Friends in high places
Senator Barack H. Obama's good pals, that dynamite duo of Bill Ayers and Bernardine Dohrn, in addition to being urban terrorists are also hot air hypocrites, proving that old adage "It's not what you know but whom you know." Chicago Tribune reporter Ron Grossman researched how a couple of notorious self confessed bomb throwers, who cowardly went into hiding (romantically--and erroneously--labelled underground, like the rats they were) instead of facing the consequences of their actions managed to continue and graduate from universities and then obtain jobs at universities--he a professor of education at the University of Illinois in Chicago, she
on the faculty of Northwestern University's School of Law. She teaches a course titled Children in Trouble with the Law.
But it's hard for an outsider not to see the map of family connections behind their paths.
Ayers' father, Thomas Ayers, was CEO of Commonwealth Edison as well as a trustee of Tribune Co. and chairman of the board of Northwestern University.Ayers was raised in Glen Ellyn, played football at Lake Forest Academy and graduated from the University of Michigan. He joined the Weatherman faction of the Students for a Democratic Society movement, and in the 1970s went underground-"fleeing what the government winkingly calls justice," as he put it.
Ayers' father moved in philanthropic circles with Howard Trienens, an attorney with the powerhouse firm of Sidley Austin. The two served together on Northwestern University's Board of Trustees. Ayers was chairman of that group, then handed the post off to Trienens in 1986.
Trienens headed Sidley Austin when the firm hired Dohrn in 1984. She had never practiced law and had been out of law school for 17 years.
When I asked Trienens if he had hired Dohrn, he replied: "Yes."
Wasn't that a bit of nepotism, considering his relationship to her father-in-law? A lot of lawyers would love a first job with such a prestigious firm.
"We often hire friends," replied Trienens, 84.
Dohrn wasn't licensed to practice law. Though she passed the bar exam, the ethics committee turned her down because of her rap sheet. That limited the type of work she could do at Sidley Austin, which she left after a few years.
"Dohrn didn't get a license because she's stubborn," Trienens said. "She wouldn't say she's sorry."
Dohrn's route to Northwestern is harder to discern. Trienens said he had nothing to do with it, though he was then board chairman."The dean hired her," he said, referring to Robert Bennett, who was then law school dean. (Bennett did not return phone calls seeking comment.)
Daniel Polsby, a law school faculty member in 1991, recalls Dohrn's appointment going through an academic side door. Because she was brought on as an "adjunct," she was never put before a faculty vote.
Seeking clarification from the university, I was told to put my questions in writing. Which I did:
Was her appointment at NU's law school made by the dean acting alone? Did it have to be ratified by the Board of Trustees?
Instead of answering the questions, the university responded with a boilerplate statement of support: "While many would take issue with views Ms. Dohrn espoused during the 1960s, her career at the law school is an example of a person's ability to make a difference in the legal system."
her career at the law school is an example of a person's ability to make a difference in the legal system."
The Ayers and Dohrn story can be read as a tale of redemption, albeit lacking an act of contrition. Or it could be seen as verifying Ayers' conviction that life's playing fields aren't level. There is one set of rules for those with the good fortune to live in places such as Glen Ellyn or Kenwood, where the couple lives now. There is another set of rules for the rest of American society.
Ayers put the issue succinctly: "Why all the pretense of equity when some people get four or five outs to the inning while others get only two?"