msnbc.com staff and news service reports
updated 9/24/2010 8:19:31 AM ET 2010-09-24T12:19:31

The University of Illinois has denied 1960s radical William Ayers emeritus faculty status after trustees Chairman Christopher Kennedy noted Ayers dedicated a book to, among others, the man who killed Kennedy's father, Robert F. Kennedy.

All nine voting trustees either opposed granting Ayers, a recently retired University of Illinois-Chicago professor, the largely honorary status or abstained from the vote.

Universities often grant emeritus status to distinguished retired faculty members. At Illinois it doesn't come with any monetary benefits, spokesman Tom Hardy said.

Ayers co-founded the Weather Underground, an anti-war group held responsible for a series of bombings during the Vietnam War era, including nonfatal explosions at the Pentagon and U.S. Capitol.

His past became a campaign issue during the 2008 presidential race because he once served with now-President Barack Obama on a Chicago charity's board.

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Trustees voted after a speech by Kennedy in which he noted the 1974 book "Prairie Fire: The Politics of Revolutionary Anti-Imperialism," by Ayers and other members of the Weather Underground.

The book includes a dedication to a lengthy list of revolutionary figures, musicians and others, including Sirhan Sirhan, who shot Robert Kennedy to death in 1968 after the New York senator declared victory in the California Democratic presidential primary.

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Kennedy emotional
The Chicago Sun-Times reported that Kennedy, who was 4 when his father was killed in 1968,  appeared emotional as he spoke out against granting the title to Ayers.

"I intend to vote against conferring the honorific title of our university to a man whose body of work includes a book dedicated in part to the man who murdered my father," he said, the Sun-Times reported.

"There is nothing more antithetical to the hopes for a university that is lively and yet civil, or to the hopes of our founding fathers for their great experiment of a self-governing people, than to permanently seal off debate with one's opponents by killing them," Kennedy added.

"There can be no place in a democracy to celebrate political assassinations or to honor those who do so," he said.

Later, Kennedy told the Sun-Times that he had not seen Ayers display any signs of remorse.

"There's no evidence in any of his interviews or conversations that he regrets any of those actions — that's a better question for him," he told the paper. "He asked for this privilege. He's not going to get it from me or that board."

Ayers did not return an e-mail from The Associated Press seeking comment.

Trustees approved emeritus status for a number of other retirees Thursday, and Hardy said it was unusual for anyone to be turned down.

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"Nobody could remember a similar circumstance in the last several decades," he said after asking other university officials.

Retired faculty ask for emeritus status, and it's then signed off on by several levels of university administration before heading to trustees, Hardy said.

Ayers announced his retirement in August after more than 20 years as an education professor at the University of Illinois-Chicago.

Ayers was a fugitive for years for his role with the Weather Underground until surrendering in 1980. Charges against him were dropped because of government misconduct.

He has since been invited to speak at U.S. universities, though some of those invitations — such as one from the University of Wyoming this year — have been withdrawn over protests about his history.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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