Dear Members of the Saint Mary's College Community,
You've likely heard that some members of our College community and some beyond are concerned with the decision to invite Professor William Ayers to campus as part of the January Term Speaker Series for this year's theme of Against the Grain. I'm writing to clarify the circumstances regarding Professor Ayers' selection, to share the College's official position on the matter and to provide additional information regarding his visit.
Professor Ayers was selected by the January Term Committee, a group composed primarily of faculty members, to speak about "Trudging Toward Freedom: Building a Movement and Living Our Lives for Peace and Justice." Professor Ayers' selection in no way constitutes an endorsement by the College of any past actions, viewpoints or political opinions. Nor is his invitation an attempt on the part of the College to honor him in any way.
Some have called on me or the College to rescind or overrule the January Term leadership's invitation to Professor Ayers. To do so would be to undermine the educational principles and values upon which our College is based. Institutions of higher education serve society and their local communities by providing a place for opinions and ideas of all types to be examined, questioned and discussed. It is in these "academic cities" that the arts of reason and inquiry, the fruits of the liberal arts, are brought to bear on the controversial issues of today and of all time. For students, faculty members and the public, colleges provide a special opportunity to step away from the often overheated and polarized rhetoric of contemporary culture and examine difficult and controversial issues in the somewhat cooler light of reason.
As a College with a Great Books tradition, we have a responsibility to defend the rights of those with controversial viewpoints to speak. To live up to our great tradition, we must remain an academic community where the free and open discussion of ideas, even those with which we strongly disagree, is possible.
Let me be clear, I strongly disagree with many of Professor Ayers past actions, statements and viewpoints; nevertheless, I support the January Term Committee's right to invite him to the College, and will insist that he is treated with the respect and courtesy all of our invited academic speakers deserve. Professor Ayers has indicated that he will take questions after his address. I am certain that our students, faculty and staff members will raise probing, difficult and thoughtful questions.
While I regret that some are disappointed in the January Term's decision to invite Professor Ayers, I am aware of the provocative conversation that the announcement of his talk has already engendered and anticipate the vigorous discourse that his remarks and visit are likely to elicit. Those who wish to protest Professor Ayers' presence on campus will be given the opportunity, within reasonable limits, to do so as long as their activities do not interfere with or harm the academic work of the college or the access of students and faculty to Professor Ayers' address.
I am also grateful for the input and engagement by many of our College constituents in this issue. Offering a forum for an exchange of diverse opinions is essential to fulfilling our mission. We are a community committed to conversations focused on essential questions, which ignite a lifelong passion for learning.
Brother Ronald Gallagher, FSC