Sunday, February 22, 2009

Pennsylvania Republicans Threaten Funding for Millersville University Over Ayers Speech

Republican legislators in Pennsylvania have sent a letter to the president of Millersville University and chancellor of the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education threatening to cut state funding unless Bill Ayers is banned from speaking on campus.

The letter calls the invitation (which came before Ayers became a high-profile part of national politics last year) “patently offensive” and “Inappropriate promotion” of Ayers: “It is simply not acceptable that a taxpayer owner and operated institution of higher learning would invite a man who engaged in domestic terrorism to its campus.” Of course, Ayers has never been convicted of any such charge, and plenty of people who plotted terrorism to kill people (which Ayers never did) have been invited to speak at public universities, from Henry Kissinger to Oliver North to G. Gordon Liddy, and no one has sought to ban these speakers.

Interestingly, the letter condemns Ayers not only for his radical past but for his “education philosophy which promotes student and parental political activism instead of achievement testing.” The legislators even attack Ayers’ role as an advocate of the “small schools” movement because it allegedly “includes building individual schools around specific political themes.”
In fact, the letter from these legislators devotes more space to attacking Ayers’ educational philosophy than his role with the Weather Underground.

So the Republican legislators aren’t just interested in banning ex-radicals; they also want to ban campus speakers with liberal educational philosophies. In fact, they write that if Millersville University includes such “radical components” in its urban education program, “then we believe a full curriculum review is necessary.” The idea of legislators investigating education programs to purge them of liberal ideas is particularly frightening.

Although Ayers’ speech is privately funded by a foundation, the legislators conclude their letter with a particularly ominous and direct threat to cut state funding for Millersville University unless Ayers is banned: “we are interested to receive your input into how we can defend the Commonwealth’s significant investment of taxpayer monies toward the State System of Higher Education in light of this issue.”

This threat is both loathsome and unconstitutional. The government cannot punish a public university for allowing free speech on campus. These Republican legislators are an embarrassment to the state of Pennsylvania, and let’s hope that their demands for repression are not just ignored, but condemned, by the people of Pennsylvania and conservative and liberal groups alike.

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