February 17, 2018

After Review, U. of Illinois Library Makes Public Collection Linked to Obama

A week after conservative writer Stanley Kurtz claimed that University of Illinois (UI) Chicago officials blocked access to a library collection that might detail the relationship between Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama and 1960s radical and professor William Ayers, UI officials said they would provide public access. The collection concerns the Chicago Annenberg Challenge, a nearly $50 million effort to reform Chicago’s schools, funded by the Annenberg Foundation, spearheaded by Ayers and chaired by Obama in the 1990s. Ayers is now a professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

According to Kurtz, librarians initially told him he was welcome to use the collection, some 140 boxes of documents. Later, he wrote, they told him the anonymous donor of the collection had raised legal questions about the granting of ownership, and possible privacy issues pertaining to personal information, such as Social Security numbers and salary information. While media reports did not portray this as a fairly common special collections issue, UI’s temporary refusal to open the collection, to critics, sounded like a cover-up. UI officials, however, said in their statement it was all a misunderstanding.

UI said that, after a “thorough legal review,” the university did indeed have “the legal authority to allow public access to its archive of Chicago Annenberg Challenge documents,” The collection will be opened today, August 26, and Kurtz said he has requested five days of exclusive access to the documents.

Obama’s critics have been eager to portray the candidate’s relationship to Ayers, a former member of the Weathermen in the 1960s, a radical group that once set off a bomb at the Capitol, as a close one. Regardless of what Kurtz finds—or doesn’t find—in the documents at UI, the significant media attention given to the University’s temporary restriction has for now given the issue of Obama’s ties to Ayers and his radical past new life. Conservative commentators have been quick to call UI’s action stonewalling, Kurtz even suggested Ayers may be behind the restricted access, and others have even noted that the library at UIUC is named after legendary Chicago Democrat Richard Daley.

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