Christine Lagarde Won't Give Commencement Address Following Protests


Christine Lagarde, first female managing director of the International Monetary Fund, has withdrawn from the Smith College 2014 graduation where she was slated to be the commencement speaker after students and faculty began protesting her inclusion in the ceremony.

An online petition asking Smith to reconsider Lagarde’s appointment states:

“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.”

While the statement only has 485 signatures, Lagarde has decided to cancel the speaking engagement, writing the following to Smith College President Kathleen McCartney:

“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. 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.”

The news has been met with mixed reactions. Kathleen McCartney expressed her own disappointment, saying:

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.

Lagarde is one of many commencement speakers to get the boot in the past year. Recently, Condoleeza Rice canceled her Rutgers University commencement address after students protested her presence due to her involvement in the Iraq war and Brandeis University reneged on plans to award an honorary degree to women’s rights activist Ayaan Hirsa Ali because of her controversial and negative stance on Islam.

Olivia Nuzzi at The Daily Beast decries the trend, mockingly writing, “God forbid these delicate students should be exposed to an idea or an organization with which they disagree—at college.”

On one hand, she’s right. College students should be more than able to sit and listen to a speech by someone they disagree with and the unwillingness to do so is evident of both immaturity and a weak disposition. At the same time, this isn’t just a simple lecture that they’re protesting. It’s a commencement ceremony. A student should be allowed to celebrate their own college graduation without sitting through a speech by the head of a dangerous capitalist entity or a person who participated in war crimes or an activist who attacks their religion.

That said, you’re never going to find a speaker who everyone agrees on (well, you might be able to, but Amy Poehler can’t be expected to do everything), so ultimately some students will always have to sit through speeches by people who they might ultimately disagree with. And you know what? That’s probably a good thing.

Image via Getty.

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