International Monetary Fund Managing Director Christine Lagarde canceled plans to deliver the commencement address May 18 at Smith College, bowing to protests by students and faculty over the fund’s policies.
President Kathleen McCartney said she heard over the weekend from Lagarde, who wrote to her that “it has become evident that a number of students and faculty members would not welcome me as a commencement speaker,” according to McCartney’s statement on the website of the women’s college.
An online petition and discussion group helped lead the drive to replace Lagarde, using complaints that have formed the basis of protests against the IMF since the Asian financial crisis more than a decade ago.
“The IMF has been a primary culprit in the failed developmental policies implanted in some of the world’s poorest countries,” according to a posting on ipetitions.com entitled “Reconsider the Smith College 2014 Commencement Speaker.” “This has led directly to the strengthening of imperialist and patriarchal systems that oppress and abuse women worldwide.”
Ruth Simmons, a former Smith College president who also served as president of Brown University, was named Lagarde’s replacement, Smith said yesterday on its website.
Some students and faculty of the Northampton, Massachusetts-based college wrote directly to Lagarde, McCartney said.
“We did not want the IMF participation to divert attention from the remarkable achievements of the graduating students on their special day,” the fund said in an e-mailed statement.
The Washington-based IMF, which lends to cash-strapped countries on condition they carry out economic changes such as cutting spending, has said in recent years that it’s learned from its mistakes from the 1990s. It has decreased the number of conditions and pays more attention to the poorest.
Lagarde, a regular proponent of women’s rights, gave the commencement address two years ago at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government.
While she sometimes gets questions from students or nonprofit organizations on the fund’s austerity policies, the Smith College protest may be the most hostile reaction Lagarde has faced. In 2009, a protester threw a shoe at her predecessor, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, and tried to storm the stage at a Istanbul university event where he was speaking.
“Those who objected will be satisfied that their activism has had a desired effect,” McCartney wrote. “But at what cost to Smith College? This is a question I hope we will ponder as a community in the months ahead.”
Lagarde, 58, isn’t the first scheduled commencement speaker to withdraw or be disinvited by a college this year.
Earlier this month, former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice pulled out of Rutgers University’s May 18 ceremonies after some students and faculty at the New Brunswick, New Jersey-based school protested, citing her position on the Iraq War when she served under President George W. Bush.
Brandeis University disinvited Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a Somali-born women’s rights activist whom the Waltham, Massachusetts-based school had planned to give an honorary degree to at its May 18 commencement. Hirsi Ali, who was raised as a Muslim, in later years criticized Islam, often harshly, and its treatment of women.