Police union outraged that Goddard College selected Mumia Abu Jamal as commencement speaker

Students at Goddard College have chosen Mumia Abu Jamal as the speaker for their commencement ceremonies on Sunday. The Goddard alumnus is serving a life sentence for the murder of a police officer; his address was prerecorded in prison.

The school holds 20 commencement events each year, allowing students in each degree program “to personalize their graduation experience.”

Goddard College's Haybarn Theater in Plainfield, site of Sunday's commencement. Photo by Alicia Freese/VTDigger
Goddard College’s Haybarn Theater in Plainfield, site of Sunday’s commencement. Photo by Alicia Freese/VTDigger

Undergraduates are allowed to choose their speaker, and they chose Abu Jamal, according to the college.

“Choosing Mumia as their commencement speaker, to me, shows how this newest group of Goddard graduates expresses their freedom to engage and think radically and critically in a world that often sets up barriers to do just that,” said Bob Kenny, Goddard’s interim president.

But the decision has upset some groups in Vermont.

“Your invitation to this convicted murderer demonstrates an absolute disregard for the family of Danny Faulkner and the families of other police officers who have been killed while serving their communities,” wrote Michael O’Neil, president of the Vermont State Troopers Association, in a letter to Kenny.

Abu Jamal was convicted in the 1981 murder of Philadelphia police officer Daniel Faulkner. He was originally sentenced to death but fought the sentence through a years-long process that received national media attention. His sentence was reduced to life in prison in 2011.

As a prisoner, he has become a well known and controversial author. His essays have reached a global audience and his books have sold thousands of copies and have been translated into nine languages, according to Goddard.

Abu Jamal received a bachelor of arts degree from Goddard in 1996, completing his coursework by correspondence. His syndicated Prison Radio show airs on WGDR-WGDH Goddard Community Radio.

Abu-Jamal has given commencement speeches at other colleges that resulted in similar outcry, according to His address in 1999 to Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington, and a 2000 address for Antioch College’s commencement in Yellow Springs, Ohio, resulted in protests from police officers, prosecutors, and Faulkner’s family.

Abu Jamal’s commencement remarks were prerecorded by Prison Radio. His address will be delivered at 4 p.m. Sunday in the Haybarn Theatre at Goddard College in Plainfield.

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  • Dave Bellini

    It must be that Goddard couldn’t get the KKK, the Westboro Baptist Church or some neo-Nazi as a speaker.
    Apparently, the class of 2014 needs to have attention.
    Goddard is a joke. I hope employers don’t hire their graduates.

    • Bob Fisher

      As a current Goddard student who had nothing to do with the choice of commencement speaker for an entirely different program, I would caution against condemning the entire faculty, staff and student population for the choices made by a small subset. The choice of that subset has been both applauded and condemned. It may be a choice that is abhorrent, brave, foolish or unfortunate, depending on whom you ask. Good people can and often do disagree. Condemning an entire institution for the controversial choice of a few is akin to condemning all conservatives or all white people for something that Rupert Murdoch does. Yes, we all have a right to speak out against injustice. In fact, we have a duty. But we also have the duty to defend free speech, even if we disagree with the speaker.

    • Steven Farnham

      FYI – The much loved and praised recently deceased matriarch of Milne travel (mom to the current Republican gubernatorial candidate) graduated from Goddard.

      But don’t let that dissuade you from making ridiculous irrational judgements about her alma mater.

  • Barry Kade

    The police union has as much right to protest Abu Jamal’s speech as he has to give it, and as much right as the students have to select him. As much right, but definitely no more.

    Vermont can be proud that the right to free speech is still practiced here.

    • Fred Woogmaster

      Yes. No matter what, free speech is precious.

      • walter judge

        @ Kade, Woogmaster

        Yes, free speech is precious, unless you’re a conservative, like Ben Stein, who was invited to be the graduation speaker at UVM in 2009 but then “uninvited” when liberal students protested his choice.

  • Howard Ires

    I want to apologize to to all the good police officers out there – for allowing the USA to become a police state where the Police are viewed as agents of oppression. We are all to blame for this. We have created oppressive laws that incarcerate millions needlessly, we have allowed and encouraged Police to confiscate our property on the highway without due process, we have armed them like a paramilitary army. We have a judicial system that is so corrupt we can’t trust the decisions it makes – there is much doubt that the man in prison actually killed the officer… we are all to blame for this.

    • Gary Shattuck

      Wow, that is as complete a condemnation of the entire American criminal justice system as one could possibly muster.

