October 23, 2008

Dean Roellke Speaks About Ayers *Mads Exclusive*

Dean Roellke is defending his decision to sign a pledge of support for Bill Ayers. The dean has posted the following comment to our post on the issue.

"Just as Barack Obama has been extraordinarily clear about his involvement with Professor Ayers, I wish to be clear about Vassar's brief association with Mr. Ayers. No one with whom I interact is supportive of Mr. Ayers' actions years ago (at the time, Barack Obama was 8 years old, I was 5 years old).

Please take the time to better understand Mr. Ayers' contributions to the field of education--it is those contributions that brought him to Vassar.

Here is a summary of Mr. Ayers' work at Vassar (excerpted from my grant report to the Arthur Vining Davis Foundations who supported our urban education outreach work)...

With support from both the Arthur Vining Davis Foundations and the Vassar College Dean of the Faculty Office, we were able to appoint William Ayers as a visiting professor of Urban Education for the 2005-06 academic year. Mr. Ayers has conducted a series of all campus events, including the Elaine Lipschutz Lecture on Multicultural Education in the Fall. For CETE alumni currently teaching in New York City, we sponsored "An Evening with Bill Ayers," a dinner and lecture designed to celebrate the accomplishments of urban teachers from Vassar, Smith, Barnard, Swarthmore and other highly selective liberal arts colleges. We held this event at Bank Street College of Education and are looking forward to planning a similar event in the 2006-07 academic year. The dinner was attended by 30 students and faculty from CETE institutions and over 150 educators participated in the lecture component of the program. Mr. Ayers is also conducting a weekly urban education reform seminar with over 40 students enrolled. For the 2006-07 academic year, we have already secured John Merrow, Peabody Award Winner and education correspondent for NEWSHOUR with Jim Lehrer to play a similar role. Though Mr. Merrow will not teach a course for us, his expertise in urban education and public policy debates will be highly valued by both our current students and our alumnae/i.

I hope this is helpful to those who may misinterpret my support for Mr. Ayers.

Sincerely yours,
Chris Roellke
Professor of Education and Acting Dean of the College."

24 comments:

Anonymous said...

this doesn't change my opinion. i don't agree with the outward endorsement of this man by someone so high up in our college's administration.

Anonymous said...

why not?

Anonymous said...

you can endorse someone's ability as an educator without endorsing their past (misguided) actions

Anonymous said...

terurist

Anonymous said...

the endorsement is not about his time as an educator. it is endorsing him as a public figure. and because this is a liberal college, the dean can sign this kind of thing and get away with it for the most part. and god forbid students say they think it is unacceptable or terrible! i still think this is horrible. Ayers has a disgusting past, and just because he taught some good classes here doesn't mean that he should be endorsed publicly by the dean of our school. i don't care about the work he did at vassar, i believe he has had a negative impact on our world today and is someone that NO ONE should endorse - let alone my dean.

just stating my individual / conservative *gasp* opinion on the matter.

Anonymous said...

the united states military is publically endorsed. i dont hear anyone saying that THAT is unacceptable and terrible... disgusting. Just because his name is talked up by the McCain campaign and in the newspapers doesn't mean he's the only one with a negative impact on the world today.

Anonymous said...

even if someone has a dangerous past, does that automatically mean we can not learn from them? can you not learn from a bomber, murderer, terrorist? maybe vassar should only hire robots. oh, wait, then again, if we get veterans to come its OKAY!!!!! because they were the terrorists on OUR side.

Anonymous said...

veterans are terrorists? really?

Anonymous said...

there's a reason people have a past. yes, i believe if someone has a past like Bill Ayers does, they should not be endorsed like this. yes, we can learn from them. we can learn how NOT to act. you can't just forget people's pasts .. especially because it wasn't a minor thing. that's why presidents are impeached, why there are jails and why certain people could never run for president or any other public office. your past matters. you just can't brush it aside because you were a good teacher once. i'm sorry, i support Obama but i would never support Ayers.his past is just too scary, the dean's attempt at explaining the good he once did in teaching does not make me forget everything else i know about him.

Anonymous said...

11:27-
People like you make me question being a democrat. I have no problem with the dean supporting Ayers (as long as he condemns Ayers' past actions), but you seriously need to shut the fuck up. What the hell is your problem? Seriously, what is it?

Anonymous said...

it's not the "good he once did in teaching," it's the good he continues to do as a notable and respected scholar. It's like current students getting arrested at an ACT OUT protest and even 40 years later, when they are professors, some people still believing their activist past prohibits them from ever deserving respect.

Admit it - you had never heard of Ayers until the McCain campaign painted him as a terrorist. There is more than one way to look at this issue and I'm proud that our administrators have stepped up to provide a different perspective.

Anonymous said...

no civilian casualties occurred as a result of the weatherman bombings.

Anonymous said...

For the record--the educator statement--as of 10/24, over 3000 scholars/educators/citizens have signed...

