U.S. Senator Asks College to Drop Mumia Abu-Jamal as Commencement Speaker

U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey is calling for a Vermont college to rescind its offer to a convicted cop killer, Mumia Abu-Jamal, to address their fall 2014 graduates during its Oct. 5 commencement ceremony.

"I cannot fathom how anyone could think it appropriate to honor a cold-blooded murderer," The Pennsylvania Republican wrote in a letter to Goddard College interim President Robert Kenny. "What possible enlightenment can your students obtain from this man?"

Abu-Jamal, 60, is currently serving a life sentence at the Mahanoy State Correctional Institution in Frackville, Pa. for the 1981 murder of 25-year-old Philadelphia Officer Daniel Faulkner. 

Students in the fall 2014 graduating class selected Abu-Jamal, who is a 1996 Goddard College graduate, as their commencement speaker, according to a college spokeswoman. Abu-Jamal also hosts a radio show that airs on WGDR-WGDH Goddard Community Radio every Sunday.

The Goddard College president did not immediately respond to requests for comment. It is unclear if they will adjust the ceremony in response to the senator's letter.

School officials announced Abu-Jamal as the speaker Monday, explaining his remarks were prerecorded and the short video will roll during the ceremony.

"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," Kenney said in a Goddard College news release Monday.

But Toomey disagrees, saying the dialogue sparked by including Abu-Jamal in commencement is a "slap in the face to Danny Faulkner's family, and to all of the law enforcement officers who risk their lives for us every day."

"Is there any crime so heinous that Goddard would not reward the perpetrator with a spot as commencement speaker?" Toomey asked. "This is not a question of free speech. It is a question of judgment and your school's basic sense of right and wrong."

"[What] lesson is Goddard teaching its students about their moral responsibilities, as members of a civil society, to their fellow citizens?" he continued. "Abu-Jamal has never apologized or expressed any regret for his heinous crime."

Celebrities like Susan Sarandon, Alec Baldwin, Whoopi Goldberg and others have publicly expressed their support for Abu-Jamal, who has gained followers from around the world claiming he was the victim of a racist legal system.

Yet the politician points out that the killer's claims the jury was racist "has been rejected by multiple state and federal courts and is belied by the facts."

Abu-Jamal was originally sentenced to death, but prosecutors later agreed to a life term after a federal appeals court ordered a new sentencing hearing, citing flawed jury instructions.

The commencement ceremony — one of 20 Goddard holds each  year — will begin at 4 p.m. Oct.  5 at the school's Haybarn Theatre at 123 Pitkin Road in Plainfield, Vermont. 

Goddard College is a liberal arts college with three locations -- Plainfield, Vermont; and Seattle and Port Townsend, Washington.

Contact Alison Burdo at 610.668.5635, or follow @NewsBurd on Twitter.

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