Video: Obama's missing thesis sparks debate

updated 8/21/2008 10:59:24 AM ET 2008-08-21T14:59:24

The University of Illinois says it can't release records relating to Barack Obama's service to a nonprofit group linked to former 1960s radical activist William Ayers.

Ayers, now a professor of education, founded Chicago Annenberg Challenge, which was awarded nearly 50 million dollars to help reform Chicago schools. Obama was its first chairman and Republicans have been highlighting his ties to Ayers through the group.

In his youth, Ayers co-founded the Weatherman organization, later known as the Weather Underground Organization, which espoused violence as a necessity for political change.

University officials say the material will be released if it can work out an agreement on ownership rights with the donor of the records. No time frame was given. The university says the donor is concerned that the release not invade personal privacy, including Social Security numbers.

The Obama campaign says the senator does not have control over the records or the ability to release them, adding that it has made many documents related to Obama's life available to the public and that "we are pleased the university is pursuing an agreement that would make these records publicly available."

A reversal of position?
On Monday, the National Review magazine posted an online article saying that the institution had initially declared that the records were open to inspection, but that the university subsequently reversed its position.

On Tuesday, the university said that there had been a misunderstanding about the status of the collection.

Ayers is an education professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago who in his youth co-founded the Weatherman organization, later known as the Weather Underground Organization, which espoused violence as a necessity for political change.

In the 1990s, Ayers was instrumental in starting the Chicago Annenberg Challenge, which was awarded nearly $50 million by a foundation to help reform Chicago schools.

Obama was the first chairman of the Chicago Annenberg Challenge and Republicans have been highlighting his ties to Ayers through the group.

The Republican National Committee posted the National Review article on the RNC's Web site.

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Owner permission required
In an interview, university spokesman Bill Burton said that the institution only recently was made aware that it did not have ownership, a requirement for making the collection public.

The owner notified the university about the absence of a signed ownership agreement last week.

"The donor's only concerns regarding the collection are due to personnel information that could include names, confidential salary information and even Social Security numbers," said the university spokesman.

Burton, who has no connection to the Obama campaign spokesman with the same name, said he was not authorized to identify the owner.

Obama was board chairman of the Chicago Annenberg Challenge for three years starting in 1995 and he remained on the board until the project closed in 2001.

The $49.2 million was the largest private gift ever made to Chicago schools. The money went to 250 schools in one of the nation's largest school districts.

During a primary debate in Philadelphia last October, Obama criticized rival Hillary Rodham Clinton over the release of presidential papers from the National Archives. Clinton said at the time that neither she nor husband Bill Clinton could do anything to speed the process of review at the Archives before papers from the Clinton era could become public.

Obama compared her record of public disclosure of records to that of the Bush administration, saying the country had "just gone through one of the most secretive administrations in our history."

In March, edited versions of the former first lady's appointment calendars were publicly released.


 

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