The Past Is Never Dead

Article excerpt

Byline: Dirk Johnson

Former radical Bill Ayers is snubbed for an honor after a Kennedy objects.

When Bill Ayers authored Prairie Fire in 1974, the self-proclaimed ArevolutionaryA and Aanti-imperialistA book included a page with the words ATo All Who Continue to FightA and ATo All Political Prisoners in the U.S.A 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.

AMy own history is not a secret,A Kennedy told fellow board members in September, explaining why he would vote against conferring the title on Ayers. AThere can be no place in a democracy to celebrate political assassinations or to honor those who do so.A Kennedy said he would ask any who criticized his action: AHow could I do anything else?A 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 Aacademic freedomA that could Acast a chill on open discussionA for teachers and students alike. In denying the honorific to Ayers, a faculty letter claimed, the board Asent a messageA that political involvement and public statements, no matter how far in the past, Awill be used for punishing university faculty and, presumably, graduate students.A

Ayers, a leader of the subversive Weather Underground in the 1970s, became a flashpoint in the 2008 presidential campaign. Right-wing commentators blasted Barack Obama for his glancing ties to the former radical--the two South Side Chicagoans served on a nonprofit board, and Ayers hosted a coffee gathering for the fledgling politician in the '90s. It didn't help that Ayers had seemed unrepentant in comments after his book Fugitive Days was published in 2001. AI don't regret setting bombs,A he told The New York Times in a story that ran the same day terrorists attacked the United States. …