Boston College cancels Ayers’ controversial visit

  • A speech at Boston College by controversial professor Bill Ayers last Monday was cancelled the Friday before the event.
  • Bill Ayers was one of the founders of the Weather Underground, an organization that bombed multiple locations in protest of the Vietnam War.
  • Ayers is now an education professor at the University of Illinois.
  • Boston College cited safety and lack of preparedness as the reason for the speech's cancellation.
  • Boston residents and members of the Boston Police Department were planning to protest the speech because a former member of the Weather Underground killed a police officer in 1970

Controversy erupted at Boston College last Monday after a speech by Bill Ayers was unexpectedly cancelled.

Ayers was the co-founder of the Weather Underground, a radical organization that orchestrated numerous bombing attacks within the United States in protest of the Vietnam War. He is now an education professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

The university's student activities staff chose to cancel the lecture the Friday evening beforehand, citing safety issues and a lack of preparedness by the university. The safety issue in question was a protest by the Boston Police and other people in the community.

The Boston Police were planning to protest Ayers' speech because of the murder of Boston Police Sergeant Walter Shroeder, who was killed by a former member of the Weather Underground in September 1970. Ayers was never convicted of any implication in the murder.

While the university was expecting a small protest, they received hundreds of phone calls Friday in complaint, including some veiled threats, said Patrick Rombalski, vice president of Student Affairs at Boston College.

"The speech became a very different event on Friday," said Rombalski, who submitted a letter to the editor of the Heights, the student newspaper at Boston College, explaining the university's actions.

However, Mike Madormo, president of Americans for Informed Democracy at Boston College, one of the lecture's sponsoring organizations, said they would "welcome a protest," and added that the lecture in no way vindicated Ayers' actions with the Weather Underground.

"The idea of this event was not to praise or sanction what he has done in the past," Madormo said.

After the lecture was initially cancelled, Madormo and the other sponsoring organizations attempted to find an off-campus location, with no luck. They then suggested a videoconference with Ayers using Skype, but this was also cancelled by the university.

Madormo said the university choosing to cancel the event because of safety concerns doesn't make sense because they got clearance for the event from the Boston College Chief of Police Robert Morse a week before the lecture was scheduled.

Melissa Roberts, vice president of the College Democrats of Boston College, was also upset with the university's reasoning.

"If you're saying that security isn't good enough, that's an insult to the security officers at Boston College," Roberts said.

In addition, Roberts pointed out that when Chelsea Clinton came to campus last year, security was organized within 48 hours.

The lecture, titled "The State of Democracy in America: Education Reform and Civic Engagement," was going to focus on what Ayers has done in education, rather than his political activities. Of interest was one of his educational theories, which Roberts said aligns with those of Boston College.

"One of Ayers' beliefs is that you have to educate the whole child, which is a lot like the Jesuit ideal 'cura personalis,' " Roberts said.

Instead of the speech, a forum on academic freedom was held. About 300 students and 20 faculty members attended, including the faculty members whose support was pulled by the university.

Among the speakers were Ken Kersch, one of the faculty sponsors of the event, and a man who had intended to speak to Ayers about why he felt his methods of protesting the Vietnam war were necessary. The man's son had been wounded in one of Ayers' bombing attacks.

"The forum was just a way for people who were frustrated to speak out," Roberts said.

It is unclear at this point whether Ayers will be invited back to Boston College in the future. Roberts said there would be a full-page ad in the April 15 issue of the Heights, asking the administration how long it would take to be prepared for Ayers to come to campus, so they could reschedule the event for the day afterwards.

Rombalski said Ayers could speak again as long as there was an educational reason for his presence, and he wasn't brought back just because his speech was cancelled.

"The first step is asking 'Why do you want to bring him?' " Rombalski said. If an educational reason could be found, he said, then plans could be made to bring him back.

Ayers could not be reached as of press time.