Why IMF chief won't speak at Smith College graduation

Smith College's commencement speaker IMF managing director Christine Lagarde withdrew from speaking after student and faculty protests.

The managing director of the International Monetary Fund has withdrawn as Smith College's commencement speaker after faculty and student protests.

The women's college in Northampton, Massachusetts, announced Christine Lagarde's withdrawal Monday. According to the college, she said it was clear that many did not want her on campus and that she did not want to distract from a joyous occasion.

Smith College President Kathleen McCartney released a letter explaining Lagarde's decision:

“In the last few days,” she [Lagarde] wrote, “it has become evident that a number of students and faculty members would not welcome me as a commencement speaker. 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.”

An online petition with hundreds of signatures said Lagarde represents a corrupt system that fuels the oppression and abuse of women worldwide.

The petition said, in part:

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. 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. Even if we give Ms. Lagarde the benefit of the doubt, and recognize that she is just a good person working in a corrupt system, we should not by any means promote or encourage the values and ideals that the IMF fosters. The IMF has been a primary culprit in the failed developmental policies implanted in some of the world’s poorest countries. This has led directly to the strengthening of imperialist and patriarchal systems that oppress and abuse women worldwide. At Smith College, a school with a campaign called “Women for the World”, we are taught how to stand up and fight against inequality and corruption. We are taught to speak up when something is unjust, and we do not wish to be represented by a system that doesn’t support us.

Smith President McCartney said in a statement issued that she stands by the decision to invite Lagarde, the first woman to hold the IMF's top position.

"I want to underscore this fact: An invitation to speak at a commencement is 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. Moreover, such a test would seem anathema to our core values of free thought and diversity of opinion. I remain committed to leading a college where differing views can be heard and debated with respect."

Former Smith and Brown University President Ruth Simmons is stepping in as the May 18 commencement speaker.

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