UIC opens Ayers records

CHICAGO There are boxes and boxes of documents on the Chicago Annenberg Challenge, a multi-million dollar non-profit project designed to improve public education in Chicago. Much of the paper in the CAC collection released Tuesday and reviewed thus far appears to be routine correspondence. Obama critics are looking for a smoking gun. His supporters say there is none.

The Chicago Annenberg Challenge was set up to support school reform, promote literacy, teacher training and community involvement in Chicago Public Schools. The $49 million grant from Annenberg was -- at the time -- the largest private gift ever to the Chicago school district.

Barack Obama was the board chairman of the Chicago Annenberg Challenge board for its first three years.

One of those instrumental in landing the Annenberg grant was UIC education professor Bill Ayers, who in the 60s founded what became known as the Weather Underground, a group that accepted violence as a means of political change.

Obama critics say his association with someone who was, in the past, a radical activist raises questions of character and judgment, and they contend little is known of Obama's administrative leadership while chairman of the CAC. It's lead to an anti-Obama political spot that connects Obama to Ayers.

Tuesday, over 130 boxes of records and correspondence from the Chicago Annenberg Challenge were released by the University of Illinois at Chicago where they're held in a collection. Stanley Kurtz, a contributor to the National Review, sought the documents, arguing that they would shed light on the relationship between Obama and Ayers.

"Maybe this idea of a post-partisan Barack Obama who just is a pragmatist might not be the whole story," said Stanley Kurtz, National Review contributor.

Most of the documents that journalists have reviewed thus far deal with correspondence and budget issues.

Ken Rolling, who served as executive director of the CAC, says that Obama was an engaged leader, elected by an influential board of educators, who attended nearly every board meeting until the Chicago Annenberg Challenge ended its run in 2002.

Rolling contends that Obama was an inspirational chairman among some highly qualified educators and that he remained very involved after stepping down as board chairman.

Professor Bill Ayers has declined comment on his relationship with Obama and was not available for comment Tuesday. Ayers did work to bring the Annenberg money to Chicago and actively worked with the program, but he was not on its board.

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