Statement on Professor William Ayers's visit to UW
University of Wyoming Social Justice Research Center invites Bill Ayers to speak on April 5 & 6
by Myron B. Allen, Provost, University of Wyoming
March 28, 2010
The Social Justice Research Center, a unit of the University of Wyoming, has invited University of Illinois - Chicago Professor William Ayers to speak on UW's Laramie campus on April 5 and 6. Support for Professor Ayers's visit will come from the budget of the Center, which is funded from an endowed gift made to the university by an anonymous donor.
Professor Ayers is a controversial figure, in part because of his association, four decades ago, with the Weather Underground. Many will remember that his name arose during the 2008 presidential primaries, when opponents of then-candidate Barack Obama criticized his contacts with Professor Ayers.
Ayers earned a doctorate from Columbia University in 1987 and now holds the title of distinguished professor of education at the University of Illinois-Chicago. His teaching focuses on issues related to social justice and educational reform. He has published and spoken widely. Furthermore, he currently serves as a vice president of the American Educational Research Association, a national professional society.
Professor Ayers is not the first controversial figure to speak at UW. He is not even the first UW speaker associated with past actions that some find deeply objectionable. With any luck, he won't be our last controversial speaker, on the left or on the right. An academic department's invitation to speak is not the same as an institutional endorsement: part of UW's mission is to provide a neutral forum in which to examine ideas. Of special interest are the ideas of people whose professional work has had impact on important areas of human endeavor.
The University of Wyoming has not distanced itself from controversy in the past and has been fortunate to host a range of speakers from a variety of backgrounds. It is clear to us that a university's role is to teach, not to indoctrinate. Some have insisted that UW cancel Professor Ayers's visit. We expect a higher level of discourse from our students and from the American public. And we are confident that the best way for our students to develop the judgment and independence of thought to evaluate ideas critically is to be exposed to a wide range of viewpoints.
Posted on Friday, March 26, 2010