Saturday, October 18, 2008

Ayers' University Speech Canceled

University of Nebraska-Lincoln cites safety concerns in canceling a scheduled appearance by William Ayers

LINCOLN, Neb. — Safety concerns have forced University of Nebraska-Lincoln officials to cancel plans for William Ayers to speak on campus.

Ayers, who founded a group in the late 1960s that claimed responsibility for bombing several government buildings, was to speak Nov. 15.

But officials said Friday the university’s threat assessment group received e-mails and phone calls over the last day or two that identified safety issues.

When asked about details of the concerns, including if they contained threats against Ayers, University spokeswoman Meg Lauerman declined to comment further.

“We don’t discuss the specifics of any threat assessment on campus,” she said.

Ayers, a University of Illinois at Chicago education professor, was invited by UNL’s College of Education and Human Sciences because of his expertise in research related to small schools and urban education.

Ayers also is vice president-elect of curriculum studies at the American Educational Research Association.

But he’s become a lightening rod in the U.S. presidential campaign for his role as founder of the Weather Underground. The group formed in the late 1960s claimed responsibility for nonfatal bombings of the Pentagon and U.S. Capitol.

Friday’s announcement comes after Gov. Dave Heineman and several other Nebraska politicians asked the university to rescind its invitation.

“Bill Ayers is a well-known radical who should never have been invited,” Heineman said earlier Friday. “The people of Nebraska are outraged.

“This has gone beyond the University of Nebraska. It’s gotten to citizens all across this state, and they’re not happy because this is a public university.”

Heineman, appearing on Fox News late Friday, said he was pleased with the decision and skeptical about the stated reason behind it.

“I’m not saying I’m buying into it either,” he said. “But the bigger issue is we wanted this event cancelled.”

Heineman had called on NU President J.B. Milliken and Chuck Hassebrook, chairman of the NU Board of Regents, to tell Ayers to stay home.

Hassebrook called Heineman’s move “crass opportunism to try and jump on board and look good.” He said comments from Heineman and other politicians across the state had nothing to do with the cancellation.

Law enforcement officials approached university officials Thursday expressing concern about security and safety, he said.

University phone lines and e-mail have been flooded with messages from Nebraskans upset about the invitation to Ayers, some of which came Hassebrook’s way.

“The ones I received were angry, but I didn’t see threats of violence,” he said.

The decision to cancel was made within the College of Education and Human Sciences, he said.

The board and the university’s administration has always granted authority to faculty to make decisions about what they teach and who speaks and expects them to use it responsibly, he said.

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