Ayers has talked for the Council on such topics as “Should Public Schools be Saved?,” “A Culture of Fear?,” “Reading, Writing, Revolution,” and a series on “Civic Cinema.” Ayers is, clearly, a regular figure in programs featured by the Council. We should not be surprised. When Richard Daley was Mayor of Chicago, he awarded Ayers the distinction of being Chicago’s citizen of the year in 1997. Nevertheless, the decision to have a dinner hosted by Ayers and Dohrn actually led two of the Council’s board members to resign in protest. This month, both Gary Koch, who had been on the board since 1999, and Thomas Pavlik, a board member for the past two years, resigned.
In his letter of resignation, Pavlik wrote that “I have been vocal and adamant in my view that it was a mistake to auction off the Ayers/Dohrn dinner and that the proverbial ‘plug’ should have been pulled on the entire matter some time ago. Although I take consolation that I have fought the good fight, my arguments have been unavailing.” When the Board refused to do what he and Koch recommended, he regretfully resigned, telling them that “my conscience will not allow me to remain on the Board of an organization that, if only tacitly, condones citizens who advocated violence as part of civil protests,” which he noted “betrays the very nature of the humanities.”
In Gary Koch’s letter, he wrote that “I … find it reprehensible to be associated with individuals who advocated blowing up police stations and federal buildings. I would be a hypocrite to look the other way on this.” The Council’s executive director, Kristina Valaitis, refused to make any public comment, only telling the press that “why people…choose to end their service is an internal matter.” At 6 p.m. on Tuesday, Valaitis phoned me. Refusing to make any comments, she set up a phone appointment for me with the chairman of the Illinois Humanities Council, Alton Harris, who will phone me tomorrow. I will post an update after I talk with him.
According to Judy Havemann, communications director of the NEH, their office recommended to Valaitis that “the dinner not be held.” Havemann said that 38 percent of the NEH budget goes to all local councils, and that she had no idea how much of that received by the Illinois Council made up the percentage of the Council’s entire budget. A source familiar with the NEH, however, told me that the Illinois Council’s budget was funded almost entirely — over 90 percent — by federal contribution, which means taxpayer dollars. When I asked whether or not the chairman of NEH had any position on whether an affiliate state body should be sponsoring events by Ayers and Dohrn, she responded that it was their position only that these decisions were up to the local council, and not the national NEH.