UNION, N.J. — New Jersey’s Kean University has cancelled hip-hop artist Common as commencement speaker after police voiced concerns over a song released 15 years ago about a woman convicted of killing a police officer who fled to Cuba.
The school announced the Academy Award winner’s selection on Monday, but said on its social media sites on Tuesday night that he would not be the speaker.
University spokeswoman Susan Kayne told The Record newspaper the announcement was made prematurely.
Common won the Academy Award for composing the song “Glory” for the 2014 film Selma.
“The students expressed interest in Common because he composed the Oscar-winning song ‘Glory’ with our prior commencement speaker John Legend,” Kayne said. “While we respect his talent, Kean is pursuing other speaker options.”
New Jersey State Police were troubled by the choice because of lyrics in Common’s 2000 recording “A Song for Assata.” The song is about Joanne Chesimard, who goes by the name Assata Shakur, and was convicted in 1977 of killing Trooper Werner Foerster in 1973. She escaped from prison and has been living in Cuba as a fugitive.
Chris Burgos, president of the State Troopers Fraternal Association of New Jersey, called the choice a “slap in the face.”
“What is troubling here is that a state university that is subsidized with state taxpayer funds, is once again being questioned on their decision-making at the highest levels,” Burgos said in an emailed statement.
An email seeking comment from Common’s publicist was not immediately returned Wednesday.