Elgin Community College President David Sam is defending the school's choice of controversial figure William Ayers to speak Thursday as part of its annual Humanities Center Speaker Series as criticism of the selection mounts.
In a statement to the Daily Herald, Sam says the college has received emails about Ayers' inclusion in the speaker series, which the college describes as bringing "speakers of international, national and/or regional importance to ECC for the benefit of the ECC academic community to speak on topics significant to the humanities."
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"We feel it's important to allow these discussions on college campuses, where issues and topics can be discussed and analyzed in an educational setting," Sam states. "The Speaker Series offers our students opportunities to question speakers on their views and form their own opinions based on their knowledge of the issues. This does not mean the college endorses the viewpoints of the speakers."
Among those objecting to the college's choice of Ayers are ECC alumni Robert and Barbara Haase of St. Charles. In a letter published in full on today's Daily Herald Opinion page, the couple say Ayers' inclusion in the speakers series has them rethinking plans to bequeath ECC a gift in their wills.
"William Ayers' viewpoint should not be included in the 'variety of viewpoints' in the marketplace of ideas you propose to expose in this series," the couple writes. "What he has done deserves jail time, not the honor of being a highlighted speaker at a respected educational institution."
Ayers, a Glen Ellyn native and a retired professor of education at the University of Illinois at Chicago, is best known as a former leader of the Weather Underground, a 1970s group that set off small bombs at several public places to protest the Vietnam War. Questions about his relationship with President Barack Obama became political fodder during the 2008 presidential campaign.
More recently, Ayers has been an outspoken critic of Obama's call for military intervention in Syria.
His talk at ECC will focus on "Democracy and Education: Teaching for Liberation," according to the college. An ECC news release describes him 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. Thursday 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.