May 12, 2014
Dear Students, Faculty and Staff:
I regret to inform you that Christine Lagarde has withdrawn as Smith’s 2014 commencement speaker in the wake of anti-IMF protests from faculty and students, including a few who wrote directly to her. She conveyed to me this weekend that she does not want her presence to detract from the occasion.
“In the last few days,” she 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.”
Those who objected will be satisfied that their activism has had a desired effect. But at what cost to Smith College? This is a question I hope we will ponder as a community in the months ahead.
Like so many members of the Smith community, some of whom wrote to me to share their excitement about Mme. Lagarde, I was looking forward to hearing her speech. I stand behind the decision of Smith’s Board of Trustees, of which I am a member, to invite Mme. Lagarde to serve as our speaker and to receive an honorary degree.
With extraordinary generosity, Ruth J. Simmons, Smith’s ninth president and the 18th president of Brown University, will give the 2014 commencement address. I am grateful to Ruth and know that she will bring an important message to our community. More information is available here.
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.