University postpones Ayers event

Christina Chaey

UPDATE 11:19 a.m. WednesdayDue to security and preparedness concerns, university administrators have told the Muslim-cultural Student Association to postpone Thursday’s event at Cahn Auditorium featuring former Weather Underground member William Ayers, an McSA leader said Tuesday night.

Read the full story here.

After a controversial last-minute decision, the Muslim-cultural Student Association plans to bring former Weather Underground member William Ayers as its 2008 fall speaker Thursday at Cahn Auditorium, said Weinberg junior Dana Shabeeb, McSA co-president.

The selection continues the recent trend of student groups bringing figures to campus who have been lightning rods for criticism, including a For Members Only speech by the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, Jr. that Ayers attended as a VIP.

Ayers will be speaking with his wife, Bernardine Dohrn, a professor in the School of Law; and Imam Zaid Shakir, a black Muslim scholar. A&O Productions, Alianza, Asian Pacific American Coalition, South Asian Student Alliance and FMO have co-endorsed the event, called “Peaceful Progress: A Discourse on Affecting Change,” Shabeeb said.

Ayers, a University of Illinois-Chicago professor and Hyde Park neighbor of President-elect Barack Obama, was a point of controversy during the 2008 presidential campaign. Republicans sought to tie the Democrat to Ayers’ and Dohrn’s membership in the Weather Underground. Some of the members of the ’60s radical group were convicted of bombing federal buildings, including the Pentagon and Capitol Hill. Charges were filed against the two, but were dropped on a technicality.

Shakir, a scholar who has spoken at national Muslim events, is a former member of the U.S. Air Force and the co-founder of Masjid al-Islam, a Connecticut-based grassroots effort to provide Islamic religious and educational counsel.

“(Ayers and Dohrn) are going to present an interesting perspective,” Shabeeb said. “They went down an active path of violence, but they’re not conducting acts of violence now. They think that violence is not right in this current political climate. So we can learn from their perspective.”

The speakers aren’t voicing the opinions of McSA, although Ayers’ and Dohrn’s past actions should not prevent them from being allowed to speak to students, she said.

“One of our main goals is to continue this discussion on social and political activism,” Shabeeb said. “Hopefully NU and McSA understand that.”

But some McSA members have expressed concerns about the implications of the group’s association with Ayers, especially in light of a Nov. 11 speech on campus by conservative pundit David Horowitz, Shabeeb said.

The College Republicans’ fall speaker “accused Muslim students of being terrorists,” Shabeeb said.

“There are people who are afraid,” she said. “I think a lot of McSA members were worried about how it would be perceived by the audience and how that connection would be perceived, so we’ve had a lot of meetings in the past few weeks discussing that.”

According to a member of McSA, one of those meetings involved a serious debate over whether the student group should uninvite Ayers. The group ultimately decided to stick with their scheduled fall speaker, but by a slim majority, the member said.

“The hope would have been that we either would just not have had the speaker or to just find a professor at NU,” that member said. “Student groups feel pressured to invite controversial speakers rather than invite speakers who will speak in a meaningful way.”

Members of the McSA executive board have been instructed not to comment on the event, said group secretary Noreen Nasir.

McSA started discussing possibilities for their fall speaker event in mid-October, a somewhat late time frame, Shabeeb said. The group originally planned to ask a Muslim scholar to speak, but recently started discussing the possibility of bringing Ayers.

Tedd Vanadilok, director of Asian/Asian-American Student Affairs, said in an e-mail he first heard McSA was interested in bringing Ayers to campus two weeks ago. He said this was “not the ideal process” because the Student Organization Finance Office needs time to process the contracts, leaving the group little time to advertise.

Even though the contracts haven’t been finalized, McSA has already created a Facebook page for the event and invited more than 1,000 people.

McSA co-president Mustafa Rahman said the group may have acted a little too fast in creating the page, but thought it would be all right because they already had a signature from Dohrn. The group has decided to suspend advertisement until they receive final confirmation from all three speakers, Rahman said.

According to the associate director of the Center for Student Involvement, Helen Wood, the event will be confirmed once the contracts are reviewed by Vice President for Student Affairs William Banis and NU’s General Counsel Thomas Cline, because of the size of the honorarium for all three speakers.

McSA received around $21,000 for a fall speaker from Associated Student Government. According to Shabeeb, the full amount would be used for the speeches.

“The contract is more than my signing limit,” Wood said.

Free tickets should be available through the Norris Box Office sometime Tuesday, Shabeeb said.

The limit will be three tickets per WildCARD and one WildCARD per person. An additional 300 tickets will be reserved for sale at the door.

[email protected]