Monday, October 20, 2008

From Chancellor Perlman re Ayers cancellation

As did all UNL students this morning, I received an email from the university's Chancellor. While I appreciate his insistence on defending Ayers and Ayers' community involvement over the past 40 years, the fact that his appearance at the university generated enough "outrage by ebraskans" to cancel the event, and subsequently, forced the university to cave into right-wing, conservative pressure is appalling. Below is the email in its entirety, and in many ways, demonstrates the highly anti-American sentiments firmly lodged in this states, masquerading as patriotism, etc. A sad day indeed. You can email the chancellor at

Dear Students:

I regret that during the controversy regarding William Ayers' visit to
campus, I was in China and thus largely absent from the discussion. I am
this morning meeting with the media.

I believe the controversy about Bill Ayers visiting this campus was
heightened by a confluence of events which no one really could influence
or predict. In February of this year, the College of Education and Human
Sciences selected a speaker for its annual student research conference.
The topic was "qualitative methodology" and the committee eventually
decided to invite William Ayers, a nationally recognized scholar in the
field. In the 1960s Ayers engaged in violent acts in protest of the
Vietnam War, for a while was a fugitive from justice, and eventually
turned himself in. Prosecution of Ayers for these crimes was

This year the research conference featuring Ayers coincided with a weekend
in which the college also scheduled some significant events in its
celebration of its centennial. Since the college expected alumni to be
visiting the college, they were also invited to the conference, although
the signature event for the centennial celebration was a dinner at which
Ayers was to play no role.

Although Ayers' selection was widely known in the college for some time,
it came to the public's attention only a few days ago in the midst of him
having become a central figure in a bitterly contested presidential
election. Given the national focus on his past and the appearance that
his visit to Lincoln was related to the election, many people in Nebraska
were furious. Although I do not agree with this reaction, I can understand
it and the concerns expressed. Given Ayers' background, reasonable people
could regard him with disgust, yet our traditions permit individuals to
speak, even if their backgrounds or ideas are objectionable. Nebraskans
care deeply about their university. We cannot have a great university if
the selection of speakers, faculty, curriculum, or activities is governed
by the passions of the moment or even the views of the majority.

I want to emphasize one point as strongly as I can. I do not think the
selection of Ayers to come to Lincoln to address a student research
conference on research methodology was in any way inappropriate. He is
an acknowledged scholar, a tenured faculty member at the University of
Illinois Chicago, and a high ranking officer in the association dealing
with this type of research. He was named "Chicago Citizen of the Year"
in 1996 and has worked tirelessly to improve the Chicago public schools.
Ayers has spoken at more than 70 universities, including Iowa State, North
Dakota State, Indiana, Purdue, the University of Missouri, and Michigan State.
In the final accounting of his life, there will be very negative entries for
his conduct 40 years ago and there will be more current positive entries
as well.

Much is made of the "fact" that he has not repented for his acts of
violence. The evidence of whether he has expressly done so is uncertain,
which could lead reasonable people to think he had not. It is clear that
he currently leads a responsible life, one apparently devoted to improving
the lives of school children in Illinois and in the nation. Repentance
can come by deeds as well as by words.

The outrage by many Nebraskans was understandable but I think unfortunate
to the extent it led them to seek to prevent him from coming. Most
alarming, however, were some responses that were threatening to the
security of the campus. As many of you know, we have faculty on this
campus who specialize in assessing the level of threat in any situation
and they informed me by e-mail in China that the tone and tenor of the
e-mails, the phone calls, and the blogs, suggested that the reaction to
any Ayers' visit would represent a significant threat to the safety of the
campus. Moreover, it could create an environment that would prohibit the
University from taking advantage of his expertise. The student research
conference would turn into a three-ring circus. After consultation
between Barbara Couture, myself and Dean Kostelnik, it was decided to
cancel his visit. There are some who are skeptical of this explanation for
the cancellation and believe we were ordered by the Board of Regents or
President Milliken to cancel the visit. I can assure you that we were not
ordered to cancel the event and that I would resign before following such
an order.

I find it difficult to accept that the actions of a few individuals can
deprive this university of its right to select speakers who can contribute
to the education of our students. Nonetheless I take seriously the
responsibility I have for the safety of members of this community,
particularly the students. It seemed cancellation was the most responsible

This university has always been able to invite and to host controversial
speakers from all walks of life and all matters of persuasion. It is
unnerving that the apparent escalating passion and violence of recent
years makes the exercise of our traditional values more difficult.
Once these events came together, there appeared to be no good alternative
available. I hope you will understand. I am convinced this was an
unusual circumstance, one unlikely to repeat itself. I am a strong
believer in our students' and faculty's right to determine for themselves
who should be invited to campus to speak. But I also have a
responsibility for the safety of this campus. Once these events came
together, there appeared to be no good alternative available. I hope you
will understand.


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