No word from the weatherman

A former activist is banned from speaking at the U of Wyoming.

Bill Ayers is a respected professor of education at the University of Illinois at Chicago, though he was once best known as a founding member of the Weather Underground, a radical activist group in the 1960s and âÄô70s. Last week, University of Wyoming President Tom Buchanan revoked a prior invitation to Ayers to speak there and banned him from using any on-campus location. He claimed AyersâÄô presence would âÄúadversely impactâÄù the reputation of the university. Ironically âÄî but rightly âÄî it is banning Ayers that has adversely impacted that universityâÄôs reputation. Ayers sued, claiming that his rights of free speech and assembly were violated. While universities should be able to choose who they host and the lawsuit may fail, public universities should not shy away from controversial thinkers simply because they are controversial. It is simplistic and wrongheaded to suppose that merely hosting a speaker constitutes an endorsement of his views. The University of Minnesota, for example, recently hosted Chris Hedges, who is a self-described socialist; we will also soon host Karl Rove, whom some have accused of war crimes. Both are controversial speakers, each on a different end of the ideological spectrum. That whole spectrum should be present on university campuses. Students need the opportunity to hear new ideas and decide for themselves what to think. Universities âÄî particularly public ones âÄî have a special obligation to protect the freedom of all thought and speech, not just that in the mainstream. Excluding people or ideas, however radical, impoverishes studentsâÄô education and their capacity to think critically and, ultimately, democratically.