University hopes Bill Ayers’ stay on campus will ‘sustain dialogue’

Whether viewed as a political extremist, advocator for education reform or professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago, Bill Ayers’ week-long visit to Allen’s guest-in-residence program from March 9-12 is sure to spark attention.

According to the Allen Hall Web site, Ayers is holding events …Whether viewed as a political extremist, advocator for education reform or professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago, Bill Ayers’ week-long visit to Allen’s guest-in-residence program from March 9-12 is sure to spark attention.

According to the Allen Hall Web site, Ayers is holding events throughout the week, speaking on topics such as education, his life experiences, political activism and the 2008 presidential campaign, in which his connection to Barack Obama was controversial.

“What I think is important about (the program) is a democratic trade in dialogue, and what Allen Hall is providing their students is (the idea) to sustain dialogue with a wide range of people from all walks of life,” Ayers said. “(It is) part of a what a liberal arts education is all about.”

Despite the criticism Barack Obama received for possible association with Ayers, who was active with the political extremist organization Weather Underground in the 1960s and 1970s, Kirsten Ruby, assistant director of housing for University marketing said they never considered withdrawing his invitation.

“His background didn’t change, his credentials didn’t change in the time and he is still a tenure professor at University of Illinois-Chicago during the campaign,” Ruby said.

During the campaign, Sarah Palin accused Obama of “palling around with terrorists” for having served on the board of directors of the Woods Fund of Chicago with Ayers from 1999-2002, according to New York Times reports.

Palin alluded to Ayers’ involvement in the Weather Underground organization. This group bombed government buildings, such as the United States Capitol Building, the Pentagon and Harry S. Truman Building that housed the Department of State throughout the 1970s. The bombings illustrated the group’s opposition to the Vietnam War.

Bill Ayers, who participated in the guest-in-residence program during the 2001-02 and 2004-05 school years, said he does not expect his visit to be different, “except for a moment, I was a cartoon character in the presidential campaign, but it’s not that big of a deal.”

Ruby said Ayers’ visit may help students develop critical thinking skills and help them grow by speaking with people who hold oppositional beliefs.

“I think this is a chance for dialogue with a person who has been a public figure. It is a remarkable opportunity and I hope students take advantage of it,” Ruby said. “What is a better way to live a piece of history of these people than to question them yourselves?”

Overall, she said she heard from the Allen Hall staff that students think he is “a very engaging speaker that students relate well to (on his ideas on education reform).”

Ruby said she received one phone call in complaint in the past two weeks opposing Ayers’ visit to campus.

However, other students such as Jacob Hollars, sophomore in LAS, said they are protesting Ayers’ visit to campus. Hollars said he plans to attend Ayer’s events and ask questions about his beliefs throughout the week.

“Your experience doesn’t mean you have the right answers or what you’re teaching is perfect. Everyone is infallible,” Hollars said.

He said the protest is not held through a particular organization but hopes 10-15 people participate. Protestors are to meet outside of Allen Hall at 6:45 p.m. on Tuesday. Hollars said he began organizing the protest in September when he first heard of Ayers visit to Allen Hall. He said his role was to group individuals together who planned to protest Ayers visit in the same manner.

Ayers said he does not know whether to expect opposition but welcomes conversation about his ideas.

“The idea of somehow we are all wrapped up in trying to conform is a mistake. It’s not what we should be doing,” Ayers said.