William Ayers, one of the leading targets of conservative criticism during Barack Obama's first run for president, will be the first guest speaker at Elgin Community College's Humanities Center Speaker Series, which opens Thursday.
Campus administrators said they know Ayers is a controversial figure, but they believe college is the perfect environment to expose people to a variety of viewpoints, including Ayers'.
"We feel it is important to offer programs and activities that allow our students to learn about diverse perspectives on important topics and complex issues," Rose DiGerlando, the college's vice president of teaching, learning and student development, said in a written statement.
"College is the marketplace of ideas. Mr. Ayers is one of three speakers selected to participate in our Humanities Center Speaker Series. While the college has invited these speakers to campus, it does not mean that we endorse their viewpoints."
In the world of politics, Ayers has been a touchstone for controversy for decades. Ayers has come out strongly against U.S. intervention in Syria on his blog. And in a recent interview earlier this month with the Real Clear Politics Morning Commute show, Ayers said Obama (and every other president this century) has committed "acts of terror" and "should be put on trial for war crimes" stemming from his use of military drones.
Conservatives also hounded Obama during the 2008 presidential campaign for attending a gathering at Ayers' residence.
Several news organizations have conducted investigations since then revealing no close ties between Ayers and Obama.
Obama has publicly criticized Ayers' actions while acting as a leader for the Weather Underground in the 1970s, which included setting off small bombs at several public places in protest of the Vietnam War.
Ayers is a Glen Ellyn native and a retired professor of education at the University of Illinois at Chicago. His talk will focus on "Democracy and Education: Teaching for Liberation."
An ECC media release about Ayers' appearance describes Ayers as having "written extensively about social justice, democracy and education, the cultural contexts of schooling and teaching as an essentially intellectual, ethical and political enterprise."
He will speak from 12:30 to 1:45 p.m. in the Building G Spartan Auditorium at ECC's Spartan Drive Campus, 1700 Spartan Drive, Elgin. The event is free and open to the public.
The other two invited speakers in the series are author Broughton Coburn and ceramic sculptor Ken Baskins.