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IMF chief latest to withdraw as graduation speaker

A week before she was to speak at the Smith College commencement, Christine Lagarde, chief of the International Monetary Fund, has withdrawn from the event, citing protests against her and the fund, the college said Monday.

Her withdrawal comes after Condoleezza Rice, the former secretary of state, withdrew from speaking at the Rutgers University commencement in the face of protests against her role in Bush administration foreign policy, and weeks after Brandeis University rescinded its invitation to the rights advocate Ayaan Hirsi Ali to receive an honorary degree at its commencement, after protests over her anti-Islam statements.

Christine Lagarde
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Christine Lagarde

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?"

"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," Ms. McCartney wrote. "Such a test would preclude virtually anyone in public office or position of influence. Moreover, such a test would seem anathema to our core values of free thought and diversity of opinion."

Last year, in the face of protests, Robert Zoellick, a former World Bank president, Goldman Sachs executive and Bush administration official, withdrew from the Swarthmore College commencement, and Ben Carson, a neurosurgeon and pundit who has spoken against gay marriage and evolution, pulled out of the Johns Hopkins University commencement.

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There have been several other cases of rescinded invitations or speaker withdrawals involving campus events less august than graduation, and even more cases of speeches going ahead despite protests.

Most of the incidents have involved complaints from the left, usually aimed at conservative figures, but not all. Last year, Providence College, a Catholic school, withdrew a speaking invitation to John Corvino, a writer and advocate of gay rights.

—By Richard Pérez-Peña of The New York Times

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