Such reversals have become more common in recent years, said Greg Lukianoff, president of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, referring to this time of year as "disinvitation season." What has changed is not so much the protests themselves, but the willingness of colleges and speakers to give in, adding that many apparently voluntary withdrawals are made at the college's urging.
For years, critics of the I.M.F. have charged that in providing economic aid to poor nations, it has imposed conditions that favor Western nations and businesses, and propped up oppressive governments.
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"The I.M.F. has been a primary culprit in the failed developmental policies implanted in some of the world's poorest countries," said an online petition against Ms. Lagarde's appearance at Smith, a women's college. "This has led directly to the strengthening of imperialist and patriarchal systems that oppress and abuse women worldwide."
In a statement posted online, Kathleen McCartney, the president of Smith, said Ms. Lagarde had told her over the weekend that she would bow out, so that protests would not detract from the celebration. Ruth J. Simmons, a former president of both Smith and Brown University, has agreed to take Ms. Lagarde's place.
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Ms. McCartney, who is in her first year as Smith's president, wrote that she and many others had been looking forward to hearing Ms. Lagarde, adding that the protesters had gotten what they wanted, "but at what cost to Smith College?"