A terror bomber who served 18 years in federal prison will be allowed to speak at the University of Massachusetts on Thursday — after his speech had been canceled — because a group of faculty members decided to invite him and the university maintains it must fulfill its commitment to "academic freedom."
Raymond Luc Levasseur, the former leader of the revolutionary group United Freedom Front, was released from federal prison in 2004 after serving 18 years for his role in the group, which plotted a series of bombings and bank robberies along the East Coast between 1976 and 1984.
He could have spent more time behind bars, but he was acquitted of sedition and racketeering charges in 1989 following the longest criminal trial in Massachusetts history. He remains under federal parole in a Maine halfway house.
Rick Brown, president of the State Police Association of Massachusetts, said school officials should be “ashamed” to grant a forum to the former leader of a group which fatally shot a New Jersey state trooper and attempted to kill two Massachusetts state troopers.
“He shouldn’t be allowed to talk to any students,” Brown told FoxNews.com. “Why give this man any credibility to speak in an academic environment? He has no remorse and who knows if he’s out to recruit. UMass should be ashamed of themselves for even inviting this man on campus.”
Brown said members of his organization will protest Thursday's event.
“We’ll be out there to show our displeasure,” he said. “I’m disgusted by the fact that UMass would even consider doing this. We don’t think it’s appropriate.”
The University of Massachusetts Amherst Libraries canceled the event last week after “strong reaction” from Gov. Deval Patrick to the scheduled speech, but Levasseur’s appearance was rescheduled for Thursday because of the school’s anti-censorship rules.
“The university administration does not in any way support the presentation by Ray Luc Levasseur and was very clear in supporting the library’s recent decision to cancel its talk,” a statement released by school officials Wednesday read. “The university administration did not invite this speaker and would not invite him. A group of faculty members has decided to invite him.
"Although the university administration questions the wisdom and common sense of this judgment, the institution must respect academic freedom. As repugnant as we find this invitation, the administration’s commitment to academic freedom must be honored. While the university administration does not approve, endorse or support the decision to invite this individual to campus, academic freedom must be paramount for the university community.”
But on Nov. 5, when the event was initially cancelled, school officials said it would be unable to create a “meaningful exchange” among participants.
“The UMass Libraries developed this forum as an opportunity to focus on terrorism, one of the most difficult social issues confronting the country,” said Robert Cox, head of Special Collections and University Archives. “However, it is now clear that given the strong reaction generated by this event, we can no longer achieve the kind of meaningful exchange intended. Continuing with this talk would be counterproductive, but the Libraries will continue to seek avenues to explore significant issues in social change.”
The decision to go ahead with the speech enraged the Massachusetts governor, who sought the initial cancellation of the speech.
“Governor Patrick is outraged and extremely disappointed at reports that the University of Massachusetts has again extended a speaking invitation to Raymond Luc Levasseur,” a statement from Patrick’s office read. “When the Governor first learned of his scheduled appearance last week, the Administration contacted the university to express serious concerns and the appearance was swiftly and appropriately cancelled.”
Donna Lamonaco, of New Jersey, told the Boston Herald she plans to travel to the school on Thursday to protest Levasseur’s speech. Her husband, Phil, a state trooper, was fatally shot by members of the United Freedom Front in 1981.
“Oh my God,” Lamonaco told the newspaper. “Two weeks of effort to shut this down. Calling the governor. Getting calls from police groups from all over the place. We finally succeed in the cancellation, and the school decided to do it in a sneaky way.”
Levasseur was one of three people scheduled to speak at the Amherst Libraries’ fifth annual Colloquium on Social Change. Along with writers Todd Gitlin and Raymond Mungo, Levasseur was to represent the social unrest of the late 1960s.