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posted: 9/29/2013 5:00 AM

Soapboxing on radical-turned-speaker Bill Ayers

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Sunday Soapbox. Some opinions require lots of words and elaboration. This is my Sunday Soapbox, not-so-briefly-stated commentary from one Daily Herald editor, and shamelessly stolen from the Saturday feature with almost the same name.

Another Ayers appearance:

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Bill Ayers, the former radical/college prof/Weather Underground leader, has popped up at a few suburban sites, most recently Elgin Community College. And each time, it's evoked a howl of protests: An unrepentant militant whose group set off bombs to protest the Vietnam War has no business at the podium, the refrain goes.

All views aired:

The open forum Thursday afternoon at ECC brought a packed house. Ayers, who drew considerable applause with his criticism of the American education system, also promised to answer any questions from the audience. That prompted three people to challenge Ayers, including an ECC alum who grilled him about a bombing of a San Francisco police station in which an officer was killed by shrapnel. Ayers vehemently denied any involvement in the bombing.

Not for ECC students:

Speaking of his protest days, Ayers wasn't exactly repentant, but he did say, "I don't think what I did was brilliant and wonderful, and I'm certainly not recommending ECC students do what I did. But it was not as off the wall as it sounds."

Equal time provision:

An Ayers' inquisitor, Robert Haase of St. Charles, told reporter Madhu Krishnamurthy after the speech that Ayers evaded the question, but Haase gave the college credit for providing a forum for opposing views. "I think they made a mistake giving the man a forum, (but) I appreciate getting a fair chance to stand in front of him and ask questions," he said.

One more objection:

Online commenters (seven, as of this writing) were virulent Ayers foes. One, Carpentersville Trustee Kevin Rehberg, said no one disputes Ayers' right to free speech but he objects to, through a paid appearance, "forcing taxpayers to reward his past as a domestic terrorist." He also chides the Daily Herald for referring to Ayers' bombs as "small" and the college for "tip(ping) their hands politically here as they would (rightly) never entertain the thought of rewarding someone who bombed liberal targets such as an abortion clinic."

And the college's view:

"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.

And its disclaimer:

"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," DiGerlando said.

Just a thought:

Perhaps Elgin Community College should consider a speaker with views on the opposite side of the political spectrum of Ayers?

And finally:

I seem to have succumbed to what many criticize the media for: Dwelling on the negative and the controversial. Fair enough. If Ayers had been one of, as our online dissenter said, hundreds or thousands of experts available to discuss education, we might not have covered the speech. So, if you feel this column has given too much space to the venting of the Ayers foes, please send me your views.

jdavis@dailyherald.com

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