Ayers On Short List Of Canceled Speakers At U. Nebraska

This story was written by Kiah Haslett, Daily Nebraskan
The University of Nebraska-Lincoln has had its share of controversial speakers visit campus and every so often the outcry leads to a cancellation.

Educator William Ayers was scheduled to speak on campus Nov. 15 but he was uninvited last month after security concerns arose in regards to his upcoming visit.

Ayers was a co-founder of the Weather Underground, a radical group opposed to the Vietnam War. Federal charges of terrorism against him were dropped, and he went on to earn his doctorate in education from Colombia University. He is now a professor of education at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

"He was already a well-regarded scholar of education when he joined the UIC faculty in 1987," wrote Mark Rosati, associate chancellor for public affairs at UIC, in an e-mail.

Since then, Ayers has published numerous books, founded the Small Schools Workshop and the Center for Youth and Society, and served on several community and foundation boards.

"He has earned national recognition for his work in the education of children and the respect of his peers for his devotion to students," Rosati wrote. "We have no evidence that he has ever used his position for advocacy inappropriate to the education curriculum, (and the) university has always been transparent about Professor Ayers' employment during his 21 years on the UIC faculty."

This year, John McCain's presidential campaign attempted to connect Ayers with Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama, as they both served on the Woods Fund of Chicago, an anti-poverty group, according to The Washington Post's on-line fact-checker. Ayers also donated $200 to Obama's senatorial re-election campaign in 2001.

Ayers is one of the few speakers UNL has canceled. In 2004, the Daily Nebraskan reported that UNL canceled a talk by filmmaker Michael Moore, who was touring universities as part of his documentary "Slacker Uprising." However, UNL was not alone in canceling Moore, whose scheduled appearances provoked controversy around the nation.

"Problematic speakers are invited and gauged by colleges, departments and speakers," said university spokeswoman Kelly Bartling. "And it depends on your definition of controversial and provocative. Opinions are contested or debated.

"It was heard and cited during the Ayers slap that Jane Fonda had spoken on campus. People might not see that as controversial, but at the time, it was. She was invited to speak in the early (1970s). Sometimes, controversies are within a particular time and movement, in a context."

Jane Fonda did speak to UNL students in the fall of 1977. One person who remembers the event is current University of Nebraska President J. B. Milliken.

"I wasn't part of the committee when she was invited, but I would assume that she was invited because students were interested in what she had to say," he said through spokeswoman Sharon Stephan. "The war in Vietnam was already over, so it wasn't as tense a period of time as it would have been a few years earlier."

Milliken said a number of controversial figures have spoken to UNL students, including Gen. William Westmoreland (commanding general in Vietnam 1964-68), William F. Buckley (conservative commentator), Daniel Ellsberg (the individual who released the Pentagon Papers) and Ralph Nader.

Milliken recalled some opposition to Fonda's invitation, which ultimately resulted in the Board of Regents restricting the way student fees were used for speakers.

Milliken said the Fonda speech was attended by about 2,000 students, making it one of the most well-attended events UNL has hosted.

"Students had the benefit of hearing from someone who was directly nvolved in some of the controversial issues of the day. As I recall, her message was to urge students to be politically active and engaged," Milliken said.

"Both (Fonda and Ayers) are speakers with controversial pasts, and both opposed the war in Vietnam," he said. "However, there are many differences, the primary one being the reason that they were invited to campus. Ayers was not coming to talk about his political involvement, but about his research."