October 1, 2009
Bill Ayers is coming to speak to Nebraskans after all.
Recall that it was about a year ago that the University of
Nebraska-Lincoln's College of Education and Human Sciences announced
it would bring Ayers to be keynote speaker at a conference called for
the college's centennial.
A founder of the radical Weather Underground, Ayers has reinvented
himself as an education authority and earned some respect along the way.
But the politically and emotionally charged atmosphere that prevailed
a year ago made it all but certain little or nothing good would come
of his appearance at UNL, and the university canceled it after it
drew hostile criticism.
We said at the time if NU officials wanted to bring Ayers to campus,
a more fitting forum would have been one that made clear that Ayers
was invited to speak as an exercise in academic freedom and because
the university wants to offer students and faculty his views as part
of a robust marketplace of ideas.
Now, a year later, Ayers is coming to Omaha on Nov. 14 to speak to a
privately organized, privately financed gathering, the annual meeting
of the Academic Freedom Coalition of Nebraska.
The coalition is a statewide group whose members include the American
Civil Liberties Union, the Nebraska State Education Association and
the faculty senates at UNL and the University of Nebraska at Omaha.
Members of the public are invited to the event at the Holiday Inn,
72nd and Grover streets in Omaha.
We welcome this opportunity for Ayers to speak to Nebraskans and for
open-minded people to listen.
Regardless of his educational prominence and achievements, Ayers has
become a lightning rod for some who cannot or will not forget or
ignore his violent past.
In its campaign against the war in Indochina, the Weather Underground
claimed responsibility for numerous bombings in the early 1970s.
The most damage the organization did was to itself, when a bomb
detonated prematurely in a New York City townhouse and killed three radicals.
Ayers turned himself in to authorities in 1980. Charges were dropped
because overzealous prosecutors tainted evidence against the
organization. As Ayers left the courthouse, he quipped, "Guilty as
hell, and free as a bird. It's a great country."
Ayers now occupies himself as an education reformer, specializing in
finding new tactics for teaching urban young people.
He is a professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago. He has
served on the board of the Woods Fund of Chicago, a sibling
organization to the Woods Charitable Fund in Lincoln. He was chairman
of the Annenberg Challenge, which distributed nearly $50 million to
projects to improve education.
Ayers' speech will be called "The Right to Think at All: Academic
Freedom and Free Speech in Troubled Times."
He is well qualified to deliver that speech.