University of Nebraska-Lincoln Chancellor Harvey Perlman says no one strong-armed him into canceling the visit of William Ayers, and that if they had, he would have resigned.
Perlman made the remarks Monday during a news conference in Lincoln with reporters. He said during the conference that he felt he had to address suggestions that he was ordered by either the NU Board of Regents or university President J.B. Milliken to cancel the controversial visit.
“If I had received such an order, I would have resigned,” Perlman said.
Ayers, an education professor in Illinois, had been slated to speak about education issues at a Nov. 15 conference at UNL.
Ayers was a founder of the Weather Underground, a group that claimed responsibility for bombing several government buildings, and has become a lightning rod in the U.S. presidential campaign.
Perlman reiterated that Ayers’ visit was canceled for safety reasons and denied that the numerous calls of Nebraska political leaders — such as Gov. Dave Heineman and various members of Congress — influenced his decision.
In fact, Perlman said, the decision to cancel the visit was made Thursday night, before political leaders began making calls for the university to cancel its invitation to Ayers.
The university did not announce its decision to cancel the visit until late Friday, Perlman said, because it took most of the day to contact Ayers, who was in Taiwan at the time.
While Perlman said he knew of no specific threat to harm Ayers, experts at UNL determined that some of the complaints constituted a safety threat.
“You have to worry about the fringe,” Perlman said.
The chancellor stressed that he stood behind the decision of UNL’s College of Education and Human Sciences to invite Ayers, saying that Ayers is a national expert in his field of education and was invited in February, before he became a controversial figure in the presidential campaign.
While Perlman called Ayers’ activities in the 1960s “offensive” and “reprehensible,” Perlman said the university is not in the business of censorship.
“What is not in dispute is that since the late ’80s, he has lived a responsible life,” Perlman said. “He has become an expert in his field, which is qualitative research in K-12 education.”
Perlman also noted that Ayers has in the last decade spoke at 71 universities, including Iowa State, North Dakota State, Missouri and Michigan. Ayers also spoke at a 1991 education conference in Lincoln sponsored by the Nebraska Department of Education, Perlman said.
“We do not do justice to our students if we are restrained by a failure to confront controversial issues or controversial speakers,” he said. “No great university could do otherwise.”
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