Ayers visit prompts backlash for MSUM

The repercussions of a February campus visit from admitted terrorist Bill Ayers are still being felt at MSUM.

Since Ayers visit, several non-violent threats have been made against the school. The Moorhead Police Department investigated one threat, but the person who made it said no harm was meant and was apologetic, said Mitch Osland, assistant Public Safety director. Other reactions included potential students choosing to not enroll, donors discontinuing their giving or alum asking to not be contacted by the university again.

“(Threats) have been in cases vague enough to not cross a line to something that needs to be prosecuted,” said David Wahlberg, executive director of marketing and communications. “(The threats were) threatening, vile and obscene. It’s … important for us to remember that most of the folks that were contacting us aren’t communicating in those kinds of terms, it’s really easy to focus on the folks that exaggerate or are just plain angry.”

Both President Edna Szymanski and Steven Grinseki, a professor in the School of Teaching and Learning who was instrumental in bringing Ayers, declined to comment for this story.

During the Vietnam War era, Ayers led several anti-war demonstrations, was the co-founder of the Weather Underground and later admitted to taking part in several bombings. In recent years, Ayers turned to education and is a retired professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

The university was bombarded in a social media flurry a month after the visit when an article was posted on Campus Reform, a conservative blog. The March 22 article by Oliver Darcy, stated the College of Education and Human Services named Ayers the 2013 “visiting scholar,” and that he received a small stipend.

Wahlberg said Ayers was not paid, rather his visit was funded by donor donations.

The original story on Campus Reform was released on a Friday, by the following Monday it had been reposted on more than 10 blogs, and MSUM was under fire via social media, emails and phone calls. One disgruntled Facebook user encouraged people to “bomb” MSUM with emails and phone calls to let the university know how they felt about Ayers visit. One post included several phone numbers and email addresses of MSUM professors and officials to contact.

Two months after the visit, the school is still receiving calls and emails. According to Wahlberg the school has received more than 100 calls. The MSUM Facebook page also took heat with posters encouraging students to not attend this “anti-American” establishment and one calling MSUM students communists.

While on campus, Ayers did not talk about his anti-war activities; he spoke about the importance of education and having good teachers.

But in hindsight, the university no longer supports the decision to bring in Ayers, said Kathleen McNabb, who works in the president’s office.

“There was a hole, if you will, in our policies,” Wahlberg said. “We’ve used it as an opportunity to engage with our faculty organization on when a public figure is invited to campus, is there an opportunity for broader discussion before that money is expended?”

Although many are upset by his visit and the school no longer supports the invitation, some MSUM students are supportive of his visit.

“I feel like it was not a bad choice by the school,” said Abby Furth, elementary inclusive and math education senior. “Yes, (Ayers) made bad decisions in the past that were very contradictive, but it’s also important that they look at the positive things he did do. He has a lot of years in education, which needs to be recognized.”

Jessica Bernier, MSUSA campus coordinator, said it was a mistake to bring him in, but she understands the reasoning behind the visit.

“We are a public university and students were not listening to him talk about what he did, they were listening to him talk about higher education,” she said.

In reaction to the visit and the backlash it has brought, Minnesota legislators included an amendment in the higher education bill that would require the MnSCU and University of Minnesota systems to enact policies regarding campus visits by admitted terrorists.

BY MEREDITH WATHNE
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