The UW Social Justice Research Center (SJRC) originally invited Bill Ayers to speak here at The University of Wyoming (I am a part of the SJRC-- I was the founding graduate student representative--but while I knew that Ayers had been invited, I did not participate in that decision). Then, due to pressure from hundreds people who swore they were big donors and/or people who made thinly veiled threats of violence, the talk was cancelled just a couple of weeks before the scheduled event. Facts about how all of this went down feel murky, though I have spoken directly with key players. So I will refrain from explaining how exactly this happened. Since then there has been much debate here on campus, in local news and national news, about what this means for UW, and for universities across the U.S.
The cancellation and the ensuing debate sadden me on a lot of levels, but I can't pretend surprise. I've never believed that universities are truly venues of free speech and inspired debate (though these things can happen in moments of exception). Further, many of my recent experiences with higher education have cystallized my understanding of the failings of academia: heirarchies that have nothing to do with teaching abilities or a commitment to education, faculty politics that distinctly remind me of junior high-- gossips, backstabbing, and gross power plays, students who are stunned when an instructor expects anything other than rote regurgitation.
But I love teaching. I am good at it.
At this point I believe I am still interested in participation in broken systems/institutions (just as I did with years of social work in Philly) because of the access it allows me to people, individuals, who I can both learn from and support in their own learning. Some of us can go off on our own-- create our own communities, homes, even occupations-- but who do we leave behind? The communities I have found (punk, queer, poc, creative, activist) have been vital, have saved me, but I don't believe that I can hide in them.
Because of the many exceptions.
below is a link to a recent column by Bill Ayers about his UW visit (which some people and students seem to now have rescheduled for off campus...) and about the state of higher education
Bill Ayers on education today