Saturday, August 30, 2014

Bill Ayers on Freedom of Speech and the Assassination of Robert Kennedy

Originally posted here on August 29, 2014, by Mary Grabar


Bill Ayers still holding forth
Bill Ayers still holding forth

Terrorist Professor Non-Emeritus Bill Ayers has been given a spot on the American Association of University Professors' site Academe to proclaim his "solidarity" with Professor Steven Salaita, who after Tweeting vile comments about Israel had his offer of a position in the American Indian Studies Department at the University of Illinois withdrawn by the Board of Trustees. Some of Salaita's horrible Tweets are described by George Leef of the Pope Center: “'At this point, if Netanyahu appeared on TV with a necklace made from the teeth of Palestinian children, would anybody be surprised?' Another celebrated the kidnapping of three Israeli teens, who were later found murdered: 'I wish all the (expletive) West Bank settlers would go missing.'" Salaita also wrote that a journalist with whom he disagreed "should get 'the pointy end of a shiv.'"

There has been much discussion about the Salaita case in the academic community. Disagreeing with some of his colleagues on the right, Leef contends that the Salaita case is not about free speech, but about contractual obligations. Salaita had signed an acceptance letter and quit his other position as an English professor at Virginia Tech. Cary Nelson, former president of AAUP, observes that Salaita's offensive Tweets are relevant to his teaching because they reflect his scholarship, which includes such books as Israel's Dead Soul and Anti-Arab Racism in the USA.

Ayers, who traveled to Gaza a few years ago to cause trouble, shares Salaita's political views, but uses the occasion to make a faux argument for "freedom of speech," which quickly segueways into a self-serving defence of his own difficulties with the Board of Trustees, who denied him Emeritus status upon his retirement from the University of Illinois at Chicago for having the name of Sirhan Sirhan, the assassin of Robert Kennedy, on the dedication page of the Weather Underground's Prairie Fire manifesto. The objection came from Christopher Kennedy, the son of Robert Kennedy.
 
After the Weather Underground's Blast of the Pentagon
After the Weather Underground's
Blast of the Pentagon
Ayers expressed his surprise that Christopher Kennedy, the head of the board and "billionaire chair of Chicago's Merchandise Mart," had even heard of the document, no doubt because in Ayers's mind, only the politically sophisticated would know about it. It had been resurrected by Sean Hannity and Bill O'Reilly in the run-up to the 2008 elections, Ayers claimed:
“Sean Hannity and Bill O’Reilly read from it regularly—good stuff mostly—always pointing out that it was “dedicated to Sirhan Sirhan, the man who assassinated Senator Robert F. Kennedy.” That wasn’t true. The dedication page reads: “to harriet tubman and john brown/to all who continue to fight/and to all political prisoners in the us.” This boxed dedication is superimposed over an artist’s rendering of wall-to-wall names of people in prison—hundreds and hundreds of them. The force of the piece is that it points to the fact that the US was already well into creating a massive gulag—and this was way before mass incarceration gripped the country—and it’s true that Sirhan Sirhan’s name is there, but so are Willy Johnson’s and Michael McGann’s—exactly, who the hell are they? And was the artist in any way endorsing Johnson’s and McGann’s actions whatever they were? Not likely.”

Ayers recounts his correspondence with Kennedy in which he expressed his sadness that his "loss" was made "present and painful to you and your family." Ayers then claims he extended the olive branch:

“I asked to meet with him away from the weight of stereotypes and media creations “to see if we might find some common ground in our shared commitment to the University, to basic democratic principles, and to a belief in the power of redemption and reconciliation.”

Ayers told him he had never praised the man who had murdered his father, nor condoned assassination. Ayers, however, does not leave it at that but makes one of his political points--one that demonstrates that his views have not changed since his days with the domestic terrorist group Weatherman:

“I did not point out—I thought about it for sure, but restrained myself—that both his father and his uncle not only condoned assassinations, but participated actively in assassinations and attempted assassinations from Viet Nam to Cuba to the Congo—they would presumably bear the brunt of Chairman Kennedy’s sanctimonious exclusions if coherence and consistency were part of his make-up.”

Calling Robert Kennedy an Assassin: Only a sociopath could apologize for reopening old wounds about a father assassinated and then in the next breath claim that the assassinated father was also an assassin. In other words, Robert Kennedy is on the same moral plane as Sirhan Sirhan. After this interlude of political commentary, Ayers goes on to his point about freedom of speech:

“But I went on to ask him to consider the implications of his action. What are my thousands of students to make of it? And beyond that, what was anyone to make of the board intervening in the academic affairs of the university, making decisions about things they cannot adequately or fully evaluate or judge, and are therefore appropriately the province of the faculty and the officers hired by the board?”

Not surprisingly, Kennedy did not take up Ayers's offer to "talk about" the "rekindled pain" that the incident may have stirred up in him, but according to Ayers did reply with a letter thanking Ayers for his "thoughtful response" and informing him that the decision was not personal, but made by the board. Ayers speculates that the last part was written by a "tricky lawyer" because emeritus status is based on merit alone, and Ayers, being Distinguished Professor of Education, had certainly earned it. Ayers says that it's the "experts"--the professors like Ayers--who are qualified to make such decisions about "merit."

One thing that Ayers, in spite of his Distinguished Professor statuts, is not good at is elementary logic, nor are the radicals who hired him and promoted him.

Ayers relates his victimization to that of playwright Tony Kushner who was denied an honorary doctorate by CUNY for his anti-Israel diatribes. Mind you, Ayers and company would not object to any professor denied even an interview based on what they perceive to be as "hate" or political incorrectness, as I've outlined in my collection, Exiled. That kind of discrimination is perfectly acceptable.

While some on the right condemn the Salaita case as a chilling example, George Leef points to many other cases where leftist professors have used the excuse of freedom of speech to use their classroom podiums as political soapboxes. The problem arises from what is accepted as scholarship today. Hiring committees are made up of like-minded ideologues. They hire only ideologues who think as they do. Like Ayers, they use "freedom of speech" as a cover, forgetting that like all other employees, professors have a job description. Bill Ayers has never demonstrated his abilities as a scholar. I've painstakingly shown that in my book, Bill Ayers: Teaching Revolution.

Readers may be curious as to the conclusion of Professor Ayers's story at the AAUP site. Characteristically, after making his sophistic arguments on behalf of anti-Western, Marxist goals, he changes course to talk about himself and what a swell guy he is, as demonstrated by the retirement party thrown for him:

“Political comrades, university colleagues, family and friends crowded in and the pot-luck tables groaned with plates of fried tofu in dill and basil, yummy home-made tamales, tasty grits with spicy greens, cardamom cake and sweetened rice squares. One colleague and her kids made a zillion astonishing cupcakes, each with a strip of paper bearing quotations from my books toothpicked to the top like a delicious exhortation. People loaded up, ate and talked, and then moved on to the dance floor as DJ Dave kept the party going with a mix of old and new, and Bernardine and I swirled through the crowd, warm embraces and surprising home-made tattoos and buttons in every direction: “I pal around with Bernardine and Bill.” It was loud and sweaty, lovely and sweet.”

Yes. that's the kind of writing that got Ayers "Distinguished Professor" status. The inmates have taken over. That's why Boards of Trustees, and citizens, parents, and students need to do more to make sure fake professors like Bill Ayers and Steven Salaita don't get hired in the first place

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