Goddard College staff receiving threats over Mumia Abu-Jamal speech

State police have been informed of threats directed towards Goddard College, its staff and students following the school’s announcement that Mumia Abu-Jamal will give a commencement address on Sunday.

Abu-Jamal was convicted for the 1981 murder of Philadelphia police officer Daniel Faulkner. Abu-Jamal’s 1982 death sentence was reduced to life in prison in 2011. He is serving his sentence at Mahanoy State Correctional Institution in Frackville, Pa.

Since the announcement about Abu-Jamal, Goddard has received hundreds of phone calls, about one per minute Friday, and letting all of them go to voicemail, Goddard spokesperson Samantha Kolber said. College officials were responding to only the most urgent calls, she said.

Some of the calls threatened violence and sexual assault. Police plan to investigate the source of the threats and possible criminal activity and will remain in contact with Goddard officials in the event they need immediate help, Vermont State Police spokesperson Stephanie Brackin said.

Kolber said the school plans to continue as planned with Sunday’s commencement ceremony and has security plans in place.

“Understandably people are upset. It’s a very controversial thing that’s going on and we certainly understand everybody’s feelings,” Kolber said Friday.

Abu-Jamal, an author and journalist, received a bachelor’s degree from Goddard College in 1996 while he was in prison.

The college traditionally lets each class choose its commencement speaker, and this year’s graduates chose Abu-Jamal, Kolber said. The event is not open to the public.

His address is an audio recording that will be shown simultaneously with a 10-minute slideshow of images of Goddard college and images from a documentary about Abu-Jamal by filmmaker Stephen Vittoria, Kolber said.

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Laura Krantz

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  • Christopher Teel

    Rather ironic that people would threaten violence over the selection of someone convicted of murder. In any case, I lay a lot of this at the feet of WCAX. While I saw the news first on Digger, when WCAX picked it up, their initial headline was “Jailed cop killer is picked as graduation speaker.” As I commented to them, I found that a completely inappropriate title as it gives a clear indication as to what WCAX feels are the merits of his selection. Either that, or it’s just shameless sensationalism. Probably the latter. In any case, some news organizations should realize that their attempts to garner clicks and readers and ads by affixing such headlines to their stories can have real impacts on the behavior of the public, as this story makes clear.

    I believe Digger’s initial title was entirely correct, simply stating that this person had been selected, rather than injecting outrage. Let the people read the story, learn the facts, and then decided for themselves whether they want to be outraged.

    • Christopher Teel

      And let me be clear that I do not in any way equate outrage with threats of a criminal nature, I simply believe the news media should be more responsible about the possibility of amplifying emotions and behaviors to the extent that they result in this kind of behavior.

    • Arthur Hamlin

      Excellent comment! I’m appalled at the tone of most of the comments on news stories about this.

  • Jim Candon

    It all depends on who the murdered victim is. Sirhan Sirhan would never be invited. Just a guess though.

  • Hans Boerma

    If you are interested in some facts around the case, read Michael Smerconish’s editorial today in Philadelphia, in response to Goddard which he does not name. He has written extensively on the circumstances of the killing and concludes that Goddard students who invited this felon found a cheap way to attract attention. Maybe Goddard can invite the widow of the policeman killed by this fellon to learn something that does not focus the spotlight on the students’ invitation to this guy.

  • David Black

    Only in Vermont/California can a cop killer be a celebrity. Truly disgusting and innappropiate.

