Governor Deval Patrick today assailed the speaking invitation that a group of UMass Amherst faculty extended to a convicted terrorist, even after criticism from state and university leaders scuttled earlier plans for a speech.
"I am more than a little disappointed about this invitation having been extended,'' Patrick said at a State House news conference. “I fully get the point, and respect the idea of free speech. But I think it is a reflection of profound insensitivity to continue to try and have this former terrorist on the campus.”
Ray Luc Levasseur, the founder and former leader of the radical revolutionary group United Freedom Front, is scheduled to speak Thursday night. An earlier invitation for him to speak at a library symposium was canceled last week amid pressure from Patrick's office and from family members of victims of his group's attacks, which included the April 1976 blast on the third floor of the Suffolk County Courthouse that injured two dozen people.
But a group of faculty members independently decided to invite him, university officials said.
Patrick said he had spoken with UMass President Jack Wilson, who assured him it was not an official university-sanctioned invitation.
In a statement today, Wilson said he shares Patrick’s concerns and "strongly disapproves" of the planned visit by Levasseur on campus.
"The decision to invite him was made by a small number of faculty members,'' he said. "With that decision having been made, we see no way of preventing a speaking appearance, based on the free speech and free assembly rights we enjoy in this country and based on well-established principles of academic freedom.''
Wilson stressed, however, that no state funds would be used to support the visit.
Robert Holub, the chancellor of the state's flagship campus, echoed Wilson's comments.
"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,'' Holub said in a statement.
It was not immediately clear which faculty members extended the latest invitation to Levasseur.
Levasseur was released from federal prison in Atlanta in 2004 after serving 18 years for his involvement in the radical group, which plotted a series of bombings and bank robberies along the East Coast between 1976 and 1984.
In 1989, after the longest criminal trial in Massachusetts history, Levasseur avoided additional jail time when he was acquitted by a federal jury of attempting to overthrow the government by force.
The group's followers were also convicted in the murder of a New Jersey state trooper, Phil Lamonaco, and linked to a 1982 shootout with Massachusetts state troopers. Police groups and the trooper's widow have pledged to protest Levasseur's speech.
Levasseur originally was invited to the university on the 20th anniversary of his 1989 acquittal to speak at a forum discussing response to social and political unrest during the 1960s.
Patrick today urged opponents of Levasseur's speech -- assuming it goes ahead as planned -- "to express themselves, to show up on the campus and express themselves with their own free speech in opposition, and in support of the sensitivities of law enforcement.”
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