President Carol Cartwright of Kent State Unversity
President Robert H. Devine of Antioch College, OH
Here is a letter written by Ms. Cartwright which was featured on Kent State University's web site. Please read this and campare it to the letter written by the President of Antioch College. Both letters are responses to criticism concerning the airing of a taped message from Mumai Abu-Jamal at these universities this spring. Ms. Cartwright's is first.
Dear Friends of Kent State:
A student organization that plans an annual program on the afternoon of May 4 recently announced that this year they will include as part of their program a 10-minute taped message from Mumia Abu-Jamal, a Pennsylvania Death Row inmate convicted of murdering a Philadelphia police officer.
I wanted you to know the university's position on this development, and some important facts:
Mumia Abu-Jamal is NOT a commencement speaker at Kent State.
The university did NOT invite this individual or his taped message; neither did the 30th May 4 Commemoration Committee.
The university is well aware that international attention will be on Kent State in May 2000. That is why we began more than a year ago to develop a comprehensive program for the commemoration. Here is some significant information about that program:
The university's total May 4 program - organized by the 30th May 4 Commemoration Committee of faculty, staff, students and members of the Kent community - is positive and forward-looking. The overall theme of the 30th May 4 Commemoration is, "Experiencing Democracy: Inquire, Learn, Reflect."
Our program includes more than 50 events this spring, highlighted by a world-class, academic symposium, "The Boundaries of Freedom of Expression and Order in a Democratic Society," May 1 and 2. For a full list of events, visit our web site at www.may4.net.
One taped speech should not be seen as representing the university's commemoration.
In a larger context, we are proud of our efforts to model a civil society in which ideas can clash without leading to violent conflict.
Students come to Kent State because they want an education from a major university. Our mission is to provide that education in a safe, creative setting, and to produce graduates whose talents will enrich Ohio and the nation.
While a university is a place for the free exchange of ideas, this university opposes injustice, prejudice and especially violence in any form, whether against students or police officers. We abhor and will not tolerate violence on our eight campuses.
Thank you for your continued support of Kent State University. I want you to know that the important work of the university goes forward. Controversies come and go. We will continue our course in building excellence in teaching, research and service.
Carol A. Cartwright, President
Kent State University
Now on to the letter by Robert Divine, President of Antioch College in Ohio.
To Whom it May Concern:
I thank you for your thoughtful letter and the civility
with which you have presented your ideas. I can
appreciate your feelings and discomfort with regard to
the choice of the seniors at Antioch College to have
Mumia Abu-Jamal provide a recorded message for
The selection of commencement speakers at Antioch
College is done through a process of nomination and
vote by the senior class. This democratic process of
selection reflects the tradition of shared governance
that has been central to Antioch's pedagogical strategy
since the 1930s. Our students play a meaningful role
in the governance of the institution, and the deliberative
processes in which they engage are part of their
curriculum. As an institution we honor those
processes and the learning they engender, even when
we are uncomfortable with their outcomes.
I hope that you don't infer from the selection that
Antioch advocates violence, the taking of life, or
opposes in any way those who enforce our laws.
Neither do we take the feelings of the families of
victims lightly; we have only recently lost two of our
own to tragic murders in Costa Rica. Antioch College
has always been allied with causes of peace and human
dignity, and I don't believe that anyone at the College
would condone violence or encourage violence against
police officers. Allowing a six-minute audio tape to be
played does not mean that we support Abu-Jamal's
actions, that we celebrate his alleged felonies, or that we
have sufficient information to sit in judgment one way
or another. It does, however, mean that there are issues
of race and justice and Fourteenth amendment rights
that are important subjects for the critical inquiry of
Antioch College, like most institutions of higher
education, seeks to develop in students the capacity for
critical thought in confronting differences, in weighing
the merits of what they listen to, read or experience, in
reflecting on their encounters with the world and in
seeking the truth. We believe that communication and
the airing and discussion of such differences, even
when the issues are difficult or painful, deters violence.
As educators it is our responsibility to provide an
environment where widely varying points of view can
be expressed and to engage people in the debate. It is
not our role to avoid controversy or to prejudge the
outcomes of those debates. I'm aware that there are
many critics of our choice of a commencement speaker
who may dismiss the importance of that conversation,
but I would like to argue that constraining, limiting or
preventing this sort of dialogue would be unwise and
would work at cross purposes to the critical inquiry
that is at the heart of a liberal arts education.
Like many students concerned with race and justice, a
number of Antioch College students have been
researching this case and its larger implications for
several years. This case represents a critical debate
across the nation. In fact, given the recent deaths of
Amadou Diallo, Sgt. Cornel Young, Jr., and Patrick
Dorismond, many students across the country have
been engaged in studying these issues and organizing
around them. Many find, from looking at the record,
the trial transcript and the various briefs filed in
Abu-Jamal's behalf, that the essential fairness of the
case warrants critical discussion. Amnesty
International, which is often very careful about such
matters, has added their voice to calls for a new trial.
I don't know enough to make a judgment, but my point
is that there are critical and substantive issues involved
that merit critical inquiry on the part of our students.
Having spent a lifetime engaging first amendment
issues, one thought has stayed with me throughout: the
first amendment is for the speech we most abhor, not
for that with which we agree. To my knowledge
American society has not yet agreed to withdraw the
first amendment rights of convicted felons. To my
knowledge allowing a convicted felon to speak does
not imply that the listeners are in accord with or honor
what they have to say. To my knowledge our students
have the right to listen to an audio tape that many might
deem offensive. I find it interesting, quite apart from
the substantive issues involved, that so much organized,
focused and choreographed effort on the part of so
many hundreds (if not thousands) of people has been
channeled into preventing (often with messages of a
threatening or obscene nature) the College and our
graduating students from playing this tape.
I'm sincerely sorry that I can't provide the resolution
that you seek -- that Abu-Jamal be removed from the
program. I thank you for contacting me, and for
allowing me the opportunity to share my perspectives
In Peace and Reconciliation,
Robert H. Devine