    • David De Lucca

      This article is not about the debate itself, it’s about the fact that members of the staff have been the targets for obscene and threatening invective in the form of hundreds of emails and phone messages. While I choose to comment neither on the decision to invite Abu-Jamal as commencement speaker nor on his case, speaking as one of the staff members affected, I implore everyone to keep in mind the following.
      First, the decision was made by a small number of students, probably no more than twelve to fourteen. That decision was supported by administrators and faculty. The non-management staff were not involved in any way, and are not responsible for any of this; holding us accountable for the actions of others is wrong. Moral responsibility is premised on agency, which we did not have. Still, we were subjected to hundreds of emails and phone messages replete with obscenities and threats. When I received a personally-addressed email telling me that it should be my wife who’s dead rather than Officer Faulkner, the power dynamic could not be more stark. Please remember who in this situation holds the power and responsibility, and who are powerless. It is no one’s job to be someone else’s decoy for personal attacks stemming from moral judgments.
      Related to that point, official statements made by Goddard College do not necessarily represent the viewpoints of individuals employed there. Please do not misconstrue the institutional “we” as meaning that the College speaks for everyone. Last time I checked, the First Amendment still extended to human beings as well as corporations.
      Finally, staff received no advance notice or warning of this eminently predictable furor. We simply went to work one morning and were hit by an avalanche over something we didn’t even know about, at that time. The public knew before we did. Would you like to go to work one day and find emails and voice messages — most of them personally addressed — hurling abuse, scorn, and insults at you for some unknown reason?

      • Jeff Green

        Your points and concerns are all valid ones, David. But a good bit of me says, ‘Come on”……”Is there NOT a grown up in the room, anywhere, on the Goddard campus?”

        You write as if all the administrative people are “victims” as to what students decide. Well, WHO is running the show out there?

        It’s bad enough that the Goddard students “design their own “program””……so?……just what programs do they decide? And just how rigorous is their study and pursuit of such? hint…….I doubt very rigorous….and we all know it’s progressive/socialist/enviro-activist types…but I suppose that’s okay.…because they pay you to come, to design their own……and the students do what they want…..but the administrative overseers……well, aren’t overseers at all, really.

        Me-thinks the Goddard kids need some real adult supervision….with real worl experience to guide them And what they really need is to have their eyes opened up with facts from outside the cultishness that Goddard so fodders, as an uber leftist, socialist, progressive, enviro agenda supposed college.

        David Mamet was very attached to Goddard for a while. But he grew up. Are the students at Goddard so intolerant themselves… and biased, that they would never listen to the widow of the man Abu-Jamal killed? Would they ever ask of her opinion? Of course not! One way street.

        There is no grown up supervision at Goddard. But that also does NOT excuse the threats and harassment that has come your way, and to others. I’m very sorry for that and wish the best.

        • Chris Pyatak

          Jeff, while I appreciate that you find the threats and harassment inexcusable, the assumptions you make and your circular logic here is disingenuous at best. You say there is no excuse for the threats and harassment and simultaneously say (paraphrase) “they asked for it.”

          These are hard working people doing their jobs for an education model they believe in. You can guess all you want at the level of rigor involved in attaining a degree from Goddard. These assumptions are the mark of fear of investigation and finding out something you initially suspected was in fact incorrect.

          As the spouse of a Goddard graduate I can assure you that the course work is very challenging, certainly more demanding than the behemoth state university I attended before transferring to a smaller more challenging school. Goddard students, by choosing their own course of study, are compelled to take a high level of personal responsibility for what they get out of their education, which engages and immerses them far more deeply in their chosen field of study than the vast majority of those attending the degree-mill universities. Moreover, the level of self-discipline and dedication required by the low-residency model is incredibly admirable, something I rarely saw at the university where “grown-ups” laid out a formula and clear path for students to wander through zombie-like from the day of matriculation to the day of commencement.

          Real adults are not afraid to seek knowledge even if it means they find out their earlier beliefs were flawed. Real adults do not shy away from unpopular opinions or difficult conversations that relate directly to pressing issues facing us as a society today. Those who would force a forumlaic world view based on old, rigid, tired, and often flawed systems are, perhaps, the people who need to “grow up.”

