In a very unusual move, University of Illinois trustees Thursday denied giving emeritus status to controversial retired professor William Ayers.It may seem a small thing, but it is noteworthy that Kennedy took a stand against one of President Obama's most radical, leftist ideological mentors. I think his father would be proud.
The vote, at a U. of I. board meeting in Urbana, was unanimous and came after a passionate speech by board chair Christopher Kennedy, who invoked the 1968 assassination of his father, Sen. Robert F. Kennedy, in saying that he was voting his conscience.
The other trustees, without comment, also voted against the appointment.
Ayers, the Vietnam War-era radical, had been an education faculty member at UIC since 1987. He retired effective Aug. 31 and then sought the emeritus faculty status, a largely honorific title that includes some benefits such as library privileges.
A co-founder of the Weather Underground anti-war group, Ayers was frequently in the media spotlight and, as such, was one of the university's best-known faculty members.
While trustees regularly vote on emeritus appointments, they rarely comment about them.
But in an emotional statement, Kennedy discussed his reasons for voting against Ayers' request.
"I am guided by my conscience and one which has been formed by a series of experiences, many of which have been shared with the people of our country and mark each of us in a profound way," Kennedy said.
He said he could not confer the title "to a man whose body of work includes a book dedicated in part to the man who murdered my father."
Kennedy was referring to a 1974 book co-authored by Ayers, "Prairie Fire," which was dedicated to a long list of people including Robert Kennedy assassin Sirhan Sirhan and "all political prisoners in the U.S."
Ayers became a controversial figure in Barack Obama's presidential campaign because they worked on a school-reform initiative together, leading opponents to say Obama was linked to a "terrorist." UIC was forced to release more than 1,000 files detailing the activities of that group. The university also faced questions in 2001 after Ayers wrote in his memoir about helping with the non-fatal bombings of government buildings.
According to the UIC faculty handbook, the granting of emeritus status is "based on merit" and is "an extraordinary title that is given for extraordinary service."
Kennedy said he hoped faculty, staff and Illinois residents "understand my motives and my reasoning" and concluded: "How could I do anything else?"
“It is from numberless diverse acts of courage and belief that human history is shaped. Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope.” - Robert F. Kennedy