IMF Protests Drive Away Smith College Graduation Speaker

Image: IMF Protests Drive Away Smith College Graduation Speaker International Monetary Fund managing director Christine Lagarde.

Monday, 12 May 2014 11:05 PM

By Cathy Burke

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Faculty and students protests drove International Monetary Fund managing director Christine Lagarde to withdraw as Smith College's graduation speaker, the college president announced Monday.

Protesters at the women's college in Northampton, Mass., objected to Lagarde's leadership of an organization that contradicts "Smith's values to stand in unity with equality for all women," according to an online petition.

The decision follows that of former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who earlier this month backed out of delivering the commencement address at Rutgers University in New Jersey because of campus protests over her role in the Iraq war.

College President Kathleen McCartney wrote Monday that Lagarde – the first woman to head the IMF – contacted McCartney over the weekend to say she didn't want the controversy to detract from the event, set for Sunday.

"In the last few days, it has become evident that a number of students and faculty members would not welcome me as a commencement speaker," Lagarde wrote, McCartney said. "I respect their views, and I understand the vital importance of academic freedom. However, to preserve the celebratory spirit of commencement day, I believe it is best to withdraw my participation."

Former Smith College President Ruth Simmons will take her place.

The online petition calling for school officials to "reconsider" the choice of Lagarde as commencement speaker got 477 signatures, The Republican reported.

"By selecting Ms. Lagarde as the commencement speaker, we are supporting the International Monetary Fund and thus going directly against Smith's values to stand in unity with equality for all women, regardless of race, ethnicity or class," the online petition reads.

"Although we do not wish to disregard all of Ms. Lagarde's accomplishments as a strong female leader in the world, we also do not want to be represented by someone whose work directly contributes to many of the systems that we are taught to fight against. By having her speak at our commencement, we would be publicly supporting and acknowledging her, and thus the IMF."

The Republican quoted one online petitioner railing: "Utterly disgusted that Smith has chosen to host someone from the IMF, an organization that has proven itself to be nothing but imperialistic, ineffective, and oppressive."

McCartney wrote that students and faculty who objected "will be satisfied that their activism has had a desired effect," adding, however, that she hoped they'd consider the cost of that victory.

"This is a question I hope we will ponder as a community in the months ahead," she wrote.

She also said she supported the board of trustees' invitation to Lagarde, noting it was "not an endorsement of all views or policies of an individual or the institution she or he leads."

"Such a test would preclude virtually anyone in public office or position of influence,"  McCartney wrote. "Moreover, such a test would seem anathema to our core values of free thought and diversity of opinion."

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