By KAY NGUYEN
Supporters cheered and protestors jeered as Bill Ayers took the stage
Tuesday on the Oakland University campus to talk about equality in
About 150 students, faculty, staff, community members and local media
gathered in the Oakland Center Gold Rooms to see Ayers, an author and
University of Illinois at Chicago education professor and senior
Some came to hear his views on education reform and democracy.
Others came to protest his appearance, taking issue with his “terrorist” past.
He was involved with the radical-left 1960s organization, the Weather
Underground, and participated in bombings of the Capitol building, the
Pentagon and the New York City Police Headquarters in the 70s. The
criminal charges against him were dropped.
Chris Kobus, associate professor of mechanical engineering at OU, said
he was a student when a pipe bomb blew up parts of OU’s Kresge Library
and South Foundation hall in 1990.
He did not think OU should be bringing a “terrorist” onto OU’s campus,
especially because an OU student detonated a pipe bomb on campus 19
years ago. He carried a sign that read “OU bombed in 1990 – bombed
again on 3-24-09.”
Ayers openly discussed his anti-war activism during the 1960s and 1970s
when presented with questions and banter from protestors.
“I do not regret anything I did to protest the war,” said Ayers in
response to an audience member’s question. “We need more ways to oppose
these injustices, just in new ways.”
OU Police Department officers kept everything under control, and aside
from the occasional comments from protestors, the event went smoothly.
The event was sponsored by OU’s Students for a Democratic Society,
along with the departments of history, sociology, political science,
communication and journalism, and the School of Education and Human
Andrew Bashi, SDS president, said he hopes that events like these will
stimulate student thinking, especially with regard to democracy.
A key topic of Ayers’ lecture was the urban school system, as Ayers is
tied to the Chicago Public School System. Many audience members brought
up the recent events of the Pontiac School District as well as Detroit
Ayers spoke of the education decisions the “wisest and most privileged
of parents” make for their children. He also spoke of schools in the
CPS district that could spend only a fraction of what a public school
district further north could and the inequalities of the arrangement.
“All of us have to create a conversation where we change our thinking
that has dominated our thought for so long,” Ayers said. “Every human
being has immeasurable value.”
About 20 students, faculty, alumni and local community members gathered
in the back of the room to protest Ayers’ appearance on campus. They
held signs with statements like “keep terrorists off OU” and
“terrorists aren’t teachers.”
The majority of the audience simply sat to listen to Ayers talk. His
appearance elicited a wide range of reactions as he was greeted with
“boos” and a chorus of hands clapping.
“We cannot stop him from coming, but we just plan on showing that
people do not approve of him, his methods, and of him coming to speak,”
said senior political science major and OU’s College Republicans member
Jim Arapostathis. “He is a terrorist for crying out loud.”
The department of communication and journalism had been inundated with
calls and e-mails during the weeks before the event, in favor of and
“I am delighted that they are protesting; a university has to spark
thinking,” said communications and journalism department chair Sharon
Howell. “Thinking is not hearing what you already agree with.”
A Freedom of Information Act request was made for any documents and e-mails pertaining to Ayers’ visit.
“As a taxpayers’ advocate, it is shameful to see people applauding
him,” said Glenn Clark, chair of the Michigan 9th district Republican
committee. “Our tax dollars are paying this man who has committed
Howell said Ayers did not take a speaker fee, but the catering bill was
$500, funded by host departments, which are partially funded by
A specialist in elementary education theory, Ayers spoke of the inequalities in the American education system.
SDS member Micah Fialka-Feldman was instrumental to the planning of the
event, as Ayers is a family friend. Ayers referred to Fialka-Feldman
and his struggle with campus housing and equality during his talk.
Fialka-Feldman is currently embroiled in a lawsuit with OU after making
many attempts to live on campus. He has been denied access to campus
housing because he is not an admitted student, but attends OU through
the OPTIONS program, which lets students with cognitive disabilities
Ayers has written letters in support of Fialka-Feldman’s fight to university officials and the board of trustees.
“Not every student is treated equally,” said Ayers of Fialka-Feldman.
“It is still happening here at [OU], one of the most forward
universities with regards to welcoming people with disabilities.”
“Every one of us has to open our eyes and do something,” Ayers said
about equality in education. “When we are celebrating the anniversary
of Brown v. Board, what are we really celebrating?”
Before his speech, Ayers did a podcast for OU and Galileo Institute’s
Podcasts for Leadership Schools, and had an discussion with students
and faculty. After his speech, he answered questions from the audience
for more than an hour.
Audience members clapped as many protestors rolled their eyes and fervently waved their American flags and signs.
A junior communications major at OU and CPS alumni, Sara
Koperdak-Meekins connected with Ayers and his message of a democratic
education. She agreed with Ayers’ views about the discrepancies between
CPS and the wealthier schools of Chicago’s North Shore.
“Everything he said really hit home,” said Koperdak-Meekins. “In school
systems, a single component is blamed, but the entire education system
is rarely to blame.”