Welcoming the Bomber

The University of North Dakota is sponsoring a controversial lecture by 1960s bomber Bill Ayers, now a “distinguished professor of education” at the University of Illinois, Chicago. Three groups invited Ayers to speak on April 3rd: the Department of Educational Foundations and Research, the College of Education and Human Development, and Students for a Democratic Society. Three other groups, Young Americans for Freedom, the College Republicans and Females for Firearms, asked the president of the university, Charles Kupcella, to condemn the Ayers invitation.

Kupcella refused to do so, issuing a statement that said, “A good case has not been made – ever – that free speech (speech not otherwise unlawfully harmful) should sometimes or by some people be suppressed in the interest of freedom.” Kupcella’s statement is an unusually slippery one. The case has been made many times that colleges are right to deny a platform to certain egregious and unrepentant characters. Presumably the University of North Dakota would have had no compunctions about rejecting speeches by the Unabomber, the head of the Klan, a 9/11 terrorist or a visiting pro-slavery Muslim politician from Africa. Columbia University, under pressure from its far left Middle East faculty, should never have invited Mahoud Ahmadinejad, who runs a terrorist regime and favors, among other things, the obliteration of Israel and the murder of homosexuals. The folly was compounded by an intellectually impoverished Columbia dean who said Columbia would have invited Adolf Hitler, if the Fuhrer had agreed to debate and answer questions from students. The vision of a university as a community of scholars and students pursuing truth and defending civilization entirely disappears when bureaucrats see no problem in welcoming terrorists and mass murderers.

A report on the Ayers invitation in the Grand Forks Herald , perhaps to reassure readers, said that Ayers “never was convicted of a crime, and has since said violence is not the way to achieve SDS goals.” That’s misleading. Ayers would very likely have been convicted if prosecutors (guilty of misconduct) and the FBI (illegal surveillance) hadn’t screwed up the case. Yes, Ayers has said, sort of, that violence is not the right path, but he also told The New York Times, in an interview published on September 11, 2001,: “I don’t regret setting bombs, I feel we didn’t do enough.” He also told the Times he has had a lifelong love of explosives. In his book, he says he participated in the bombing of the New York City’s police headquarters in 1970, the Capitol building in 1971 and the Pentagon in 1972. There reference to the Pentagon may not be true, since Ayers said his book mixes fact and fiction. Like his paramour, Bernadine Dohrn, he defended the bombings they committed in the name of ending the Vietnam War, on grounds that they killed no one, except accidentally their own members. Three allies in the Weather Underground died in 1970 in an explosion while making bombs in a Greenwich Village townhouse.

Ayers has danced around the subject of an apology for years, without flatly saying he regrets what he did. Asked by the Times if he would do it all over again, he said, “I don’t want to discount the possibility.” Come to think of it, maybe the University of North Dakota would welcome the Unabomber too.


  • John Leo

    John Leo is the editor of Minding the Campus, dedicated to chronicling imbalances within higher education and restoring intellectual pluralism to our American universities. His popular column, "On Society," ran in U.S.News & World Report for 17 years.

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