Bill Ayers in Moorhead

Growing up in Moorhead, Minnesota, before my family moved to St. Paul in 1958, may be the happiest I’ve been, to borrow the title of a memorable John Updike short story. My dad managed Moorhead’s Comstock Hotel (destroyed by fire in 1960) and established its all-you-can-eat for $0.50 buffet, still remembered fondly by some Fargo-Moorhead natives. There is a reason why Jeffrey Hart titled his revisionist history of the fifties When the Going Was Good!

I was particularly happy attending kindergarten for a couple of years at what was then Moorhead State Teachers College. Times have changed and Moorhead State Teachers College has grown up to become Minnesota State University at Moorhead (MSUM). It’s a full-fledged public university.

Last week MSUM’s College of Education and Human Services hosted Bill Ayers on campus as a visiting scholar. The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead (formerly the Fargo Forum, I believe) previewed Ayers’s appearance:

MSUM professor Steve Grineski said he’s known Ayers for several years. When faculty members were thinking about how to more deeply include social justice in their courses, he said he suggested they bring Ayers here.

“One of the reasons we asked him to come to campus is that certainly he’s one of the country’s greatest minds when it comes to teaching for democracy and trying to make not only schools and universities, but our whole society socially just,” he said. “We’re really fortunate to have him because certainly he’s made a lifetime of contributions to students and teachers and faculty, and even on a larger scale than that.”

Ayers will serve as the 2013 College of Education and Human Services visiting scholar, a role Grineski said the college fills almost every year by bringing in a well-established scholar to visit the campus and deliver a public address. Ayers also will meet with several classes and discuss curriculum with faculty today and Wednesday.

The Forum adds via Professor Grineski that this was Ayers’s third appearance on campus. I called up Professor Grineski to ask about Ayers’s appointment as a visiting scholar. He explained that Ayers had not simply appeared to give the lecture publicized in the Forum article, but had stuck around for a few days to consult on the development of a “social justice” curriculum in their teachers’ education program. Insert groans here.

I also asked Professor Grineski whether he thought it was appropriate to confer the honor on someone who could fairly be described as an unrepentant terrorist. Professor Grineski quarreled with the premise of my question. He did not think Ayers could fairly be described in that manner. He said that Ayers was one of many who had contributed to the ending of the Vietnam War. Some did it by protesting, some did it by singing songs, and some did it by blowing up buildings. Ayers fell into the latter category, although it wouldn’t have been Professor Grineski’s choice. For the purposes of clarification, Professor Grineski added: “I didn’t blow up any buildings.”

Even so, things have gone substantially downhill at MSUM since the era when the going was good.

Via Aleister G./College Insurrection and Paul Bedard/Examiner.

UPDATE: A reader writes from suburban St. Paul right on schedule: “Wow, did you take me back when you mentioned that your father managed the Comstock Hotel in Moorhead. When I was a kid growing up in Fargo, it was a BIG DEAL when my folks would take us kids, usually on Sunday after church, across the river to the Comstock buffet. Pretty happy times for this child of the Fifties as well. My thanks to your dad.”