      As a former Vermont State Police supervisor, assistant Attorney General and assistant U.S. attorney I see no reason to accept any purported “apology” from anyone for something that every American has reason to be proud of. Your assertions, while perhaps marginally correct in the most minute of situations, are wildly incorrect and not worth any attempt to refute in this forum. Take the time to go to law school (and perhaps learn a little bit about search and seizure), work as a cop on the midnight shift, take down bandits all alone on a remote Vermont road without backup, get injured, do all your paperwork, go to court, hear your credibility called into question by zealous defense attorneys, get sued and subjected to baseless allegations of misconduct and then come back and tell us all how badly the police conduct themselves. Unfortunately, because so many can make these warrantless, conclusory, unfounded statements the perception that the police and courts are corrupt are able to hang out there without being refuted. It is a terrible attack on the work that the good people wearing uniforms are doing, those people who actually protect your right to do precisely that.

      With regard to the Goddard speaker, take time to try and differentiate between the guilt and penalty phase of a criminal proceeding. They do two different things and cannot be lumped together. Without a doubt, he executed an officer and is guilty of a heartless, cruel murder. Whether the penalty phase of those proceedings were wholly correct is another issue. And you can take a clue from the fact that when Amnesty International concentrates its efforts on sentencing issues and refuses to take any position with regard to his guilt, then what exactly is the point in giving a stage to a person guilty of murder?

      The uninformed can sit back and call this a racist proceeding, but no matter how loud they shout, there is no “there” there.

  • Steven Farnham

    It’s been a while since I head the story about Abu-Jamal, so my recollection of the details may not be entirely accurate, but it is my understanding that Abu-Jamal alleges that he was framed for a crime that he did not commit.

    Of course, I do not know if this is true, and my guess is, neither does Michael O’Neil, or anyone else in the Vermont State Troopers’ Association.

    One thing we do know for sure is that countless dozens (or maybe hundreds, by now) of “convicted” “murderers” have been set free, because DNA evidence has exculpated them.

    Another thing we know for sure is that the system is not particularly amenable to those convicted who want a new trial, and we also know that since humans are involved, the system can make mistakes, or even be guilty of its own, deliberate criminal activity – such as framing a black man for murdering a white one.

    Another thing we know for sure, is that if what Abu-Jamal alleges is true, then Daniel Faulkner’s real killer is likely still at large.

    So what is O’Neil’s problem with a small graduating class listening to the comments of a man who alleges he is one whom the system has thus abused?

    Is it a free country, or not?

  • Darryl Smith

    It rather amusing that when a VT college invites a conservative/right wing speaker every liberal in the state works themselves into a tizzy, protest, and the speaker gets dumped. Freedom of speech and respect for other viewpoints are no longer of concern to liberals. File this under more liberal hypocrisy.

    • william boardman

      Darryl Smith can’t possibly mean Norwich University where Condoleezza Rice was invited to speak last spring
      and did so without incident beyond orderly protest.

      Freedom of speech all around.

      No hypocrisy here, but some ignorance.

      • Darryl Smith

        Somehow I doubt Norwich caters to liberal ignorance, hence the orderly protest to prevent freedom of speech went nowhere. UVM and Ben Stein ring a bell?

  • kevin ellis

    Three cheers for Barry Kade, who remembers how and why our country was founded. Lee Bollinger, the president of Columbia, invited the president of Iran to speak. Norwich invited the late CIA Director William Colby to speak. (He masterminded a heck of a lot more deaths than Mumia and was considered a war criminal by some). Condi Rice was invited to speak at Barnard but then the students (wrongly) protested and she withdrew. What are we afraid of? Freedom of speech means the freedom to say and hear even the bad stuff – the really bad stuff. It is not about how bad we feel about Mrs. Faulkner and her husband. It is not even about whether Mumia is guilty or innocent. It is about freedom…We have long ago settled whether Nazis can march in a Jewish neighborhood. Democracy is messy and hard…if we listen to only the views we like and agree with, we are in big trouble. Of course the troopers are angry – as they should be – and we need to hear them too – and we are – thanks to a FREE press.

  • Paul Donovan

    Shame on UVM for caving to protesters (if that’s actually the reason for the disinvite); kudos to Goddard for staying true to their vision and standing up to the censors. Mumia has been tried and convicted, rightly or wrongly, and will spend the rest of his days in jail. All he has are his ideas and his voice. Why are his ideas such a threat?

  • walter judge

    @ Donovan

    It’s very easy and convenient for you to say “shame” on UVM five years after the shameful episode. Did you, or Kade or Woogmaster — all of our free speech warriors — utter a word of condemnation to UVM when the episode actually happened?