          • Jeff Green

            Blah, blah, blah. I do not agree with what has come to Goddard staff and admin, as a result of just a small handful of stupid student actions..but I have to heartily disagree with you on other respects. Goddard has always been a hotbed of single minded outcomes. Liberal, Socialist, Progressive, enviro activist…breeding grounds. Come on! How can you say it isn’t! And then you say this:

            “Real adults are not afraid to seek knowledge even if it means they find out their earlier beliefs were flawed. Real adults do not shy away from unpopular opinions or difficult conversations that relate directly to pressing issues facing us as a society today”

            I’m sorry? what real adults do you refer to? Not real adult in admin was party to the decison! Will Gddard ever invite the TURN COAT Goddard supporter, David Mamet, back to speak? Answer? NO. BVut you state yopu are adults and open minded? Bunk. will Goddard EVER invite the widow of the slain policeman to come to Goddard to tell her side? ANSWER: NO! because it does not fit the agenda at Goddard!

            I am astounded that you state that : “Real adults are not afraid to seek knowledge even if it means they find out their earlier beliefs were flawed.” YET? The students and Admin folks at Goddard would no more consider having an opposite opinion on campous as fly toi the moon! WAKE UP! I’ve lived about 5 miles as the crow flies from teh Goddard campus for about 24 years, and I’ve spent a decent amount of time around Plainfield. I keep an very open mind. I actually really dislike almpost all Republican stances on social issues, but I am fiscally conservative. But my 24 years open minded view of the Goddard crowd is that they are the most intolerant, spiteful, opinionated, biased group of folks I have ever met. And I am not alone.

      • Arthur Hamlin

        David, I’m sorry you had to endure that. I found the tone of the comments on social media absolutely deplorable. I can’t imagine what it would be like to be the target of such misdirected hatred and threats. As a state employee it’s hard enough to bite my tongue when I read the kind of comments that people sometimes make in general about government workers. Hopefully since the graduation wast two days ago and most things on social media has the lifespan of a fruit fly, things will blow over.

  • David Barnes

    Fred Phelps was unavailable due to his timely demise? Goddard College students: The statement you intended to make by this is not how it is being perceived. Shame on you. Shame on you. You are disgusting bad people for doing this.

  • Jeff Green

    I wish somone was able to contact, and get the opinion of, one the most famous persons, associated to Goddard. It’s David Mamet…playwright, author and director. He taught at Goddard early in his career, and he always kept a second home close by. I used to see him around. But I’m not sure if he still visits as often.

    David Mamet has a way with words…let’s just say he can be “very direct”. For decades, Mamet was a ‘rubber stamp, sound bite” liberal-progressive. But somethiong happened a few years ago, and Mamet did a 180 degree turn – to conservative. He then penned a book about it – trashing most Liberal orthodoxies….many of which he himself believed earlier, but not now. He woke up and saw the light, saw reality.

    I’d like Goddard to have David Mamet come back and give a graduation speech! Never happen….the truth would hurt too much. The earlier link posted by Hans, to the Phila editorial on the case……is ‘right on”. The kids at Goddard are easily brainwashed and blind to trush.

  • Patrick McGowan

    I have no hate in this matter. Sadly as life goes on and Goddard students and their families experience violence, rape murder there are places they will not vacation because its not safe to go there, when they are in distress they need to call for help from the likes of Mumia. Don’t call the police. Handle it yourself.

  • David Black

    I know the type of person that goes to Goddard College and I also know the type of person that kills cops. They go hand in hand and thrive on each other. One type is the wolf and the other type is the sheep.

    • Fred Woogmaster

      Just curious.

      Do you consider yourself to be a judgmental person, Mr. Black?

      • David Black

        Yes, It’s a survival technique that I developed when I lived near Philadelphia. Mr. Fred.

        • Fred Woogmaster

          Thank you, Mr. Black.

          We all, humans, seem to resemble where we come from.

    • Kathy Leonard

      David Black, do you know the “type of person” who in their role as police has harrassed, beat, arrested, framed or killed young black/brown men of color?

      Your stereotyping Goddard students is as unhelpful as that stereotype I just wrote. Goddard students are learning lessons from their choice of commencement speaker–they are learning how to deal with hate, threats, and prevailing against popular opinion, all of which should serve them well. And their school has the wisdom to respect their free speech.

