(UWIRE) -- More than 3,000 educators nationwide, including six Brown University professors, have signed a statement supporting William Ayers -- the man Republican presidential nominee Sen. John McCain called a "washed-up terrorist" at the third presidential debate.
In recent months, the McCain campaign has criticized Democratic presidential nominee Sen. Barack Obama for his connection to Ayers. McCain and his running mate, Gov. Sarah Palin, have accused Obama of being "friends" with Ayers and claimed Obama has hidden the extent of their relationship.
Both residents of the Chicago, Illinois, area, Ayers and Obama first met in 1995 when they served on the board of the Chicago Annenberg Challenge, a school reform initiative. They also were board members of the Woods Fund, a Chicago charity, from 2000 to 2002.
Ayers, now a distinguished professor of education and senior university scholar at the University of Illinois at Chicago, was a co-founding member of the radical activist group the Weather Underground in 1969. The group's extreme tactics to end the Vietnam War included planting bombs in the Pentagon and the United States Capitol. In response to the McCain campaign's focus on Ayers' radical acts of the 1960s and 1970s, "Friends and supporters of Bill Ayers" are circulating a statement online to vouch for the professor he has become.
"I think he's doing a lot of positive, progressive, constructive work right now," said Brown University English professor William Keach, the first member of the university's faculty to sign the statement of support. Keach was referring to Ayers's work in the field of education.
As a professor, Ayers has written more than a dozen books on his holistic approach to learning that downplays the boundaries between teacher and student. Ayers was one of the original proponents of "free schools," where students call teachers by their first names and don't receive grades on assignments.
Constance Crawford, an adjunct lecturer in theater, speech and dance, was educated in free schools and said she disagrees with the concept, favoring a more traditional approach. But she signed the statement supporting Ayers, and said his ideas "should be combated with clarity, not with personal demonization and vilification."Keach voiced a similar opinion regarding Ayers's involvement with the Weather Underground, saying he "disagree(s) with Ayers's tactics," but he signed the statement "without any hesitation."