Bill Ayers speaks largely without incident

An organized student protest against former fugitive Bill Ayers, a 1960s and 1970s anti-Vietnam war activist in the Weather Underground, went awry Tuesday night as protestors disbanned in front of Allen Hall because of many no-shows.

The few protestors who did show up sat through Ayers’ presentation at Allen Hall as he spoke about his Vietnam War memoir titled “Fugitive Days” and opened up the floor for questions.

Ayers, a professor of education at the University of Illinois at Chicago, is staying at Allen Hall this week as part of its guest-in-residence program. Ayers’ stay was controversial when it was first announced.

Ayers’ opening lines Tuesday night lauded the University for allowing students access to a liberal education.

“This kind of residency is the essence of a liberal education,” Ayers said. “I always find students here to be engaged, interesting, emphatic and willing to have a dialogue.”

That dialogue was postponed shortly into the question and answer session when University parent Mark Thompson interjected with a speech that he said would stir “critical thinking.” Thompson recited the Miliary Oath of Office and turned to point a finger at Ayers calling him a “traitor,” adding that “his weapon is subversion.”

Thompson asked Ayers for five minutes and ended with the statement, “Don’t be an Ayer-head.” He was asked to sit down shortly thereafter.

“The system (Ayers) wants to end is your government,” Thompson said. “Never underestimate the power of persuasion a teacher has on young, bright minds.”

Students lined up in front of a microphone and addressed Ayers one-by-one. Unit One Allen Hall Program Director Laura Haber said Allen residents had priority in asking questions.

One student posed the question about how challenging it was to write “Fugitive Days.”

“I consider myself as a teacher who scribbles,” Ayers said. “Writing requires, what my son calls, discipline of the desk. The hardest thing was getting started, being disciplined and deciding what goes in (the book).”

Ayers said the purpose of his memoir was to capture what really happened and how he felt then. “Fugitive Days” became Ayers’ master’s degree thesis at Bennington College in Vermont.

The line trickled as the night drew to a close. Two of the student protestors saved their questions until the end. Nick Irmen, sophomore in LAS, wanted an explanation as to why Thompson wasn’t allowed his freedom of speech.

“The University is a place of free discussion,” Ayers said. “There are other venues. It’s ridiculous to say ‘because you have a right to speak that you have a right to take over a meeting.'”