By Jenna Nierstedt, Globe Correspondent
Former radical William Ayers will finally get a chance tonight to be heard on a Massachusetts college campus.
The onetime member of the 1960s militant antiwar organization the Weather Underground will speak at 9 p.m. at Brandeis University in Waltham. It will come more than two months after Boston College canceled a scheduled appearance by Ayers.
"This is about freedom of educational opportunity," Brandeis spokesman Dennis Nealon told the Globe last week. "The university has made it clear that it is not going to bar the talk despite the controversial nature of the speaker."
Ayers will speak about "lessons learned from the antiwar movement," said Lev Hirschhorn, a sophomore and a campaign coordinator for Democracy for America, one of two student organizations that invited him. "He might have some interesting insights about the successes and the failures of the movement."
Now an education professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago, Ayers was blocked from speaking at Boston College March 30 by school administrators who cited pressure from Brighton residents and Boston police officers. Boston police Sergeant Walter Schroeder was killed during a 1970 bank robbery in Brighton Center by radicals who some law enforcement officials believed were linked to the Weather Underground. Ayers was in Chicago during his time in the movement.
Brandeis has its own links to the 1970 shooting. One of Schroeder's daughters is a police sergeant in Waltham. Two of those involved in the robbery, Katherine Ann Power and Susan Saxe, were Brandeis students. One of their accomplices shot Schroeder in the back.
The event will be held at the Shapiro Campus Center and is open to members of the Brandeis community.
The sponsoring student groups held meetings beforehand to allow members of the university community to learn more about Ayers and to provide an opportunity to voice support or opposition to his appearance.
"Bill Ayers is a fairly controversial person undoubtedly, and we think it's of value if he's coming to speak, for the community to be able to speak about how they feel about him and the things he will talk about," said Hirschhorn.
The other sponsor is Students for a Democratic Society. The organizations said the idea for the invitation goes back to the presidential election when the campaign of Republican nominee John McCain accused Barack Obama of having ties to the former radical.
Liza Behrendt, a member of Democracy for America, said she brought up the idea of a lecture by Ayers after the election issue made her reconsider the meaning of the word "activist."
"College activists don't always weigh the process versus the end goal," said Behrendt, a sophomore studying politics. "This will make us consider the difference between a goal and a method, how to keep your actions in line with your values. Bill Ayers won't provide answers necessarily, but he will spark a conversation and be a valuable and puzzling figure to ponder."
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