CHEYENNE, Wyo. The University of Wyoming has canceled a speech by former 1960s radical William Ayers after hundreds of objections from citizens and politicians poured in over the man who became an issue in the 2008 presidential campaign.
In a statement released by the university, UW President Tom Buchanan said he supported the decision to cancel the speech by Ayers.
"The University of Wyoming is one of the few institutions remaining in today's environment that garner the confidence of the public. The visit by Professor Ayers would have adversely impacted that reputation," Buchanan said.
Ayers was scheduled to speak April 5 on the Laramie campus about social justice issues and education. The following day, he was to participate in a teleconference with Wyoming school principals.
He was invited by the UW Social Justice Research Center, a privately endowed center that studies problems of oppression and inequalities among different social groups in society.
Having a scheduled appearance canceled is nothing new for Ayers. The University of Nebraska-Lincoln and Boston College had also canceled scheduled visits.
Ayers was a co-founder of Weather Underground, a radical anti-war group that claimed responsibility for a series of bombings, including explosions at the Pentagon and U.S. Capitol that didn't kill anyone.
He was a fugitive for years. After surrendering in 1980, charges against him were dropped because of prosecutorial misconduct.
During the 2008 presidential campaign, Republican Sen. John McCain's running mate, then-Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, resurrected Ayers' radical past when she accused then-candidate Barack Obama of "palling around with terrorists."
President Obama and Ayers served together on the board of a Chicago charity, and Ayers hosted a meet-the-candidate session for Obama at his home in the mid-1990s when Obama first ran for office.
Obama has condemned Ayers' radical activities, and there's no evidence they ever were close friends or that Ayers advised Obama on policy.
Ayers now an education professor at the University of Illinois-Chicago and critic of intimidation of professors told the Associated Press yesterday in an e-mail that he would be willing to comment but couldn't immediately because he was teaching.
UW spokesman Jim Kearns said yesterday that the college had received about 430 e-mails and phone calls since last March 26, with the overwhelming majority against Ayers' visit. Several GOP gubernatorial candidates also voiced their opposition.
The university's statement said that the director of the Social Justice Research Center, Franciso Rios, made the decision to cancel Ayers and "apologized to the university community for any harm that may have come to it and cited personal and professional reasons, including safety concerns, for the cancellation."
Rios did not return a message seeking comment in time for this story.
Buchanan thanked the center for reconsidering its invitation to Ayers and said he was satisfied with the decision.
"Observers in and outside the university would be incorrect to conclude that UW simply caved in to external pressure," Buchanan said in the statement. "Rather, I commended the director of the center for a willingness to be sensitive to the outpouring of criticism, evaluate the arguments and reconsider the invitation."
Buchanan said academic freedom is a core principle of higher education, but with that comes a "commensurate dose of responsibility."