It was a victory for Denver attorney David Lane and UW student Meg Lanker, who sued the university. Below, Lanker shares her account of the well-attended speech, which went off without incident, as well as lots of photos.
Lanker connected with Ayers at midday yesterday, lunching with him at "a pretty nice Indian buffet here in Laramie" before the pair met at a coffeehouse with fellow students and Lanker's father, a veteran union organizer who came to town for the occasion. From there, she took Ayers on a tour around campus, including Prexy's Pasture, the campus quad.
University president Tom Buchanan floated Prexy's Pasture as a potential alternative to the university's sports complex, where the speech ultimately took place. In Lanker's view, this suggestion hardly jibes with UW's claim of security concerns, since the mammoth expanse would have been infinitely more difficult to police than a gymnasium.
Oh yeah: Lanker also took a photo of Ayers posing in front of the Cheney International Center, named for ex-veep Dick Cheney, with whom the former '60s radical has virtually nothing in common.
Such excursions were possible because Lanker didn't have to spend the day meeting with university and police personnel to coordinate security -- something the judge had anticipated. "They didn't really ask me any questions about security," she notes. "And the only thing I asked is, 'What do you want Bill to do with his car?'" He wound up parking it at the campus police station, more for convenience than out of fear that it would be vandalized -- and it's a good thing he did, because when he discovered that he had a flat tire after the speech, Lanker says, "the UW police assisted him in changing it."
She emphasizes that the cops and university staffers were all extremely helpful and efficient throughout.
As the time for the event neared, a small group of about ten protesters gathered. For the most part, they were well behaved, Lanker says, "although a couple shouted at people as they were coming in that they were supporting terrorism" -- the same message seen on a sign that mentioned her by name. But they didn't obstruct the crowd, which she estimates at approximately 1,100 -- only a hundred under the building's capacity.
The throng was diverse, Lanker says, with students, professors and even legislators joined by members of the community and a handful of folks who drove from hours away to attend -- some of them simply to see what all the fuss was about. But the fireworks were mostly of the intellectual variety.
"I was right in my prediction that it would be anticlimactic," Lanker allows. "Bill didn't indoctrinate us into becoming Marxists and Communists. There's no hammer-and-sickle flag flying over the university. Campus life has returned to normal -- or at least as normal as it can be a couple of days before finals.
"Bill slightly modified his original speech topic," she continues. "He talked about the importance of academic freedom and freedom of expression in education and individuality -- and he briefly took a shot at Tom Buchanan, saying that it was administrators like him who essentially shut down the freedom to think. He made an analogy using Fahrenheit 451, which the crowd responded to pretty well."
Afterward, there was a question-and-answer session, and while one person used his moment in the spotlight to declare Ayers a waste of humanity, most of the others who stepped up stayed on topic. "It was a really good, engaged crowd, and I had several people thank me afterward for bringing him," Lanker says.
When asked if the lack of problems undermined the university's claims of security worries, Lanker replies that the press had already taken care of that chore by making a public-records request for university e-mails related to the Ayers speech. As this Casper Star-Tribune article documents, the university was contacted by assorted donors, who threatened to pull funds if Ayers was allowed to speak. Most prominent among them was oilman John Martin. Star-Tribune reporter Jeremy Pelzer writes:
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.
"It was never about security," Lanker says. "It was about money."
Not for her. She always viewed the issue from a free speech perspective, and she hopes what happened in Wyoming will encourage her peers elsewhere. As she puts it, "If another university tries to pull anything like UW did, I would hope another student would stand up and say, 'This isn't right.'"
Page through below to see more photos capturing the event:
If you like this story, consider signing up for our email newsletters.
SHOW ME HOW
You have successfully signed up for your selected newsletter(s) - please keep an eye on your mailbox, we're movin' in!