Editor's note: The Sentinel was provided incomplete information for the following story. This online version has been updated to reflect that Bill Ayers will attend a panel discussion at the University Park campus of Penn State Law, not Carlisle's Dickinson School of Law, on March 19. The panel discussion will be simulcast to attendees at the Dickinson School of Law.
A group of Dickinson School of Law students is raising concerns about former Weather Underground member Bill Ayers’ inclusion on a panel discussion being simulcast at the college next week.
Shohin Vance, a 2016 juris doctorate candidate, said a letter signed by 11 students was sent last Friday to Keith Elkin, the assistant dean for academic and student affairs at the University Park campus of Penn State.
Ayers was a member of the Weather Underground, a radical group that opposed the Vietnam War. The group bombed government buildings, including the U.S. Capitol in 1971 and the Pentagon in 1972.
Vance said students received a flier via email March 4 that Ayers is part of a March 19 panel discussion at the University Park law campus called “The School-to-Prison Pipeline.” The discussion is sponsored by the Law and Education Alliance at Penn State and the Pennsylvania Education Equity Project. Also on the panel are Harold Jordan, senior policy advocate for the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania, and Nancy E. Potter, staff attorney for the Education Law Center, who is based in Pittsburgh.
Wyatt DuBois, communications director for the unified law schools of Penn State Law and Dickinson School of Law, said the school does not police the speakers that student groups invite. He said student groups are free to invite speakers with a diversity of viewpoints, and the student groups don’t need to clear the speakers with the college.
“Anytime you bring in someone with a viewpoint, you are going to have someone disagree with that viewpoint,” DuBois said. “We’re trying to foster a diverse marketplace of ideas.”
Attempts to reach students involved with the Law and Education Alliance at Penn State and the Pennsylvania Education Equity Project were unsuccessful. Its website says that the Law and Education Alliance “aims to cultivate collaboration between the School of Law and College of Education by working with faculty and students in both departments to host speakers, hold seminars, and conduct research in education law. LEAP also fosters networking opportunities to help students launch careers in education law.”
The flier announcing the panel discussion describes Ayers as: “Distinguished Professor of Education and Senior University Scholar (retired) University of Illinois at Chicago Dr. Ayers has written extensively about social justice, democracy and education, and the cultural contexts of schooling.”
The letter to Elkin cites a 2001 interview with The New York Times in which Ayers says: “I don’t regret setting bombs. ... I feel we didn’t do enough.” In the interview, he said his political philosophy was: “Kill all the rich people. Break up their cars and apartments. Bring the revolution home, kill your parents, that’s where it’s really at.” His 2001 memoir “Fugitive Days” concludes by stating that he is, “Guilty as hell, free as a bird.”
The letter states that the students believe the “law school community benefits from diverse speakers with a number of different ideological backgrounds. However, the law school does not benefit from giving an admitted domestic terrorist, who has shown no remorse for his actions such a platform.”
“He is someone who has committed acts of terror against this country, who has admitted to it, and has been unrepentant,” Vance said. “If he had been somebody who had shown remorse, I think that would be OK, but he has not.”
Vance said he initially had no intention of making the opposition public. He only wanted to stop Ayers from speaking.
“It looks at this point that it’s not going to happen,” he said, based on the short time frame remaining.
Still, Vance said, the students hope there is enough of a groundswell to get the college to change its mind.
“It’s fundamentally wrong to have an institution that trains people in the law to invite someone who has shown no regard for the law,” he said.
Vance said he was not sure there would be a protest at the panel discussion if Ayers does take part. The simulcast event is set for 5:30 p.m. March 19 in Room 116.
A little more than four years ago, Ayers spoke in person in Carlisle, at Dickinson College at a Public Affairs Symposium on social activism. Outside the Anita Tuvin Schechter Auditorium, roughly a half-dozen protesters held signs and handed out fliers.