Convicted cop killer Mumia Abu-Jamal was the commencement speaker at Goddard College, in Plainfield, Vermont today, having been chosen by graduating students. He is a controversial figure, convicted in the 1981 slaying of Officer Daniel Faulkner, sentenced to death, and eventually sentenced to life in prison without parole after a long legal battle. Abu-Jamal’s speech was prerecorded by Prison Radio and broadcast.
Goddard is not your typical college. It is liberal/radical even by current college standards. Students design their own curriculum. It holds 20 commencement ceremonies each year so students in each degree program can have personalized graduations. Abu-Jamal, himself a political radical, received a bachelor of arts degree from the college in 1996, completing his coursework by mail. Before the killing, Mumia was a member of the Black Panthers. While imprisoned he has become a cultural icon to the radical left as an activist against institutional racism.
As you would expect, a lot of people have problems with Mumia receiving this honor. Maureen Faulkner, the widow of the officer killed by Abu-Jamal, condemned Goddard’s decision.The Vermont Troopers Association issued a statement saying that it was “ outraged that Goddard College is hosting a man who shot and killed a police officer.” But Goddard is proud as punch that its students chose the convicted murderer. Said the acting President:
“As a reflection of Goddard’s individualized and transformational educational model, our commencements are intimate affairs where each student serves as her or his own valedictorian, and each class chooses its own speaker. 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.”
Well, that’s one way of interpreting it. Or, we might justly conclude that the graduates of Goddard have been taught to have contempt for decency, justice, law enforcement and the legal system, and since they admire murderous criminals, might see nothing wrong with being one. Ask me if I want to hire anyone with a Goddard degree. Go ahead. Ask.
Naturally, defenders of Mumia’s honor think it is perfectly acceptable because it embodies the principle of free speech. I’m not sure it does….not at all. Unpopular speech embodies free speech. Encouraging popular and offensive speech by someone who is not worthy of emulation embodies bad taste, dubious values and anti-social priorities. Show me that Goddard students would welcome speeches by Ted Cruz, Bill O’Reilly, Sarah Palin and Dick Cheney, and then I’ll accept that the campus is supportive of free speech.
Meanwhile, why stop with Mumia? Why not have that Isis guy who beheaded the American journalist speak at commencement, with his hood, of course? Surely that would expresses graduates’ freedom to engage and think radically and critically in a world that often sets up barriers to do just that. How about the Cheshire home invasion killers, Steven Hayes and Joshua Komisarjevsky, who raped the family’s young girls and mother before burning their house down around them? If it’s free speech to allow the scum of the earth speak at a commencement, if someone is crazy enough to want to listen to them, let’s really go for it.
That doesn’t make it right, however. All allowing Mumia to speak at commencement shows me is that the students are exercising their rights to promote freedom of expression, and doing so in a context and manner that is less dignified, justified, respectful or reasonable than having the honor delivered by a circus performer who communicates in farts, Carrot Top, or Honey Boo Boo. It shows me that the culture created by Goddard is toxic, and that the students who graduate from there without sufficient resistance to its influence will range from useless to annoying to dangerous.
Their parents must be so proud.