      • David Black

        Sterotyping is a survival technique. Try it some time, it might save your life.

  • Paul Donovan

    And the lesson is: if you court controversy, you get abuse heaped on you and threatened with death. That’s what the students will remember, more than anything Mumia might’ve said. It’s a good lesson to learn.

  • rosemarie jackowski

    The criticism of the speech is an ad hominem type fallacy. Maybe it would be better to listen to or read what Mumia said and then judge the content of the speech.

    This does not mean that we should support killers… anyone who kills should be convicted, but the legal system is not infallible. Sometimes the wrong person is convicted.

    • walter judge

      @ Jackowski:

      1. You say, judge the speech, not the speaker. Did you yourself hear the speech? I heard the tape. On its own merits, and having nothing to do with the controversy surrounding the speaker, the speech was a waste of time. It was typical graduation speech fodder: a collection of meaningless exhorations and platitudes (e.g., use your education to make the world better!). It was, in the words of someone local, a nothingburger. The speech was hardly worth engendering the controversy that gave rise to it.

      The students didn’t need a notorious person calling in from prison to deliver the 20 minutes of fluff they got. They could have called “1-800-Graduation-Speaker” and gotten the same speech.

      The students deliberately raised expectations by their choice of speaker. And they didn’t get it.

      2. You say, sometimes the wrong person is convicted. Are you saying that Mumia was wrongfully convicted? have you read the various analyses of his trial? Amnesty International does not question the guilt phase of his trial. Only the sentencing phase. As I understand it, no reasonable analysis questions his conviction, as opposed to his original sentence (which was later reduced).

  • Michelle Sayles

    Neither the VTDigger or WCAX coverage of the Mumia controversy have delved into illuminating some of the background around his conviction. If you want to learn a bit more, here’s an interesting HuffPost article with more details:

  • Judy Hiramoto

    No Social Justice at Goddard

    When I worked at Goddard, the last administration ignored social justice. Faculty and staff got fired for expressing opinions that the administration didn’t want to hear. Goddard shuts down any dialogue rather than take responsibility for its inflammatory actions—whether it be inviting a controversial speaker or falsifying an my evaluation. And forget about even getting a hearing or a rational response.

    I was dismissed in mid-contract in July 2011 after nine years as an advisor in the MFA-Interdisciplinary Arts Program.

    I did not do anything egregious. I was reprimanded for challenging students with questions pertaining to the degree criteria and correcting their erroneous facts and racist statements. I received pejorative remarks when I did research with students and shared my expertise and creative process.

    Expectations of academic rigor for certain white and token-minority faculty are low. Some demonstrate no scholarship, have no creative practice, and even commit plagiarism. While I summarized each book I recommended to students, others made lists from Amazon or provided no resources. Many MFA-IA program directors favor faculty who flatter students rather than ask them to do critical thinking.

    Most students are whites in their forties. Many come from the privileged upper-middle class paying over $40,000.00 for a five-semester program. Some treat Japanese faculty abusively knowing that program directors will side with them with no investigation of allegations.

    The allegations cited to harass and dismiss me in 2011 were adjudicated in my favor by previous administrators in 2006 and 2010.

    When I took my Civil Rights case to the Vermont Attorney General’s office, Goddard sent it a misleading letter that derailed the investigation. I finally sued Goddard for discrimination and retaliation in Vermont’s federal court in July 2014.

    I have yet to receive a response from Goddard’s administration beyond its knee-jerk denial of documented facts while it complains and eagerly responds to the “shrill one-dimensional press coverage” about its commencement speaker.

    Goddard employees leave their labor rights and Civil Rights outside its split-rail fence.

    (Judy Hiramoto is a Japanese American artist and educator.)

  • Dr. Paul N. Warren

    Really? I am sorry I graduated from Goddard many years ago. As a retired law enforcement officer I find it extremely troubling that a cop killer is allowed to paint the walls of my old school . What I also find insulting is the fact the acting president did not have the professionalism to call me back after I left him a voice mail. Hopefully he will not get the permanment position….