The Wrong Complaints about Bill Ayers at Penn State

Predictably, the scheduled appearance on March 19 of Bill Ayers on a Dickinson School of Law panel at Pennsylvania State University has brought calls for revocation of the invitation because of his past as a founder of the terrorist group Weatherman and involvement in bombings. This is what Pennsylvania State Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati is asking university president Eric Barron to do.  A dozen students from the law school also wrote to Keith Elkin, assistant dean for academic and student affairs, claiming “the law school does not benefit from giving an admitted domestic terrorist, who has shown no remorse for his actions . . . a platform.”


Others take an absolutist free speech stance, arguing that no matter what his past Ayers has a right to speak and that students should be allowed to hear his views.  This is the position of Jordan Harris, former College Republicans chairman, who compares opposition to Ayers’ visit to the protests against other speakers, such as former New York City Police Commissioner Ray Kelly and columnist Ann Coulter.  (Harris, however, misrepresents opposition to a commencement speech by Michelle Obama, which unlike opposition to others was based on the fact that seating would be limited.)

Penn State journalism professor Russell Frank weighs in, castigating Scarnati for butting into academic business, about not understanding that Ayers will not be advocating the overthrow of the U.S. government, but instead will be participating in a panel on the “school-to-prison pipeline” at the law school on Thursday and in a workshop on “teaching toward democracy” at the Pasquerilla Spiritual Center on Friday.

“These happen to be Ayers’ areas of expertise,” Frank huffs.  Ayers is a “retired professor of education at the University of Illinois and, by most accounts, a well-regarded scholar”–not the “wild-eyed radical” Scarnati believes him to be.

Frank also corrects Scarnati in his charge that the university is paying Ayers: payment is coming from student activity fees.


That may be true, but as Philadelphia columnist Dom Giordano points out, all students are required to pay these fees, and taxpayers pay for the buildings and security.

I agree with the law school students, Scarnati, and Giordana that Ayers does not deserve any publicly supported forum.  What these critics fail to recognize, however, is that Ayers, after getting off on an FBI technicality, never stopped trying to overthrow the U.S. government.  After emerging from his fugitive status, he got a cushy academic job where he could do his dirty work.

The fact that he rose to become a professor of education is an indictment of academe, not a validation of Ayers’ credentials.  I listened to him at the Association of Teacher Educators conference.  I’ve slogged through his books on education and found them nonsensical, a pastiche of progressive theories and radical Marxism, as I chronicled in my book Bill Ayers: Teaching Revolution.

As in his “wild-eyed” bombing days, Ayers has no respect for the American system of law.  The “school-to-prison pipeline” theory, the idea that unjust schools are producing criminals, is a thinly disguised method for overturning our system of law by introducing racial preferences and taking away personal responsibility.  Radicals are continuing to promote revolution in the schools, except now not literally running through school corridors or talking to students on street corners as they did in the 1960s, but working within the system, on centers on campuses, with the help of foundations. George Soros’s Open Society Foundation supports Pennsylvania’s Education Law Center whose staff attorney, Nancy Potter, will be joining Ayers and Harold Jordan, of the ACLU, on the panel.


Bill Ayers, in his many writings, claims that schools are already like prisons because they require students to adhere to schedules and minimal dress codes.  In Ayers’ utopia, there would be no discipline, and there would be no teaching (like other progressive educators he believes students simply discover what they need to know). That all three panelists take such a radical approach and are appearing in a publicly funded institution is what should be upsetting Scarnati and others.

Had education not been transformed, Bill Ayers would have been laughed right off campus.  But his generation succeeded in institutionalizing activism, transforming the classroom from a place of serious scholarship into a recruiting ground for radicals.

The mentor to Ayers’ generation, communist history professor Howard Zinn, said “real learning takes place outside the classroom.”  What he meant was that real learning takes place in subversive protests.  Zinn radicalized students at Spelman College from 1956 to 1963, until he was fired for “insubordination” by the college’s first black president.  Zinn’s Marxist version of American history is now being taught in our schools through the use of his books and spin-off curricula.  And so are Bill Ayers’ ideas.  His nonsensical books are used widely in colleges of education.


Both the College Republican who takes a free speech position and the concerned legislator should look at the root of the problem.  They should look at any college website and see all the various nonacademic social justice initiatives, staffed and housed in elegantly appointed quarters.  They will find that as at the “school-to-prison” event, there is no “exchange of ideas,” as college president Eric Barron told faculty members there would be.  The panel make-up and the purpose of the sponsoring center provide evidence.

Barron also said that universities should encourage expression of all ideas, even unpopular ones.  What is unpopular on campuses these days is the American system of law-and-order.  Why is no one addressing how the school-to-prison philosophy violates the constitutional view of law, how it is turning our schools into dangerous places?  Or how it encourages a life of crime, as it did for Trayvon Martin?

Scarnati and the law students would do well to look to the recent example of North Carolina, where the Board of Governors recently recommended closing down the Center on Poverty, Work, and Opportunity at UNC, as well as two other similar centers of political indoctrination.  They are now examining 13 other such centers.

Close down these centers and leave the “guilty as hell, free as a bird” old radical to the soapbox on the corner, which is the only stage Ayers deserves to have.




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