The controversy over Vietnam-era-radical-turned-education professor William Ayers shows no signs of dying down. Administrators at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln (alma mater of this guest blogger) canceled a long-planned Nov. 15 appearance by Ayers to speak to education faculty at a research conference after a furor erupted over the event.
Ayers, a professor of education at the University of Illinois at Chicago, has become a central figure in the presidential campaign because of his ties to Sen. Barack Obama, Democratic nominee. Obama served as chairman of the Chicago Annenberg Challenge, an education reform project for which Ayers was one of the key writers of the proposal funded by the Annenberg Foundation. Ayers worked with Obama on a number of occasions during the project’s run from 1995 to 2001. The pair also served on the board of the Woods Fund of Chicago together from 2000 to 2002.
Ayers had been selected by a faculty committee at Nebraska to speak about education reform and smaller class sizes. He co-founded the Small Schools Workshop at his Chicago university, one of the first to look at reducing class size and school size to boost student achievement.
Nebraska’s governor and attorney general (both Republicans) and both U.S. senators (one a Democrat and the other a Republican) spoke out over the selection of Ayers, saying the university should not be associated with his radical past. And a foundation that contributed millions to the university announced it would not give any more money unless Ayers’ appearance was canceled, according to media reports.
In a press release announcing that Ayers’ talk was being canceled, university officials said they made the decision after its “threat assessment group” identified a number of e-mails sent to the university containing threats regarding Ayers.
Harvey Perlman, the university’s chancellor, said at a press conference today that his decision was not the result of political pressure but out of concern for student safety.
“Let me be clear: I believe that the invitation to Professor Ayers was appropriate,” Perlman said at the press conference. “He is an expert in his field and during the time in February when the invitation was extended, he was not the central figure of a presidential debate.”
Perlman, who was the university’s longtime law school dean, said he would have resigned if he’d been ordered by University of Nebraska System President J.B. Milliken to rescind the invitation.