University of Nebraska, Bill Ayers and Academic Freedom – Sensible Takes

William Ayers, Scholar

[ Photo: William Ayers, Distinguished Professor of Education and Senior University Scholar at the University of Illinois at Chicago, compares tattoos with a developing revolutionary. When asked the location of Ayers' tattoo[s], our young comrade replied, lemmie [sic] just tell you this, we both wear red underwear.” ]

George Leef of The John William Pope Center for Higher Education Policy offers some sober analysis of Bill Ayers’ invitation recall at the University of Nebraska. Now that the dust has settled a bit, what did Leef uncover?

A bunker filled with weapons-grade baloneyium:

“But is this case one of abridging academic freedom? I don’t think so. No one is demanding that Professor Ayers stop saying and writing what he believes. The University of Nebraska’s decision to disinvite him is bad manners, but it no more attacks his academic freedom than if he had never been invited in the first place. Academic freedom does not entail a right to speak wherever you might want to.

This tempest in a teapot does no credit to the University of Nebraska and state political leaders, but neither does it for those who cry that academic freedom is in peril.”

Agreed. Agreed, agreed, agreed.

Erin O’Connor wrote an excellent, short piece on Ayers/academic freedom:

What’s happening to Ayers is intense and certainly unpleasant. But public figures–and Ayers most certainly is that–invite scrutiny, challenge, and criticism. The marketplace of ideas can be a rough place. And we should remember that Ayers does have legal recourse if he is libeled. We should also remember that none of this has anything to do with academic freedom.As long as Ayers’ employer leaves him alone–as long as there is no attempt to investigate or discipline him for his speech, as long as he is left alone to teach and research as he sees fit–his academic freedom is fine.”

Another recent post by O’Connor details the misunderstanding of academic freedom within the academy.

John Silber’s discussion of academic freedom circa 1988 helped me understand what it was all about. Maybe I’ll scan’n'share those pages when this election nonsense dies down.

2 Responses to “University of Nebraska, Bill Ayers and Academic Freedom – Sensible Takes”

  1. DougH says:

    If this isn’t a violation of academic freedom and the first amendment, there never was one. I mean, the right-wing governor intervening and pressuring freightened faculty members to ban a radical educational expert from speaking at a meeting of fellow educators, after they already invited him? This makes a mockery out of the whole state and its university system. One can only imagine the intimidating effect this has on Nebraska faculty members. Either we believe in the constitution or we don’t. Obviously you and the governor don’t, except when the speaker agrees with you.

    If Ayers is smart, and I think he is, he’s already got the best lawyers money can buy y preparing a blockbuster suit once the elections are over. I wish I was in for 10% of the settlement. Plus I’m sure when he publishes his “What I Would Have Said” piece in every paper in Nebraska, it will get a much larger audience than his talk at UNL would have ever received.

    Ayers wins. Academic freedom loses.

  2. DougH,

    You continue to misunderstand the concept of academic freedom. Read the links above. It’s obvious that you haven’t yet. What you’re lamenting has nothing to do with academic freedom, and it doesn’t have anything to do with the Constitution or the First Amendment.

    Hint: “academic freedom” isn’t just “academic” + “freedom.”

    Oddly enough, you’ve stumbled on an argument that might be more convincing – that rescinding Ayers’ invitation impinges on the academic freedom of his hosts. I don’t think it’s worth addressing, but I’ll give you an inch on it.

    Mr. Leef and Ms. O’Connor addressed your points in advance, so I don’t need to rehash them.


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