John McCain says Bill Ayers is a terrorist, and Barack Obama says he barely knows the guy. But some people are actually backing the Weatherman–turned–education wonk: More than 3,000 academics have signed an online petition to support him. Phillip Lopate, who teaches at Columbia, the New School, and Hofstra, is a signatory. “He is still of the left, of course, but no longer a believer in armed revolution,” Lopate says. “Bill Ayers is a very humane guy, with a sense of humor, so I think a part of him must be laughing at the whole thing.” Petitioners—among them several dozen NYU and Columbia faculty, including the dean of Columbia’s School of International and Public Affairs—aren’t seeking an apology, they’re just standing up for their colleague. “I might have wished that Obama would defend him,” Lopate says. “But listening to the debates, I see that they are not the proper venue for such subtlety.”
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