Dirk Johnson: Why Bill Ayers Was Denied Prof. Emeritus Status

Roundup: Talking About History

[Dirk Johnson writes for Newsweek.]

When Bill Ayers authored Prairie Fire in 1974, the self-proclaimed “revolutionary” and “anti-imperialist” book included a page with the words “To All Who Continue to Fight” and “To All Political Prisoners in the U.S.” Sirhan Sirhan, the assassin of Robert F. Kennedy, was among those listed. Now Ayers, who recently retired as a professor of education at the University of Illinois at Chicago, has become eligible for the status of professor emeritus. The title requires the approval of the school’s board of trustees, however, and the board is headed by Christopher Kennedy, who was 4 years old at the time his father was murdered.

“My own history is not a secret,” Kennedy told fellow board members in September, explaining why he would vote against conferring the title on Ayers. “There can be no place in a democracy to celebrate political assassinations or to honor those who do so.” Kennedy said he would ask any who criticized his action: “How could I do anything else?” On Sept. 23 the board voted 6—0 against designating the honorary status. Six weeks later the faculty senate protest- ed the move as a violation of “academic freedom” that could “cast a chill on open discussion” for teachers and students alike. In denying the honorific to Ayers, a faculty letter claimed, the board “sent a message” that political involvement and public statements, no matter how far in the past, “will be used for punishing university faculty and, presumably, graduate students.”...

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