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Ryan Johnson, Published February 25 2013

William Ayers, lightning rod in 2008 presidential race, to speak tonight at MSUM as visiting scholar

MOORHEAD – Educational reform advocate and former anti-war activist William Ayers will be on the Minnesota State University Moorhead campus this week for a public speech and meetings with faculty and students on how to incorporate social justice issues into curriculum.

Ayers, 68, co-founded Weather Underground, a group that in the late 1960s and early 1970s became known for bombing government buildings in opposition to U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War – including the Pentagon, the U.S. Capitol and the New York City Police Department. Charges linking him to bombings were dropped in 1974 due to government misconduct, including illegal FBI wiretaps.

Since his years as a student radical, he’s become a national expert on education reform and formerly was a distinguished professor of education at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

Ayers was a controversial figure in the 2008 presidential campaign because of his contacts with then-Sen. Barack Obama.

MSUM professor Steve Grineski said he’s known Ayers for several years. When faculty members were thinking about how to more deeply include social justice in their courses, he said he suggested they bring Ayers here.

“One of the reasons we asked him to come to campus is that certainly he’s one of the country’s greatest minds when it comes to teaching for democracy and trying to make not only schools and universities, but our whole society socially just,” he said. “We’re really fortunate to have him because certainly he’s made a lifetime of contributions to students and teachers and faculty, and even on a larger scale than that.”

Ayers will serve as the 2013 College of Education and Human Services visiting scholar, a role Grineski said the college fills almost every year by bringing in a well-established scholar to visit the campus and deliver a public address. Ayers also will meet with several classes and discuss curriculum with faculty today and Wednesday.

Ayers will speak at 7 p.m. today at Weld Hall Auditorium, with his speech titled “Teaching from the Heart: Education for Enlightenment and Freedom.”

Grineski said he expects Ayers to discuss one of his frequent themes – that education is the place where people figure out how to engage and live their lives.

“He always says when you’re a teacher, you’re either for something or against something,” he said. “It’s not neutral because education is a contested space.”

Grineski said it will be Ayers’ third visit to MSUM, and the university is “certainly not hiding anything” about his latest appearance.

“I guess anytime you bring someone of the caliber of a Bill Ayers to a place, there certainly is the potential that there could be some controversy,” he said. “I hope there isn’t, but if there is, then we’ll just deal with it.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter Ryan Johnson at (701) 241-5587

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