International Monetary Fund managing director Christine Lagarde is the latest leader to withdraw as a 2014 commencement speaker.
Smith College announced on Monday evening that Lagarde was canceling her May 18 appearance at the Massachusetts liberal arts college, citing anti-IMF protests from faculty and students.
According to Smith College President Kathleen McCartney, Lagarde wrote to her: “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.”
On Tuesday morning, a petition calling for Lagarde to withdraw garnered nearly 500 signatures.
Lagarde is considered one of the world’s most powerful women who broke many glass ceilings. The 58-year-old French lawyer was the first woman to become finance minister of a G8 economy and is the first woman to head the IMF.
Critics of the IMF argue there is a lack of accountability within the organization and that it has negative social and economic impacts on the countries it tries to help.
Similar protests have derailed other speakers from giving remarks at 2014 commencements. That includes former National Security Adviser Condoleeza Rice at Rutgers University, who recently stepped down after student demonstrators railed against her role in the Iraq War in 2003.
Earlier this spring, students and faculty at Brandeis University forced the administration to withdraw plans to award an honorary degree to Somalia-born women’s rights activist Ayaan Hirsa Ali because of her controversial remarks about Islam and its treatment of women.
Instead of Lagarde, Ruth J. Simmons, the college’s ninth president and 18th president of Brown University will deliver the commencement speech.
Reaction to Smith College’s announcement was mixed on the school’s Facebook page with several applauding Legarde’s decision while others criticized students for not creating a culture that’s friendly toward free speech.
“As an alum, I know that Smith always taught me to hear every side out with respect and be tolerant of all. I am disappointed that the Smith community did not abide by these core values of the college. Christine Lagarde would have been an outstanding commencement speaker. I do thank Ruth Simmons for delivering this years commencement speech on such short notice. I hope the community, especially those that opposed Lagarde, think about the repercussions of their actions for not only Smith but the overall community,” Sarah Hussain wrote.
Stephanie Greenlaw wrote: “I am an alum and I am NOT disappointed. I believe Ruth Simmons will do a great job, and I support the current students who protested and opened a discourse about very important issues.”