Bill Ayers and Robert Kennedy’s Son


This time the Bill Ayers story is real. This time there really is a story.

Last time, the story was that the retiring University of Illinois professor and former Weather Underground fugitive plotted with the then Senator Obama to capture the presidency. There was no real story.

This time, there are facts. Professor Ayers asked for emeritus status from the university. The university turned him down. The reasoning, quoted in total below from the Chicago Sun Times, was given by University Board President Chris Kennedy. Son of Robert Kennedy.

This time, there were some actual facts. Mr. Ayers did author a book which he dedicated to Sirhan Sirhan and a list of political prisoners held by the United States.

Sirhan Sirhan who, with a handgun in the kitchen of a Los Angeles hotel, both changed the course of American history and took 4 year old Chris Kennedy’s Dad, Robert Kennedy.

So this time there were facts. A very hard decision. And list of “What if’s” that could go on as long as the coldest dark night of the American collective soul.
Beginning of course with “What if Bobby Kennedy had lived?”

That Professor Ayers was a world class teacher is acknowledged by pretty much anyone who came within 5 feet of him. And on the list of bad things that can happen to a person, being denied emeritus status might clock in pretty close to last. Somewhere above a hang nail.

But there is something larger here. There is Chris Kennedy’s decision. His reasoning, weighing each piece of a much, much larger picture. Being the sum total of who he is, what shaped him, defined him as a person.

And as I read the power and the eloquence in his words I am struck first with the sadness for all that might have been.

But then I think about what he both said and did here, and there is a new thought. Somehow there is hope.

Somehow there is hope.

Because as I read again what he wrote I can’t help but believe how proud his Dad would have been of his son.

Chris Kennedy’s Statement:
There are times like today when we must make difficult decisions and perhaps those that are controversial or simply create a spectacle.
In my decision-making capacities as a trustee, I am not given the luxury of taking a poll on every issue and simply voting with the majority.

Instead, like those leaders of our republic who serve our community in a representative democracy, I must ultimately vote my conscience.
Today we take up the topic of emeritus status.
There are provisions for emeritus status in the university-organizing documents.
The emeritus status is an honorific status.
It is a title that is one of prestige.
It is not earned by right, but it is given as a privilege by the board of trustees.

I need to point out that this is a purely optional act.
While the process of conferring emeritus status may end with the board of trustees, it is important to note that it must begin with the individual faculty member who must request this honorific status for themselves.

Apparently, Mr. Ayers, who has been a teacher at the University of Illinois at Chicago, has asked for this privilege and honor to be bestowed on him.

Our discussion of this topic therefore does not represent an intervention into the scholarship of the university, nor is it a threat to academic freedom.

It is, rather, simply a response to his request.
In my role, I am simply responding to something which has been presented to me.
I am guided by my conscience and one which has been formed by a series of experiences, many of which have been shared with the people of our country and mark each of us in a profound way.

My own history is not a secret.
My life experiences inform my decision-making as a trustee of the university.

In this case of emeritus status, I hope that I will act in a predictable fashion and that the people of Illinois and the faculty and staff of this great institution will understand my motives and my reasoning.
I intend to vote against conferring the honorific title of our university to a man whose body of work includes a book dedicated in part to the man who murdered my father, Robert F. Kennedy.

There is nothing more antithetical to the hopes for a university that is lively and yet civil, or to the hopes of our founding fathers for their great experiment of a self-governing people, than to permanently seal off debate with one’s opponents by killing them.

There can be no place in a democracy to celebrate political assassinations or to honor those who do so.
We are citizen trustees whose judgments should be predictable to the community that we serve, and I would ask anyone who challenges my judgment, “How could I do anything else?”

One Response to “Bill Ayers and Robert Kennedy’s Son”

  1. Helen Gagel Says:

    This one is really hard — when I heard on the news that emeritus status had been denied, I leapt to the conclusion that the trustees were just playing it safe politically. I had forgotten that Chris Kennedy had been named chair of the board, in the wake of recent revelations that made it necessary for the university to bring a white knight on board. Who could have predicted that his first major decision would be one that is so frought with personal memory? Should he have recused himself? No doubt his father would have understood, having been involved in many gray-area decisions himself (from Hoffa to King). But Christopher, having been a toddler when his father was murdered, can make decisions based on the best of the Bobby legacy. And who can fault him for that?

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