PENN State University, which is trying to get past a lot of scandal baggage, is about to add several more big bags. Penn State is paying Bill Ayers a substantial sum to come and speak at Penn State. Ayers will speak on March 19 and 20, and one topic will be the so called "School-to-Prison Pipeline."
Ayers, of course, was one of the leaders of the Weather Underground, a radical group that opposed the Vietnam War and bombed buildings, resulting in property damage and death. The death came on Feb. 16, 1970, when the group exploded a nail bomb at a San Francisco police station, killing police Sgt. Brian McDonnell.
The Ayers group also attacked the home of New York Supreme Court Justice John M. Murtagh, who was presiding over the pretrial hearings of members of the Black Panther Party over a plot to blow up New York landmarks with Molotov cocktails. I've interviewed Murtagh's son and he recounted the horrors his family faced.
Probably the most infamous Weather action involved three members who were killed when a bomb they were making blew up in their faces in a Greenwich Village townhouse. They had packed the bomb with nails and had planned to explode it at a noncommissioned officers' dance at Fort Dix, N.J., in order to kill military members, their wives and girlfriends.
This is the guy whom Penn State wants to pay thousands of dollars to inspire their students. This unrepentant punk, who has never apologized for these violent actions, will be treated as an esteemed, diverse voice. In what logical world do we bestow respect (and thousands of dollars in speaking fees) to a criminal and domestic terrorist to lecture on a major university campus?
What is Penn State's defense? Spokeswoman Lisa Powers told the media that the appearances were organized by student leaders with student-activity fees and would not use state funds. She also said, "They are free to sponsor programs and speakers, however controversial, without censorship by the university. Of course, the presence of any speaker cannot be taken as an endorsement by the university of his/her views."
First of all, students are forced to pay student-activity fees that will fund Ayers. If you want to go to Penn State, you can't opt out of these fees; the university has a figurative gun to your head (can you appreciate the irony?). Ayers will appear in buildings paid for by taxpayers and his security will come from taxpayer funds.
The bigger question is: Does Powers really stand behind the idea that the university would allow any speaker? Suppose the students set up a teleconference connection to hear the perspective of ISIS leaders? Does Ms. Powers not think they would be a valuable and diverse voice for students?
State Sen. and President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati has slammed the Penn State invitation to Ayers. It's time to hear other legislators, particularly Penn State grads, condemn this and threaten cutting the funding of Penn State. In addition, they should demand that Penn State make all students aware of Ayers' violent actions and unrepentant attitude.
I also hope that this is an opportunity for the Penn Staters who have tried to dig out their alma mater from the horrors of Sandusky. I've jousted with some Penn State factions that want to portray the university as a victim. Will they see this column as piling on?
I'm heartened by the fact that the website Cumberlink.com reports that Shohin Vance, a law student at Penn State, joined 11 other law students in opposing the Ayers speech. The letter they sent to Penn State administrators cited the 2001 interview that Ayers did with the New York Times in which he said, "I don't regret setting bombs. . . . I feel we didn't do enough."
Vance also said, "It's fundamentally wrong to have an institution that trains people in the law to invite someone who has no regard for the law." Vance also made the point that Ayers is completely unrepentant.
The law students like Vance should give us hope that despite the bizarro world of academia they still get it. Their common sense and decency have survived the politically correct nonsense that sadly infects institutions like Penn State.
If you're a Pennsylvania taxpayer, remember this is the crown jewel of the system that you fund. If you're a Penn State alum, step up and stop this. You're coming back strong from Sandusky. Don't let this creep pull you back.