Ayers, UW student file lawsuit

University remains silent on attempt to force campus speech by '60s radical
2010-04-16T01:45:00Z Ayers, UW student file lawsuitBy JEREMY PELZER - Star-Tribune staff writer Casper Star-Tribune Online

CHEYENNE -- Bill Ayers and a University of Wyoming student filed suit against UW on Thursday, asking a federal judge for an injunction allowing Ayers to speak on campus later this month.

The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Cheyenne, comes three days after UW banned Ayers, a University of Illinois-Chicago education professor with a radical past, from using any university venue for a planned April 28 lecture.

The lawsuit alleges the ban is unconstitutional under First Amendment rights to free speech and to assemble.

UW spokeswoman Jessica Lowell declined to comment Thursday afternoon after the lawsuit was filed.

In 1969, Ayers co-founded the Weather Underground, a Marxist-Leninist anti-war group that claimed responsibility for a series of bombings -- including explosions at the Pentagon and U.S. Capitol in the early 1970s that didn't kill anyone. He returned to the headlines in 2008 when Republican John McCain's presidential campaign and conservative activists highlighted his ties to then-presidential nominee Barack Obama.

Ayers is still coming to Laramie on April 28, regardless of how the case is decided. If he's not allowed to speak on campus, he'll deliver the lecture at the Laramie Civic Center, said UW student Meg Lanker, a plaintiff in the lawsuit.

Late last month, the UW Social Justice Research Center canceled plans for Ayers to visit campus on April 5-6, after the center and university administrators received hundreds of phone calls and e-mails voicing outrage that the school would invite someone with Ayers' past to campus. Some of the messages threatened to cut off funding to the university or even violence if Ayers showed up.

Angry about the cancellation, Lanker and the Secular Student Alliance, a UW-recognized group, arranged to bring Ayers back to campus and tried to reserve a room in UW's Classroom Building for him to deliver his lecture on education theory.

But when Lanker told UW Provost Myron Allen of her plans last Thursday, he was immediately resistant to the idea, suggesting Ayers' visit would hurt the university and cause many donors to stop giving to the school, according to the lawsuit.

"You need to think about the fact that there are people higher up than me that have trump cards and that this is not a teachable moment," the lawsuit quoted Allen as telling Lanker. "This will inflame public sentiments."

The following day, the Secular Student Alliance withdrew its sponsorship of Ayers' lecture because of pressure from the university, according to the lawsuit.

With the student group out, Lanker attempted to rent the UniWyo Dome as a community member. But soon afterward, she received a phone call and e-mail from UW attorney Susan Weidel telling her that she couldn't rent any university venue for Ayers' lecture.

Weidel didn't give Lanker a reason for the decision; so far, the university has publicly remained silent on the issue.

David Lane, the Denver-based attorney who represents Ayers and Lanker, said the case has been assigned to Judge William Downes in Casper, the chief federal judge in Wyoming.

In 2005, Lane won an injunction for another controversial figure, former University of Colorado professor Ward Churchill, to speak on CU's campus.

Lanker said she was "excited" at the prospect of Ayers coming to UW.

"I'm ready to fight," she said.

Contact capital bureau reporter Jeremy Pelzer at (307) 632-1244 or jeremy.pelzer@trib.com

Copyright 2015 Casper Star-Tribune Online. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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