a petition against the Senate and
Senators for the Class of 2011 Alex Melman and Lev Hirschhorn, who
supported the Union's SMR, whichwas passed March 1.
Alterman claimed the SMR was in violation of bylaw Article IX,
Section 1. The Bylaw states, "All Senate Money Resolutions must be
used for Student Union Government projects and/or operations."
Hirschhorn and Melman argued that the Ayers event was always meant to
be a Senate project. As the Ayers' visit had the support of the
Social Justice Committee, Melman and Hirschhorn argued that it was a
Referring to previously passed SMRs such as the Brandeis Open Mic
Series' presentation on activist poet Jason Paul and the Winter Gala
in support of hopeFound, the majority decision, written by Chief
Justice Rachel Graham Kagan '09, stated, "Just because these
instances were never ruled on by the UJ does not make them useable as
precedent. Precedent based on a flawed reading of the rule is not
legitimate and incorrect past practice is no justification for future action."
UJ Associate Justice Judah Marans '11 told the Justice "that it is
important to remember that what the senators were attempting to do,
[bringing the event to campus], was not disingenuous. Simply the way
in which they went about doing it, [seeking money from the Senate for
a non-Senate project], went against the spirit of the written Student
Alterman commented, "I think that worthwhile projects where the
planners want to involve the Union in a significant way will still be
able to bring their projects before the discretionary fund as long as
they show that they're not solely involving the Union for financial reasons."
Hirschhorn stated, "I feel the ruling sets a bad precedent because
the Senate Discretionary [Fund] should be used to support and fund
projects on campus, and I think this severely limits the Senate's
ability to support projects that were originally created by clubs."
Castle Senator Nathan Robinson '11, the Union's counsel, said, "I do
feel the verdict sets a poor precedent for future uses of Senate
money and greatly restricts what the Senate can do with its
discretionary money, which should be left up to [the Union's] discretion."
He added, "I do think a number of our arguments and points were
misinterpreted or misconstrued by the justices. Perhaps it's our
fault for not presenting in the most clear way we could."