Smith College Disinvites Head of IMF

Disinvitation season” keeps on rolling: this time, Christine Lagarde, managing director of the International Monetary Fund, has
 as the commencement speaker at Smith College.

The IMF is one of the world’s most important international agencies, and Lagarde is the first woman to lead it. But achievement is not enough for Smith students, who demand intellectual conformity as well: a petition asking Smith president Kathleen McCartney to “reconsider” her invitation attracted 478 signatures, and students and faculty protested and wrote to Lagarde to express their objection. Wanting to “preserve the celebratory spirit of commencement day,” Lagarde withdrew.

The petition shows how poor an education some Smith students have received. Petitioners claimed that, “At Smith College…we are taught to speak up when something is unjust[.]” But apparently they were not taught that justice includes fairness towards differing viewpoints and respect for those who hold them. They were not taught that they can better fight “inequality and corruption” if they are familiar with differing explanations for them.

The petitioners claim that inviting Lagarde implies that she “represents” the school, but that is false. President McCartney rightly said, “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.”

There’s the rub. A person of accomplishment will almost invariably offend someone, so either a university must rule out all public figures or it must favor the feelings of some groups over others. Most universities have chosen the latter path, and they often use political criteria to determine which groups to favor. That is why, for example, Brandeis University stood behind Tony Kushner despite protests, but did not stand behind Ayaan Hirsi Ali.

Freedom to hear is an important part of academic freedom.  And academic freedom trumps the fantasy of freedom from being offended. The late C. Vann Woodward wrote, “Free speech is a barrier to the tyranny of authoritarian or even majority opinion as to the rightness or wrongness of particular doctrines or thoughts.”

Smith’s board of trustees, and governing boards at other institutions that have shamed themselves during “disinvitation season,” would do well to rethink the fundamentals of a free society and the role their university plays in preparing graduates for informed participation in the life of our nation.


One thought on “Smith College Disinvites Head of IMF”

  1. Dear W. Gonch,

    Told to speak up when something is unjust? For crying out loud Christine LaGarde is managing partner of IMF. It’s a bank. She didn’t scorch somebodies country and deny it.

    I would venture a guess that these students are acting upon what is called “victim mentality” and even though they themselves are not victims they feel they must stand up for every person in the world that is a victim, or supposed victim. Whether they have proof or not of this.

    What an ego, huh? To believe that you as a little college students have to mouth off about everyone in the world. Why don’t they put as much time into getting Straight “A’s” as they do into protest? Isn’t this just the worst of misdirections and academic procrastination on their own behalf?

    I wish that faculties of universities would just invite speakers. Period. Make these little whiners listen to whatever the speaker has to say. Whether they agree or not. Then have a cocktail and cracker reception where the speaker can debate students and where the students can ask any questions they want.

    This seems to me the best way to ensure academic freedom and free inquiry. These students need a big correction at these schools. It is getting embarrassing telling people I come from America. I often tell them I live somewhere else. Where people have conversations of open debate with respectful give and take.



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