Ayers' talk kept quiet at Pitt
By Craig Smith
Saturday, March 27, 2010
Perhaps the parents and prospective students touring the University
of Pittsburgh's student union Friday afternoon didn't notice the
police standing guard at the entrance, where about 150 students
gathered for a spring conference.
They were there waiting to hear 1960s leftist radical William Ayers,
co-founder of the Weather Underground, a group that bombed banks and
government buildings and Pittsburgh's Gulf Tower, Downtown. The
Council of Graduate Students of Education invited Ayers to be its
keynote speaker, but closed the event in the William Pitt Union
ballroom to the public.
University officials tried to downplay the speech by refusing to
disclose its location or even the time.
"It could be anywhere, anytime," spokesman John Fedele said. A
program for the event said Ayers would speak between 4:15 and 5:30 p.m.
"It's a bold move on Pitt's part," said Lucy Rankin, 20, of Erie, a
film and religious studies major.
Many students weren't aware of the speech.
"That would be interesting. Probably a lot of students missed it,"
said Mike Sayers, a psychology grad student from Redondo Beach, Calif.
Ayers, 65, was the second member of the Weather Underground to speak
at Pitt this month. Mark Rudd, a former leader of Students for a
Democratic Society and Weather Underground, spoke March 3 in the
Public Health Auditorium at the invitation of Pitt's chapter of
Students for a Democratic Society, or SDS.
The Weather Underground, sometimes known as The Weathermen, formed in
1969 as an offshoot of SDS and issued a "Declaration of a State of
War" against the government in 1970. The group carried out more than
a dozen bombings between 1970 and 1974, one of which killed a policeman.
"We thought we who lived in the metropolis of empire had a special
duty to oppose our own imperialism and to resist our own government's
imperial dreams," Ayers wrote this month in his blog.
About 100 students attended Rudd's speech, along with others "from
the far left to moderate Democrats," said Jordan Romanus, the Pitt
SDS chapter president.
He was surprised to learn about Ayers' talk. "That's news to me.
That's news to everybody in my group," he said. "There's no fliers
... nothing on campus."
Romanus, 22, of Waynesburg doesn't believe there's a fascination on
campus with aging '60s radicals.
"I can't speak for the other organization but we brought him in to
talk about student organizing. We don't advocate bombing or killing
anybody," said Romanus. "Shutting down Columbia (University) for four
days was effective."
The SDS virtually shut down Columbia University in New York from
April 23 -27, 1968, during an anti-war protest.
Asked whether his group planned to try any such thing at Pitt,
Romanus said: "No, I want to graduate."
Ayers spoke in December at Penn State Altoona. His appearance there
drew complaints from people in the largely Republican area, said
Marissa Carney, a university spokeswoman.
"The college did receive several e-mails and phone calls over the
fact that we were hosting William Ayers," she said. "There were some
protests ... but we proceeded, and there were no problems."
Pitt received calls of concern about yesterday's speech, Fedele said.
No protesters appeared.
Ayers, an education professor at the University of Illinois at
Chicago, acknowledged in his memoirs that he participated in bombings
of the New York City police headquarters in 1970, the U.S. Capitol in
1971 and the Pentagon in 1972. He was indicted on charges of
conspiring to bomb police stations and government buildings. Those
charges were dropped in 1974 because of illegal surveillance.
The Weather Underground took credit for the June 13, 1974, bombing of
the Gulf Tower. The bomb exploded at 9:41 p.m., 18 minutes after a
caller identifying himself as a member of the organization called the
Gulf switchboard and warned a bomb would explode.
The blast caused an estimated $1 million in damage to the building's
29th floor. Although seven men, including a Pittsburgh fire captain
investigating the bomb threat, were trapped in an elevator for about
40 minutes after the explosion, no one was injured. No arrests were made.
In a letter to The Associated Press, the Weather Underground accused
Gulf Oil Corp. of committing "enormous crimes" by drilling oil in
Angola and paying royalties to the Portuguese government, which
controlled the then-colony.
Craig Smith is a Pittsburgh Tribune-Review staff writer and can be
reached at 412-380-5646 or firstname.lastname@example.org .
Founder of radical Weather Underground to speak at Pitt
By Chris Togneri
Tuesday, March 23, 2010
University of Pittsburgh officials will not say how much radical
leftist William Ayers will be paid to speak at a campus event Friday
that is closed to the public but generating controversy nonetheless.
Graduate students invited Ayers, co-founder of the radical Weather
Underground, to deliver a keynote speech at the 16th annual Council
of Graduate Students in Education Student Research Conference. The
evening event is "invitation only," university spokesman John Fedele
"It's an educational event; it's designed for the students," he said.
"Outsiders would have a tendency to be distracting to that goal."
Some Pitt students, graduates and past employees said they are
outraged that Ayers is invited to the Oakland campus.
"This guy is a domestic American terrorist who never should have been
allowed to become an expert on education because he should have been
in prison," said Mike Vargo, a professor of military science at Pitt
from 2004 to 2006.
"Are we going to bring in (accused 9/11 mastermind) Khalid Sheikh
Mohammed if he gets released? ... This is outrageous," Vargo said.
"The guy is a coward, a traitor and an enemy of America."
Ayers, 65, did not respond to requests for comment. Student council
president Lou Sabina did not answer calls or e-mails.
In his memoirs, Ayers acknowledged participating in bombings of the
New York City police headquarters in 1970, the U.S. Capitol in 1971
and the Pentagon in 1972. He was indicted on charges of conspiring to
bomb police stations and government buildings. Those charges were
dropped in 1974 because of illegal surveillance.
Dan Garcia, a Pitt law student and chairman of the Allegheny County
Young Republicans, said his organization met to discuss Ayers'
speech. Members are concerned, Garcia said, that a publicly funded
university would pay for Ayers to visit but bar the public from
listening to him.
"He's got a right to speak, (but) where is the money coming from?"
Garcia said. "A lot of people have severe heartburn with that."
Fedele said the school would not disclose how much Ayers will be paid.
The payment will be covered by funds from the budget of the Council
of Graduate Students in Education, "and not from general university
funds," Fedele said.
Alan Lesgold, dean of Pitt's School of Education, said the student
council invited Ayers to speak because the education professor at
University of Illinois at Chicago is an expert on education policies
not because of his radical past.
"He has been trying to understand why it's so hard to educate certain
people in urban settings, and that's a really big problem," Lesgold
said. "... We're not honoring this guy. It's for people who are
interested in that kind of research."
Among acts for which the Weather Underground took credit was the June
13, 1974, bombing of one of Pittsburgh's iconic skyscrapers, the Gulf
Tower. The explosion injured no one but caused significant damage to
the building's 29th floor.
Lesgold said he anticipated "some level of reaction" to Ayers' visit.
"When the students came to me, I needed to make sure they were
concerned with his ideas and not about making a splash," he said.
"When a group of students say they'd like to hear from a particular
speaker, we try very hard not to censor that activity."
Lesgold added: "We're not in the business of politics. We're in the
business of evaluating ideas and testing them."