EDUCATOR STATEMENT - 3247 Current Endorsements -

We write to support our colleague Professor William Ayers, Distinguished Professor of Education and Senior University Scholar at the University of Illinois at Chicago, who is currently under determined and sustained political attack. Ayers is a nationally known scholar, member of the Faculty Senate at UIC, Vice President-elect of the American Educational Research Association, and sought after as a speaker and visiting scholar by other universities because of his exemplary scholarship, teaching, and service. Throughout the 20 years that he has been a valued faculty member at UIC, he has taught, advised, mentored, and supported hundreds of undergraduate, Masters and Ph.D. students. He has pushed them to take seriously their responsibilities as educators in a democracy – to promote critical inquiry, dialogue, and debate; to encourage questioning and independent thinking; to value the full humanity of every person and to work for access and equity. Helping educators develop the capacity and ethical commitment to these responsibilities is at the core of what we do, and as a teacher he has always embraced debate and multiple perspectives.

All citizens, but particularly teachers and scholars, are called upon to challenge orthodoxy, dogma, and mindless complacency, to be skeptical of authoritative claims, to interrogate and trouble the given and the taken-for-granted. Without critical dialogue and dissent we would likely be burning witches and enslaving our fellow human beings to this day. The growth of knowledge, insight, and understanding--- the possibility of change--- depends on that kind of effort, and the inevitable clash of ideas that follows should be celebrated and nourished rather than crushed. Teachers have a heavy responsibility, a moral obligation, to organize classrooms as sites of open discussion, free of coercion or intimidation. By all accounts Professor Ayers meets this standard. His classes are fully enrolled, and students welcome the exchange of views that he encourages.

The current characterizations of Professor Ayers---“unrepentant terrorist,” “lunatic leftist”---are unrecognizable to those who know or work with him. It’s true that Professor Ayers participated passionately in the civil rights and antiwar movements of the 1960s, as did hundreds of thousands of Americans. His participation in political activity 40 years ago is history; what is most relevant now is his continued engagement in progressive causes, and his exemplary contribution---including publishing 16 books--- to the field of education. The current attacks appear as part of a pattern of “exposés” and assaults designed to intimidate free thinking and stifle critical dialogue. Like crusades against high school and elementary teachers, and faculty at UCLA, Columbia, DePaul, and the University of Colorado, the attacks on and the character assassination of Ayers threaten the university as a space of open inquiry and debate, and threaten schools as places of compassion, imagination, curiosity, and free thought. They serve as warnings that anyone who voices perspectives and advances questions that challenge orthodoxy and political power may become a target, and this, then, casts a chill over free speech and inquiry and the spirit of democracy.

We, the undersigned, stand on the side of education as an enterprise devoted to human inquiry, enlightenment, and liberation. We oppose the demonization of Professor William Ayers.

Anonymous said...

oh please. why is everyone actually assuming his research and work in education is any better. look up his work and youll see its the same boring "radical' stuff you saw from the columbus day protests. "the poor brown people have been exploited by capitalism and the whites, education should be radical and include things like ebonics". exactly!

Anonymous said...

Wow to 3:54. I guess capitalism is nice so long as you're on the beneficiary side of things, right?

Anonymous said...

from a brief search on the internet one finds this additional defense of Ayers...in all this hoopla, it is important to consider some of the historical context...

"...it's important to remember that while three members of the Weather Underground died at their own hands because of a failed bomb they were constructing, no one else died at their hands. The group scrupulously worked to make sure that their attacks were on property, not people.

It's also important to remember that they were targeting a government that was engaged in a criminal war against a peasant country half a world away, that had killed nearly two million Indochinese people, most of them civilians, and that was well on the way to pointlessly sending 58,000 American troops to their deaths.

The actions of the Weather Underground may have been misguided and quixotic, but they were not terrorists in the sense of trying to cause mass terror among the American public, in the way that Al Qaeda terrorists or other terror groups indiscriminately attack civilians. They were much more carefully targeting the levers of power, and in effect, trying to "bring the war home."

While many in the anti-war movement condemned the actions of the Weather Underground, I would argue that they, like the militant Black Panthers, performed an invaluable role by sending a loud, clear message to the nation's ruling elite that if they continued the war, things would get worse at home.

Their actions made the peaceful mass protests against the Indochina War far more potent, because they forced the ruling elite in the US to have to ponder what would happen if those masses turned to the same kind of violent measures against them.

Ayers has long since earned the nation's respect, whatever one may think of his youthful radicalism, by devoting his life to the challenge of helping educate those who have a hard time breaking the cycle of poverty and ignorance, which makes it obscene to criticize Obama for sharing a boardroom with him (Obama was 8 when Ayers was in the Weathermen back in 1970).

But Ayers and his comrades should also be honored for having been willing to go the extra mile and put their lives on the line to end a criminal war."

