BOSTON – The managing director of the International Monetary Fund backed out of giving this year's commencement address at Smith College in the wake of protests from faculty and students, the school announced Monday.
Christine Lagarde, who has headed the IMF since 2011, told the women's college over the weekend that it was clear her presence on the Northampton campus was not welcomed. Many of those who opposed Lagarde said they were attacking the IMF for being "a corrupt system" that fuels the oppression and abuse of woman worldwide. A spokeswoman from the IMF declined to comment on those allegations.
"I respect their views and 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," Lagarde wrote to Smith.
Almost 500 signatures including from faculty, students and alumni were collected in an online petition in opposition to Lagarde.
Veronica Hernandez, who graduated last year, said in an interview that it would send the wrong message to students if Lagarde spoke at graduation.
"She is the head of an organization that has caused so much suffering to women around the world," Hernandez said. "If she speaks it is telling students that no matter the consequences or who you exploit to get there, if you are a powerful woman that is all that matters."
Smith President Kathleen McCartney said in a statement sent to the school community that she is standing by inviting Lagarde to be the 2014 speaker and receive an honorary degree.
"Those who objected will be satisfied that their activism has had a desired effect. But at what cost to Smith College?" McCartney said.
Lagarde gave the commencement address at the Harvard University's Kennedy School in 2012 and there was no opposition to her appearance, according to the IMF spokeswoman.
Not all students were happy with Lagarde's decision.
"I am so disappointed at Smith College right now. So disappointed. This woman inherited the problems of theIMF and was bullied by Smith College students because of their lack of understanding," senior Cassandra Brazile wrote on a Facebook page hosted by the college. "Because we do not agree with someone, does it mean that we cannot listen to them?" She could not be reached for further comment.
Ruth Simmons, the former president of Smith and Brown universities, will step in to give the commencement address on May 18. She is the first African-American woman to head an Ivy League institution.