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U. of Wyoming Calls Off William Ayers Lecture
March 31, 2010

The University of Wyoming has called off a planned lecture by William Ayers -- the one-time leader of the Weather Underground who has become an education professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago. The appearance was criticized by many in Wyoming, and the Social Justice Research Center cited a variety of reasons, including "safety concerns," for the decision. Other universities that have called off talks by Ayers have cited safety issues, but Wyoming's announcement was unusual in arguing that state reaction was a legitimate factor to consider.

A statement from Tom Buchanan, president of the university, said: "Academic freedom is a core principle of any institution of higher education. But with that freedom comes an obligation to exercise free thought and free speech in concert with mutual respect and acknowledgment of broader resource and security impacts on the campus. The exercise of freedom requires a commensurate dose of responsibility. Observers in and outside of the university would be incorrect to conclude that UW simply caved in to external pressure. Rather, I commended the director of the center for a willingness to be sensitive to the outpouring of criticism, evaluate the arguments, and reconsider the invitation. The University of Wyoming is one of the few institutions remaining in today's environment that garners the confidence of the public. The visit by Professor Ayers would have adversely impacted that reputation."

Cary Nelson, national president of the American Association of University Professors, said of the statement: "President Tom Buchanan's self-satisfied bromides do nothing to disguise the fact that the principle of free and open intellectual exchange has suffered a defeat at the University of Wyoming. As the AAUP has argued since 1915, it is precisely prevailing public opinion that must not shape what views get heard on campus."

 

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