InsideHigherEd.com has the full story here. An excerpt:
"[. . .] The University of Illinois Board of Trustees typically approves faculty promotions and honors -- which have been vetted by various campus committees -- without discussion. No one can remember the last time the board, for instance, rejected emeritus status when proposed on behalf of a retiring faculty member.
But last week the board did just that, rejecting emeritus status for William Ayers, who retired in August from his position as professor of education at the university's Chicago campus, where he had taught since 1987. The university's board voted down emeritus status for Ayers at the urging of Christopher Kennedy, the board chair, who cited Prairie Fire, a book Ayers co-wrote in 1974 and that is dedicated to 200 people whom the authors called "political prisoners." One of those named is Sirhan Sirhan, who assassinated Senator Robert F. Kennedy, Christopher Kennedy's father.
In his remarks at the meeting, Kennedy noted that the university doesn't award emeritus status automatically, but that it is an honor that must be requested by the retiring professor and endorsed by various campus officials. As a result, Kennedy said -- according to press accounts -- "our discussion of this topic therefore does not represent an intervention into the scholarship of the university, nor is it a threat to academic freedom."
But citing Prairie Fire, he said: "I intend to vote against conferring the honorific title of our university to a man whose body of work includes a book dedicated in part to the man who murdered my father, Robert F. Kennedy. There can be no place in a democracy to celebrate political assassinations or to honor those who do so."
The board's action has sparked yet another debate over Ayers, who was a leader of the Weather Underground who went on to be an education professor at Illinois-Chicago and who gained renewed attention during the 2008 presidential election when Republicans attempted to link him to Barack Obama (although there wasn't evidence to suggest much more of a tie than their being neighbors who both moved in academic circles). To many, Ayers's Weather Underground years were never forgivable. Especially after his past was publicized again in 2008, some of his speeches at campuses nationwide prompted protests or were even called off. But at the university, he has long been a popular teacher, and his numerous books and articles have earned him considerable respect among education scholars.
[. . .] Ayers has not commented on the board's action or responded to requests for comment. But in a video posted two years ago on the conservative website Eyeblast.TV, he said in response to a question at a book signing that he had been "stupid" to include Sirhan in the dedication, and that he was really concerned about all prisoners and what happens to them. [. . .]"