We could use that kind of courage and militancy today in the anti-war movement--not in the form of another underground bombing campaign, but certainly in the form of a willingness put ourselves on the line to blockade and undermine an American imperial war machine that has chewed up the lives of tens of thousands of young Americans and killed over a million innocent Iraqis.

Five years into a war with no end in Iraq, it's clear that just going about our business, and making periodic marches along the boulevards of Washington, New York or San Francisco is not enough.

Anonymous said...

11:22-I have friends in the military. You should watch what you say.

Anonymous said...

I attended a dinner at which Dean Roellke brought Ayers in to speak with future teachers. And what did they hear from the man? That all children deserve a good education. That teaching is hard and in spite of the regular disappointments and frustrations, it is worthy career that reflects optimism and hope. He urged the young teachers, from Vassar, Brown, Williams, Swarthmore, Barnard, Bank Street, etc., to reach deep and find ways to reproduce the challenging curriculum that they had benefited from en route to their lives in higher education. Did he espouse "terrorism" or bombing? No. Did he begin by asking students how their teaching was going and what questions they had? Yes. He inspired the teachers. I heard him speak to another group of teachers. The same. I heard him a third time a few years later. This time he was promoting a young man, a teacher who worked for a year with his elementary students to study, document their needs, and to get a new school built. I didn't find myself running for cover at that meeting. No. Just thankful that the old "washed up terrorist" finds time and time again to support young people in doing the difficult work of teaching. Try it. It's hard work. Never boring. Dean Roellke did well by Vassar in this case.

Anonymous said...

I support Dean Roellke and Bill Ayers.

3:54 - sorry to make assumptions about you, but you will NEVER know what it's like to be a person of color or a person of less privilege. Hopefully there's still time to educate you.

Vassar Alum '08

Anonymous said...

whoa, 11:27. you're apparently lucky enough to have never known a member of the armed forces. i have several friends and family members who HAVE served, served during wartime, and guess what: they AREN'T terrorists. the military is a great way to spread the wealth around...people from lower-incomes can join and have opportunities that would've otherwise been lost to them (think a good career, free college, health care). it's not as if everyone who joins the military is a bloodthirsty baby killer with designs on taking down poorer, weaker nations. get real.

and ESPECIALLY keep in mind that they're under orders, they aren't making those calls themselves...ayers, however, was allowed to make his own decisions. if you want to call anyone 'terrorist,' maybe you should look to the ones in washington who mobilized the military to begin with. jeez. just have some fucking respect and don't make judgement calls on people & a system you clearly don't understand.

Anonymous said...

So basically Bill Ayers, despite his well-publicized prior horrendous actions, managed to work his way through the levels of academia to his current respected position at a prominent university. Sounds like the quintessential American hard-work-and-perseverance story to me. Good for him.
As for Mr. Roellke's endorsement: some of you people are acting as though he's endorsing Mr. Ayers' bombing. If, as of right now, he is providing a service to the academic community, and is overall an asset, then he deserves some commendation. That's all there is to it. He's providing an interesting and diversified voice to the scholastic dialogue.
Now if you believe that he is not providing an interesting and/or diversified voice, then by all means object to Mr. Roellke's position. Don't disregard a person's input because of his past poor (incredibly poor) judgments, though; that would be completely contrary to the tenets of both scholasticism and the United States of America.

Anonymous said...

I can't say that I learned with Ayers at Vassar, as I had already graduated. I know him only through his books on Urban Education. It was his books, and many others from Chris Rollke's Urban Education Reform syllabus, that helped me to choose to devote myself to the students of New York City's public schools, first as teacher and now as an educational consultant. I have the utmost respect for Dean Rollke and for the choices he's made to bring unique and compelling voices to Vassar's campus.

-Vassar College Alum, '99

Anonymous said...

As an alum from '01, I cannot speak to William Ayers's classroom capabilities. I can, however, speak knowledgeably about Chris Roellke, both as a professor and friend. Dr. Roellke's teaching, including his amazing ability to articulate and facilitate discussions about controversial and complex issues, was unparalleled at Vassar. I know him to be extremely thoughtful, fair-minded, and dedicated to education. You all are very lucky to have this man in such an important position (though I lament that some of you may not get to know him in the classroom), and I would ask you to consider showing more respect for and trust in his decision to endorse Ayers.

- Vassar College Alum, 2001

Anonymous said...

Bill Ayers is a HIGHLY respected author, researcher, and member of the national educational community. He is from Chicago and if Barack Obama had been involved in urban education in Chicago and had NOT heard of and served the public in some capacity with Bill Ayers, people in the educational community in Chicago would have been wondering why. At the time Obama first met Ayers, it would have been absurd for him to say "well... he used to be a terrorist..." Chicagoans would not have been happy. I'm a graduate of Vassar and also attended the Bank Street College of Education. Chris Roellke has served Vassar and the educational community well and there is no reason to be concerned over his endorsement of Ayers's philosophy of education.