Fresh off his Oscar win last month, Common was announced Monday night as the commencement speaker for Kean University in Union, N.J. But less than a day later, the university changed its mind.
The university announced Common’s upcoming appearance via tweet on Monday night, according to The Record. The tweet has since been deleted, but a follow-up tweet suggesting the Common announcement was made prematurely remains.
Commencement speaker not official yet. Stay tuned.
— Kean University (@KeanUniversity) March 31, 2015
The university did not respond to a request for comment.
Common was set to deliver a speech at the May 21 ceremony at Newark’s Prudential Center. His song “Glory” from the film “Selma” (featuring John Legend) won the 2015 Oscar for Best Original Song, and Common has also made his mark with philanthropic work through his Common Ground Foundation, which focuses on empowering youths.
But the New Jersey state police took issue with the choice, according to The Record. They object to Common’s 2000 song “A Song for Assata,” which portrays Joanne Chesimard, convicted in 1977 of killing state trooper Werner Foerster, as a victim.
In a public statement released before the decision to cancel Common’s appearance, New Jersey State Troopers Fraternal Association president Chris Burgos called the decision to invite Common “a slap in the face.”
“The young, impressionable people who read the revisionist history of Trooper Foerster’s murder, and hear these lyrics, are getting a very dangerous and deadly message,” Burgos said. “There are so many respected people in America that would be a perfect fit to give tomorrow’s leaders a good message going off into the real world.”
“Scandalous the police were as they kicked and beat her / comprehension she was beyond, tryin’ to hold on /To life,” the lyrics read, painting a picture of a woman victimized by the merciless violence of the police force.
“Assata” refers to Assata Shakur (step-aunt of Tupac), Chesimard’s pseudonym. Common also gave his first daughter Omoye the middle name Assata.
Not all universities share Kean’s reluctance to support the rapper. Common spoke at Cornell University one week after his Oscar win, according to the Cornell Chronicle .
Commencement cancellations aren’t unheard of. They often come in response to student protests, as with Condoleeza Rice at Rutgers, International Monetary Fund managing director Christine Lagarde at Smith College and former UC Berkeley Chancellor Robert Birgeneau, all last year.
But a post-announcement decision to cancel is more rare. Brandeis University made waves last year after canceling a commencement appearance honoring Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a Muslim women’s advocate, citing her controversial comments about Islam. Ali told Reason Magazine in 2007, referring to Islam, “Once it’s defeated, it can mutate into something peaceful.”
There’s precedent for a canceled speaker ultimately delivering the scuttled speech. Dustin Lance Black, the Oscar-winning screenwriter of “Milk,” was disinvited from a speech at Pasadena City College last year after lewd photos of him surfaced online. The university reinvited him after his replacement, Pasadena director of public health Dr. Eric Walsh, backed out.