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Bill Ayers and BC: Common Errors

Published: Thursday, April 2, 2009

Updated: Wednesday, January 9, 2013 18:01

Terrorist. Radical. Anarchist. Criminal. Scholar. Traitor. Citizen. All these labels and more have been hurled at Bill Ayers by students, parents, alumni, faculty, administrators, and members of the local community. A veritable hysteria has seized the Heights.

In a maelstrom of events, emotions, and history - as anyone familiar with Msr. and Mme. Defarge knows - what seems furthest from the debate are the facts.

1. Bill Ayer's lecture was sponsored by two student groups (Americans for Informed Democracy and College Democrats) and co-sponsored by John Cawthorne, associate dean of undergraduate student services for the Lynch School of Education, and Kenneth Kersch, an associate professor and director of the Clough Center for the Study of Constitutional Democracy.

2. At Boston College, academic freedom is granted to faculty only and to events/speakers with an intellectual connection to faculty (sponsorship). Undergraduates remain excluded from the operating parameters of academic freedom.

3. Administrators were aware of Bill Ayers' lecture for the past two weeks and were aware of the academic sponsorship of the event at least one week prior to the event.

4. Neither University Spokesman Jack Dunn nor Michael Graham are president, provost, vice provost, vice president of student affairs, or trustees of Boston College.

5. Bill Ayers is connected only by tenuous association to the murder of Sgt. Schroeder.

6. Boston College has important meetings with members of the Allston-Brighton community in the next weeks regarding approval of the Master Plan.

Now to Dr. Ayers: I'll admit it - Bill Ayers makes me uncomfortable. The Pentagon, the NYPD headquarters, the Capitol building - all properties were targeted by Ayers and the Weather Underground in violent protest of the Vietnam War. Ayers committed some grave acts; the labels opening this article are all, to some extent, accurate.

But hosting Ayers is neither an endorsement nor a sanctioning of his activism, views, or scholarship. Giving Mr. Ayers the opportunity to speak is not equivalent to BC offering its approval or bestowing its imprimatur. Lectures bring a visiting speaker into the presence of attending students and guests, allowing the scholar to express or clarify his research and views while being probed by questions and commentary.

Revoking an invitation to Dr. Ayers and banning him from lecturing evinces intellectual insecurity and small-mindedness. The myopic, untested, and dim lack the courage and confidence to listen to, evaluate, and reject views they find erroneous or inimical. This enterprise is undertaken every day, at every class (presumably). Thus, to those who supported the banning of Dr. Ayers and the prohibition of speakers not aligning with a certain set of standards, one questions their view of the function of a university.

The University promotes intellect, not ideology. One enrolls in the class of a professor who holds a set of views, thinks a certain way, and teaches the views of others so that students themselves learn how to think.

By adhering to the pundits of the day rather than to reason; by letting wealthy, vocal, and/or conservative alums dictate the education of students; by hiding behind claims of "concern for the safety and well-being of our students," the University has failed its commissioned role and compromised the academic commitment it has made.

Perhaps worse, BC has contributed to the hysteria that threatens the cohesion and stability of contemporary civil society. Boston College - we are the Light of the World, right?

So goes the last argument marshaled in support of the administration's decision to cancel the Ayers lecture: the views of a speaker are deemed inconsistent with the "Jesuit, Catholic" mission of the school.

University President Rev. William P. Leahy, S.J., Jack Dunn, Dr. Rombalski, and Dr. Garza, did you chosen enforcers of said "Jesuit, Catholic" identity read your Lectionary on Monday, March 30? "Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at" the adulterer, thus overturning the longstanding Jewish practice of stoning the sinner (John 8:7). Year C in the Church calendar offers the same message more clearly from the same chapter in John's Gospel, for Jesus castigates the Pharisees, "You judge by appearances, but I do not judge anyone."

Matt Hamilton is a Heights staff columnist. He welcomes comments at mhamilton@bcheights.com.

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