Penn State president panned for anti-war activist's visit

AP News
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Posted: Mar 24, 2015 7:17 PM

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — Pennsylvania State University's president got a raft of criticism on Tuesday at a hearing on the university's budget — not over fiscal issues but from lawmakers angry about on-campus appearances by a co-founder of the violent anti-war group the Weather Underground.

President Eric Barron joined his counterparts from the other state-related universities — Pittsburgh, Temple and Lincoln — before the Senate Appropriations Committee for their annual hearing, but four Republicans on the panel intermittently brought up William Ayers' involvement in the programs last Thursday and Friday.

The Weather Underground opposed the war in Vietnam and claimed responsibility for several bombings, including nonfatal explosions at the Pentagon and the U.S. Capitol. Ayers was a fugitive for years but turned himself in in 1980. Charges were later dropped over issues related to the government's methods of investigating him.

Sens. John Eichelberger and Kim Ward wanted to know how Penn State can stop appearances by people whose actions they find offensive. Sens. Randy Vulakovich and John Rafferty also registered their objections.

Eichelberger said Barron should explore ways the university administration can inject "a more experienced viewpoint" in the selection of guest speakers "so that it's not just simply the students running amok."

Vulakovich called Ayers' appearances "an affront to policemen, veterans and the general public."

Ward asked Barron, "At what point would you step in?"

Barron said he was sympathetic but that his hands are tied because the university is barred by law from interfering with events sponsored and financed by student groups.

On Thursday, Ayers participated in a panel discussion on education equity sponsored by the Law and Education Alliance at Penn State and held at the university's law campus in State College. About 75 people listened to the discussion about the problem of children going straight from schools into the criminal justice system, according to the campus newspaper, The Daily Collegian.

Barron said people who attended were law students.

"These are not people who have walked into this," he said.

Ayers also took part in a Friday program sponsored by the Curriculum and Instruction Graduate Student Association that included a workshop on teaching toward democracy and a presentation on the political correctness of diversity.

Attempts to reach Ayers by email and telephone on Tuesday were unsuccessful.