Penn State prez goes gaga over Bill Ayers

By Cheryl Chumley

Eric Barron, president at Pennsylvania State University, stands in ‘Hands Up, Don’t Shoot’ pose in December 2014.

Pennsylvania State University president Eric Barron fielded fierce legislative fire for letting Bill Ayers, co-founder of the violent Weather Underground, speak before Dickinson Law School students earlier this month.

A handful of state Senate Appropriations Committee members slammed Barron during a budget hearing, the Associated Press reported. Their main question: What could Ayers, a former leader of the ultra-violent, anti-Vietnam group, possibly offer of importance to the university?

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Barron said he understood the senators’ views, but he couldn’t do anything to stop the speaking event because it was funded and sponsored by student groups, AP reported.

CBS, reporting from Harrisburg, said Barron responded to questions from state Rep. Jeff Pyle by saying: “We’re in an interesting world where universities are cancelling speeches by George Will and Condoleeza Rice.”

Pyle then cut in and said, CBS reported: “But not Bill Ayers, leader of the Weather Underground.”

And Barron’s response: “Yes, I understand perfectly. And I have to separate my personal opinion from what it is that is my duty.”

State Sens. John Eichelberger and Kim Ward suggested the university might be able to stop appearances of those deemed offensive, but Barron said the Supreme Court’s already weighed in on such attempts – and the answer’s been: You can’t do that.

This isn’t the first time Barron’s rocked controversy, or been sifted by legislative scrutiny.

In December 2014, Barron participated in a “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot” anti-police brutality protest on campus. He actually joined several students in their “die-in” rally near the university’s administration offices, and captured by a photographer making the now-nationally known “hands up, don’t shoot” gesture that stemmed from the Ferguson police shooting of teenage Michael Brown.

Shortly after that protest, state Rep. Jerry Knowles called Barron’s participation a major offense to police, and pressed for him to apologize or quit his university post.

“I strongly support and highly value law enforcement and our judicial process,” Barron said, in response to Knowles’ statement, reported. “At the same time … we have a portion of our population who feels more vulnerable by virtue of their appearance. Our students faced this dilemma – even when confronted by hate language posted anonymously to social media sites – with a thoughtful and peaceful process that demonstrated their concerns. My sole purpose was to show my support and solidarity for the students involved.”


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