Levasseur lecture back on after calls from faculty
Ray Luc Levasseur, former leader of the notorious United Freedom Front, will come to the University of Massachusetts on Thursday after all.
Levasseur’s lecture, originally planned as part of the W.E.B. Du Bois Library’s fifth annual Colloquium on Social Change, was cancelled by the University after protest from Massachusetts and New Jersey state police organizations prompted Governor Deval Patrick to ask UMass to pull the plug.
Patrick learned of the planned lecture when the Boston Herald interviewed Donna Lamonaco, the wife of a New Jersey state trooper who was shot dead by members of the UFF in 1981. Levasseur was never charged in connection with the shooting, but critics saw his invitation to speak as an endorsement of the UFF’s violence against police officers.
UMass academic departments took up where the libraries left off, however, and invited Levasseur back to speak, invoking academic freedom in defense of the lecture.
Levasseur has spoken at Temple University, Columbia, and The University of Southern Maine in the past without backlash.
The new lecture, titled “The Great Western Massachusetts Sedition Trial: Twenty Years Later,” will take place at 7:15 p.m. in the School of Management room 137.
University spokesman Patrick Callahan made clear in a statement Tuesday that the lecture does not have support from University administration or the Du Bois library, though they will not prevent the event from taking place out of respect for academic freedom.
“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,” the statement said. “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.”
Massachusetts governor Deval Patrick himself expressed his disagreement with the reinstatement of the lecture.
“Gov. Patrick is outraged and extremely disappointed at reports that the University of Massachusetts has again extended a speaking invitation to Raymond Luc Levasseur,” Patrick’s spokesperson Joe Landolfi told the Herald.
Patrick told the Herald that state funds would not be used for the event. UMass system president Jack Wilson said in a statement Tuesday that “Chancellor Holub and I have instructed that no state funds be used to support this activity.”
Rumors circulated Tuesday that the Massachusetts chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, which had spoken out against the cancellation, was either sponsoring or funding the event. Christopher Ott, communications director for the Massachusetts ACLU, said in an interview Tuesday that it was “not true.”
“We’ve been getting that from a couple of places … that we are sponsoring it or funding it, but that’s not what’s been going on,” Ott said.
He did say, however, that the event has their support.
“We applaud the efforts of students and faculty leaders that have been working to see that the scheduling of the talk is forwarded despite the calls for censorship,” he said.
It remains unclear how the event is being funded.
Levasseur was sent to prison in 1986 for bombing buildings across the East Coast, including eight bombings in the Boston area alone along with a string of bank robberies. The stated intent of the United Freedom Front was to protest the supposed U.S. backing of the South African apartheid government and Central American death squads.
Members of the United Freedom Front were convicted of the murder of New Jersey State Police officer Phil Lamonaco and the attempted murder of two Massachusetts State Police officers. Levasseur however was never charged with these crimes, nor was he at the scene of either incident.
In 1989 he and codefendants Pat Levasseur and Richard Williams were tried in Springfield on charges of seditious conspiracy to overthrow the United States government. The trial was the most expensive in state history and deliberation lasted for ten months. The jury found all three defendants not guilty.
The release from event’s organizers stated that “several UMass departments have added their support to this event in the name of protecting the cherished American values of freedom of speech and academic freedom, which they believed to be threatened by the decision to cancel the event under pressure from a variety of outside organizations.”
The event will be sponsored by the departments of communication, economics, history, languages, literature, and culture and sociology, as well as the social thought and political economy and women, gender and sexuality programs, the Sociology Graduate Student Association and executive members of the Student Government Association.
Co-sponsoring the event are several non-profit community groups, foundations, and businesses including the Rosenberg Fund for Children, Food for Thought Books, Vermont Action for Political Prisoners and the Massachusetts Foundation for the Humanities.