Students In Standoff With CU Over Ayers, Churchill Event

By March 3, 2009

The University of Colorado Boulder student group that is bringing former CU professor Ward Churchill and former Weather Underground member Bill Ayers to campus is locked in a standoff with the university over who will pay thousands of dollars for extra security at the event.

Students for True Academic Freedom, which is sponsoring the event, said CU officials are unfairly imposing a $3,000 security fee to try to stop the event from happening.

The fee would cover the cost of having campus police at the engagement.

“The fees are exorbitant,” said Aaron Smith, an organizer with the group. Smith said his group has already arranged for student security and neither Ayers nor Churchill has requested extra security.

“There’s an effort to punish us financially, our student group specifically, because of the nature of who we’re bringing out,” said another organizer, Sean Daly.

Churchill is the former CU professor who was fired after an investigation at CU revealed that he had plagiarized some of his academic work. The former professor believes he was fired over a controversial essay about Sept. 11, 2001, in which he referred to the victims of the World Trade Center attack as “little Eichmanns,” in reference to a Nazi war criminal.

Ayers once belonged to the 1960s radical group The Weather Underground, which set off bombs at government buildings to protest the Vietnam War.

Students for True Academic Freedom invited Ayers and activist Derrick Jensen to speak at the event in support of Churchill and to draw attention to his lawsuit against the university, which goes before a judge March 9. Churchill will be featured in a question and answer period after Ayers and Jensen speak.

CU Boulder spokesman Bronson Hilliard said the decision to add the extra security fee was based on logistics, not content.

“It’s got nothing to do with any difference of opinion we would have with Mr. Churchill or anyone else,” Hilliard said. “It has to do with a baseline assessment of the security needs we have to make that a safe evening for everyone in the audience and for these speakers themselves.”

Hilliard said the security fee is in line with what student groups typically pay for high-profile events featuring well-known speakers.

Last summer Hilliard said the campus College Republicans paid $4,800 in security fees related to an event featuring two men who claimed to be former members of the Palestinian Liberation Organization.

“We’re treating them exactly the same as we’ve treated every other student organization. There’s absolutely nothing here on our part that has anything to do with the content of the program that evening,” said Hilliard.

But Daly and Smith said their group has invited the exact same speakers to CU in the past and did not have to pay for additional security.

“Bill Ayers and Derrick Jensen and Ward Churchill have never had to pay for that kind of security cost,” Daly said.

University officials said things have changed since then.

Last year, during the presidential campaign, Ayers became a household name when he was labeled an “unrepentant terrorist” who sat on an education board with Barack Obama. Since then, he has received death threats.

Smith and Daly acknowledge said if university officials feel that extra security is needed, they should pay for it.

But Hilliard said waiving the fee or having the university pay it, would set a bad precedent.

“No student organization in the history of the university has ever refused to pay and bear their share of the burden for security costs,” he said.

But that is exactly what Students for True Academic Freedom plan to do and they said they will not shy away from a legal battle if the university insists that they pay.

“We’ll be seeing CU in court,” said Daly.

The event is expected to go forward with full security on Thursday, March 5, at 7 p.m. in the UMC Glenn Miller Ballroom.

CU officials said the students will be permitted to pay the security fee after the event and if they do not, it may go to a collection agency.

Schools: University of Colorado at Boulder