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Blast From the Past: William Ayers and Campaign ‘08

By Mark Walsh — April 18, 2008 1 min read

William Ayers, the 1960s radical about whom Sen. Barack Obama was questioned at this week’s Democratic presidential debate, is widely known in the field of education as a professor, commentator, and advocate for small schools and student rights.

Of course, Ayers doesn’t exactly hide his past as a former member of the Weather Underground and someone who has acknowledged a role in, and has refused to apologize for, bombings the group carried out at the Pentagon, the U.S. Capitol, and the Department of State.

The debate exchange is here. The New York Times notes here what is behind the question, the fact that Sen. Obama served with Ayers for a time on the board of an offshoot of the Woods Charitable Trust, which focuses on poverty and welfare issues. The Washington Post notes in a story today that Ayers and his wife, Bernardine Dorhn, hosted a gathering for Obama in 1995 when Obama first ran for the Illinois Senate.

“Nearly 30 years after surrendering to police, Ayers and Dohrn, both in their 60s, are tenured university professors whose work on school reform and juvenile justice have won them bipartisan respect,” says the Post, which even quoted a statement from Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley calling Ayers “a distinguished professor of education” and a “valued member of the Chicago community.”

Ayers has appeared in Education Week many times. In 1987, he wrote this critique of What Do Our 17-Year-Olds Know?, the widely discussed report by Diane Ravitch and Chester E. Finn Jr. In 1995, he was featured in this news story about the push for small schools in Chicago.

In 1994, our sister publication Teacher Magazine, ran this rather lengthy profile of Ayers, which focused on his thoughts on developing good teachers and his involvement with efforts to improve Chicago’s public schools.

Ayers is a professor in the department of curriculum and instruction at the University of Illinois-Chicago’s College of Education.

Ayers also has his own Web site, www.billayers.org, where he has not yet responded to debate dustup, but early this month had this post after Fox News host Sean Hannity had called him an “unrepentant terrorist.”