Anne Neal in ‘The New Republic’ on UNL and Bill Ayers
December 9, 2008
Check out Anne Neal's article in The New Republic on the disinvitation of Bill Ayers from the University of Nebraska at Lincoln in October. Anne, the president of the American Council of Trustees and Alumni and a First Amendment lawyer, writes:
UNL had invited Bill Ayers, now a University of Illinois at Chicago professor, to speak at its education college's centennial celebration. A day after the invitation was publicized and the school was bombarded with emails and phone calls, UNL chancellor Harvey Perlman revoked the invitation, citing "security concerns." Let there be no question: Professor Ayers' past behavior and involvement deserve our most profound condemnation. Even so, to disinvite him on the grounds of "security concerns" was tantamount to a heckler's veto—and, yes, clearly an attack on academic freedom. On [the] issue of outside speakers and academic freedom, the American Association of University Professors has properly opined that "the freedom to hear is an essential condition of a university community and an inseparable part of academic freedom." To disinvite thus fundamentally undermines the concept of academic freedom by allowing those who dislike someone's view to keep those views from being heard. This is what happened when Dinesh D'Souza tried to speak at Columbia some years ago, and when Henry Kissinger tried to speak at the University of Texas at Austin. Disinviting, in these or any circumstances, is unacceptable—across the board. Once a guest has been invited through appropriate university procedures, it is incumbent on the institution to take whatever steps are necessary to allow the speaker to air his views.
FIRE strongly questioned the university's decision in this blog post and in a letter we sent on November 3. As Peter noted several weeks ago, however, UNL's response to our letter raises more questions than it answers.
The good news is that ACTA, FIRE, and the school's Faculty Senate have no intention of letting the issue drop, and we welcome any additional help from organizations like the AAUP. We all want to get to the bottom of the story, and we'll keep you posted.