E-mails show UW faced pressure
LARAMIE -- The University of Wyoming received dozens of e-mails threatening to withhold funding from the university in the days before the March 31 cancellation of Bill Ayers’ appearance at the school, a study of UW e-mails shows.
The e-mails were obtained by the Star-Tribune on Wednesday following a public records request. Also included in the release of documents by the university were e-mails between UW officials regarding the Ayers controversy. While many e-mails addressed loss of financial and other support as a result of the planned visit, few made mention of campus security concerns.
UW Social Justice Research Center director Francisco Rios e-mailed UW Provost Myron Allen on March 28 to say that he was troubled at the outcry against the planned SJRC-sponsored visit by Ayers, who was to talk about education issues April 5-6.
However, "I still believe his visit is important to the UW, challenging as it may be," Rios wrote. "His current work is exemplary and is on target for what I and the Center have come to believe is the meaning and vision of social justice education and research. This is an historic moment for the country, the state, and UW in terms of how these entities respond to his visit."
Still, Rios wrote that he’d withdraw Ayers’ invitation to speak if Allen believed a campus visit by the 1960s radical-turned-academic would "significantly harm" UW or the SJRC. The following day, Rios canceled Ayers’ visit, saying he made the decision on his own without university pressure.
However, UW trustee David Palmerlee wrote in a March 31 e-mail to former UW Board of Trustees President Walter Saunders that "the pressure got to the point that (UW President) Tom (Buchanan) had little choice but to see that the invitation was withdrawn so that the board was not forced to step in."
Palmerlee said Wednesday in a phone interview that he didn’t think Buchanan forced Rios to cancel Ayers’ SJRC invitation. Rios and Buchanan have also steadfastly denied any such pressure.
Ayers ended up speaking at UW on Wednesday, after a group of students and professors invited him back and a federal judge ordered UW to allow Ayers to speak on campus.
During a federal court hearing in Casper on Monday, Buchanan said he decided to ban Ayers from speaking at the UniWyo Sports Complex because of security concerns raised by the "torrent" of "angry, hurtful and venomous" e-mails and calls the university had received. It had nothing to do with threats of withholding donations to UW, he testified.
After news spread of Ayers’ initial planned appearance, university administrators and trustees were bombarded with hundreds of e-mails and phone calls opposing Ayers’ visit. In 1969, Ayers co-founded the Weather Underground, a militant anti-war group that claimed responsibility for nonfatal explosions at the U.S. Capitol and Pentagon. He’s currently an education professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago.
Attorneys for UW entered into the court record a handful of strongly worded e-mails received by UW that they said prompted Buchanan's decision to try to block Wednesday's appearance by Ayers. U.S. District Judge William Downes on Tuesday dismissed those communications from members of the public as "veiled" and "indirect" threats.
The Star-Tribune review of e-mails released by UW show that Gov. Dave Freudenthal was among those who opposed Ayers’ visit.
In a March 29 e-mail to UW administrator Don Richards, Chris Boswell, Freudenthal’s chief of staff, told Buchanan that the governor would "strongly support the UW administration pulling the plug on Ayers, but recognizes that may not be possible."
Boswell said Freudenthal "could even personally call for the rescinding of the invitation" if Buchanan preferred.
Freudenthal’s office drafted a statement stating that the governor believed that inviting Ayers was "a mistake" because "the nature of the messenger overshadows the educational message."
The statement was held after rumors of Rios’ cancellation surfaced. The statement was never released publicly.
After the cancellation, Boswell e-mailed UW trustees, Richards and Buchanan to say, "The governor appreciates the action by the director of the Social Justice Research Center, and commends President Buchanan for his leadership."
Dozens of other e-mails received by university officials threatened to withdraw financial support if Ayers was allowed to speak on campus.
The most significant threat came from John Martin, a wealthy Casper oilman.
In an e-mail to Buchanan and UW spokeswoman Jessica Lowell, University of Wyoming Foundation CEO/President Ben Blaylock said Martin called to say his family was considering "not funding" the final $2 million of War Memorial Stadium’s "Wildcatter Suites" project. With the state matching that money, that would cost UW $4 million.
Martin's wife, Mari Ann, would also resign as a member of the UW Foundation Board, Blaylock said in the e-mail.
"This decision is not in the best interests of our students, the University or the state of Wyoming," the Martins subsequently wrote in a letter to UW, referring to the planned Ayers visit. "It gives recognition to a known terrorist who intentionally attacked our country and believes in the violent overthrow of our government."
The Martins did not return a phone call seeking comment Wednesday afternoon.
In the midst of the controversy, Allen himself wrote to reassure his colleagues.
"In my time here, UW has survived speaking engagements by Bobby Seale, Kwame Toure (formerly Stokely Carmichael), Angela Davis, and Noam Chomsky," Allen wrote in an e-mail. "We’ll get through this one."
Contact capital bureau reporter Jeremy Pelzer at (307) 632-1244 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Star-Tribune reporter Joshua Wolfson contributed to this report.