University Professors Ask: Will Bill Ayers be Allowed to Speak in Canada?

TORONTO, April 20 /CNW/ - The organizers of the Worldviews Conference on Media and Higher Education are asking the Government of Canada to permit Bill Ayers, a prominent American academic, intellectual and critic, to enter Canada and speak in Toronto at their event. Prof. Ayers was previously prevented from entering Canada in 2009. No official reason was given for this refusal.

"Prof. Ayers is scheduled to deliver a talk on 'The responsibility of academics to contribute to public debates in the media' on June 16th. The irony of course is that the Canadian government could well prevent him from exercising that same responsibility," said Prof. Mark Langer, President of the Ontario Confederation of University Faculty Associations (OCUFA). "This is an issue of academic freedom, not one of a potential 'threat' to Canadian security. In the interests of open debate and the democratic exchange of ideas, Prof. Ayers must be allowed to speak."

Ayers -- who was until his retirement last year Distinguished Professor of Education and Senior University Scholar at the University of Illinois at Chicago - is a widely respected education reformer and a sought after speaker on the relationship between education, politics, and the media. He was also a founder of the Weather Underground, a radical protest group active in the 1960s and 1970s.  His past involvement in the Weather Underground and later participation with Barak Obama on the board of an anti-poverty organization became a controversy during the 2008 Presidential election.

"Prof. Ayers has never been convicted of a felony, yet has apparently been barred from entering Canada," said Langer. "Martha Stewart - who did time in a federal prison - received special dispensation from the Canadian Government to attend a 'pumpkin regatta' in Nova Scotia a few years ago and last year was allowed to speak at the Canada Blooms show in Toronto. I wonder about a government that will let an American felon paddle around in a hollowed-out pumpkin, but refuses to allow a respected academic to participate in our democratic discourse."

"Free speech isn't something you just give to someone who makes a nice centerpiece," added Langer. "It's a right we all enjoy, and vital to the marketplace of ideas so important to the health of our society."

If allowed to enter Canada, Prof. Ayers will join other accomplished speakers from academia and the media at the conference, including Mark Kingwell, Professor of Philosophy, University of Toronto; Ivan Semeniuk, News Editor, Nature; Paul Lewis, President, Discovery Channel Canada; Tony Burman, Al Jazeera's Head of Strategy for the Americas; Phil Baty, Deputy Editor, Times Higher Education; and  many more.

The Worldviews Conference is an international initiative to explore the important relationship between higher education and the media. It will be held June 16-18, 2011 in Toronto. OCUFA is organizing the conference with the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education at the University of Toronto (OISE/UT), Academic Matters, Inside Higher Ed, and University World News. For more information and a complete speaking list, please visit http://www.worldviewsconference.com.

SOURCE Worldviews Conference

For further information:

Graeme Stewart at 416 306 6033 (office), 647 280 3175 (mobile), or gstewart@ocufa.on.ca

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