Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Goodbye academic freedom

Banning Ayers

The banning of Bill Ayers has become a symbol of the collapse of academic freedom, residue from eight years of neocon power and the use of the politics of fear to push a conservative agenda in the schools.

Debra Pickett
has a pretty good piece on Ayers in Chicago Magazine this month. It's good because it focuses on Bill Ayers the educator, not Ayers the cartoonish radical monster created by the Palin/McCain gang and then ratified in the media and even by many liberal educators and academics.

Writes Pickett:
Many of his tenets are hardly revolutionary—that parents and communities should control their own schools, that students learn better in “small learning communities,” that teachers are most effective when they ask questions and facilitate projects and discussions, rather than simply lecture or drill. These ideas in particular have become components in most major school reform efforts across the country, influencing not only educators but also private philanthropists and public policymakers.
But even though the elections are over, Ayers the caricature, is being banned from speaking at schools and public meetings across the country. Ironically, those doing the banning aren't mainly the right-wing Palin types any more. All too often they are liberals who are quick to abandon academic freedom and 1st Amendment rights out of fear. Shades of the '50s.

The most recent cases: the principal of Naperville (IL) High School where Ayers was invited and then dis-invited to address only those students who had signed parent permission slips. And then at Boston College, where Ayers' invitation was yanked and where even his virtual speech via satellite was virtually (I guess) banned.

A sign of the times

Just to show where the country is at right now, there was even serious talk about banning Pres. Obama from speaking at Notre Dame because his position on abortion and stem cell research upset the church hierarchy. Somewhere, the late senator from the state of Wisconsin is resting comfortably in his grave.

One voice that leaves me with some hope, is that of UMass Professor David Lisak who was scheduled to give a lecture at Boston College later this month. In the wake of the College’s decision to ban Ayers from campus, I received a copy of an email Lisak sent to the individual who had invited him to campus:

Dear Dr. Marchetti,

I am very sad to have to cancel my colloquium at Boston College, “The Undetected Rapist: Exploring the Causes and Consequences of Interpersonal Violence,” scheduled for April 27th. I do so because I cannot, in good conscience, provide a lecture to the Boston College community in the immediate wake of the College’s decision to block Mr. William Ayers from speaking on campus, and to further prevent him from being heard by the campus community. Freedom of speech is a critical component of vibrant public discourse and a pillar of our democracy. When it is attacked – and I view Boston College’s decision as such an attack – it is incumbent on each of us to take whatever steps we can to challenge such actions. Unfortunately, the step that I can take creates an inconvenience for individuals who likely had no part in the College’s decision, and who may strongly disagree with that decision. For that I am truly sorry, and I ask you for your understanding.


David Lisak


  1. Yet again I am disappointed in my city. Naperville has once again proven to be an ultra conservative opposer of free speech.

  2. I just came across this blog, so this comment is 'way late.

    It's good that Mike Klonsky was allowed to speak and it's shameful that Bill Ayers was banned from speaking. And this is despite whatever it is that they believe, or once believed. Even if Ayers and Klonsky were still ardent Maoists, they should be allowed to speak on any campus in the United States.

    As should their conservative opponents.

  3. Thanks Doug. Still ardent but never a "Maoist".


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