    In Vermont convicted cop killers are “free” to speak. “Occupiers” are allowed to occupy Burlington’s City Hall Park (without a permit) for weeks to the exclusion of anyone else who wants to lawfully enjoy the public park. People who call themselves environmental activists are allowed to trespass on private property and block traffic without a permit and without any prosecution for breaking the law. Heck, they can even go to people’s homes in the dark of night and harass the homeowners, without fear of prosecution. But conservatives are “uninvited.”

    In Vermont “free speech” only applies to those speaking what the favored, intolerant majority wants to hear.

    • Fred Woogmaster

      There may be truth to what YOU say, Mr. Judge.

      What you say is not true, however.

      Free speech IS precious for all; Ben Stein, monotone and all, included.

    • Paul Donovan

      Is that the best you can do, Mr. Judge – to drop a vague accusation of hypocracy on me? Pretty thin gruel.

  • kevin ellis

    Did they protest Stein over his views or because he would be a crummy speaker:)

    • Fred Woogmaster

      Excellent question.

      It was my impression that the protest over Stein’s appearance had more to do with the process by which he was selected, not his political point of view.

  • John Greenberg

    Several of those commenting here have referred to the incident concerning Ben Stein at UVM. I didn’t remember it clearly, so I did an internet search and found this account:

    “Stein’s comments came a day after UVM President Dan Fogel announced that Stein, whom Fogel had invited to address UVM’s commencement in May, would not be coming after all. Fogel said that his selection of Stein generated an intense protest, that he received hundreds of angry e-mails over the weekend, and that after he shared these “profound concerns” with Stein, Stein “immediately and most graciously declined our commencement invitation.”…”

    If that’s correct, UVM students didn’t invite Stein; the President of the institution did. And UVM didn’t withdraw its invitation; Stein declined it. Since it was Goddard students who invited Mumia and since he has NOT declined the invitation, it would appear that there are at least 2 salient factual differences between the situations.

  • walter judge

    That’s baloney.

    First of all, you only cite one account of what happened.

    Second, even if the account is technically accurate, the shameful epidose still amounts to a “disnvite” for political reasons.

    It may be that it was the President of UVM who formally extended the invitation to Stein, but he was invited on behalf of the University. It’s my recollection that a UVM graduation speaker committee recommended that he be invited. He was then “disinvited” after students protested because he is a conservative.

    Fogel sharing his “profound concerns” with Stein after the student protests is code for “please don’t come,” and you know it.

    Your hair-splitting effort to try to pretend that Stein wasn’t disinvited goes nowhere.

    The only one who behaved gracefully in the episode was Stein — the conservative.

    • John Greenberg

      Walter Judge,

      “First of all, you only cite one account of what happened.”

      That’s right, Walter, I did. I also acknowledged: “I didn’t remember it clearly, so I did an internet search and found this account,” and then added “If that’s correct,” which effectively invited you to supply a different version. Instead, you take a potshot at me. Much appreciated.

      “It may be that it was the President of UVM who formally extended the invitation to Stein, but he was invited on behalf of the University.” How is that different from saying “UVM students didn’t invite Stein; the President of the institution did,” which is my phrasing above?

      It might not matter to you (or Mr. Stein) who invited him, but it might well have mattered to the students; indeed, it obviously did. That was my point, which you appear to either miss or ignore.

      “He was then “disinvited” after students protested because he is a conservative.” Evidence? That’s not what the account I quote says. If you have what you think is a more accurate one, present it.

      “Your hair-splitting effort to try to pretend that Stein wasn’t disinvited goes nowhere,”
      nowhere, that is, if you show as little interest in the facts as you do.

      I really don’t care about this, Mr. Judge: I have no association of any kind with either UVM or Goddard, and I found at least some of Ben Stein’s Barron’s articles over the years rather interesting (and occasionally amusing). But you obviously have an ax to grind here, so please keep on showing us how closed-minded “liberals” are and how wonderful “conservatives” are. You’re doing great so far.

  • Fred Woogmaster

    “Hair splitting”, Mr. Judge? There’s no hair to split.

    The students at UVM were excluded from the process of selection, many of them did not like the selection and they were vocal about it.

    You like Ben Stein, that’s great!
    You abhor liberals? That’s okay too.
    Free speech is precious, for you too.

    Your protest of the Stein affair is founded on faulty analysis, in my opinion.

    Mr. Greenberg’s posting makes total sense.

  • Walter Judge

    I have no interest in Ben Stein. I am not a fan of his. It doesn’t matter to me whether one is a liberal or a conservative. What matters to me is the double standard that is applied to “free speech” in Vermont.

    • Fred Woogmaster

      I agree, Mr. Judge.

      There should be one standard.

      Free speech.