By Danielle Killey
A decision by Minnesota State University Moorhead to make a controversial figure a visiting scholar led state senators to argue whether public colleges and universities should be allowed to host or honor terrorists.
Senators adopted a provision 58-6 Wednesday requiring the University of Minnesota and Minnesota State Colleges and Universities systems to develop policies for paying for travel, hosting or honoring admitted or convicted terrorists.
Sen. Sean Nienow, R-Cambridge, introduced an amendment to the overall higher education budget bill that would prohibit that altogether. He cited anti-war activist William Ayers, who was named the 2013 College of Education and Human Services visiting scholar at the Moorhead university.
“When I saw this I was absolutely appalled,” Nienow said.
Ayers is co-founder of the Weather Underground, a group that was opposed to the country’s involvement in the Vietnam War and was known for bombing government buildings. He was brought in by the school to discuss incorporating social justice issues into curriculum.
Nienow said the state should not spend taxpayers’ money to host such speakers or give them honors.
“I don’t think a lot of Minnesotans agree we should be having those kind of people standing before our very impressionable youth in Minnesota,” said Sen. Bill Ingebrigtsen, R-Alexandria, a retired law enforcement official.
Others argued that the Legislature should not limit academic freedom.
“I don’t think we want to get into judgments of who can and cannot speak at our public institutions of higher education,” said Sen. John Marty, DFL-Roseville. “It’s not our role as a Legislature.”
“This is a terrible slippery slope,” said Sen. Ron Latz, DFL-St. Louis Park.
Sen. Melisa Franzen, DFL-Edina, introduced a change to only require a policy, saying the decision should be made by school officials. “It’s best left to the Board of Regents and MnSCU to have that discussion.”
Nienow said that is not enough.
“I don’t want to give them the ability to maintain that policy that it’s OK,” he said, noting Moorhead already had decided to bring in Ayers. “It’s not OK to bestow an honor to a known, admitted, unreformed terrorist.”
Senators spent more than an hour discussing the issue,dominating the higher education budget debate.
A handful of Democrats voted against the proposal.