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Smith President Considering A Task Force To Review Commencement Speakers

Christine LaGarde, the managing director of the International Monetary Fund. (Cliff Owen/AP)

Christine Lagarde, the managing director of the International Monetary Fund, withdrew from speaking at the Smith College commencement amid controversy over her selection. (Cliff Owen/AP)

BOSTON — The president of Smith College is considering appointing a task force to review speakers chosen to address graduates at the school’s commencement ceremony.

The move comes after Christine Lagarde, the managing director of the International Monetary Fund, withdrew from the school’s commencement amid controversy over her selection.

An online petition with hundreds of signatures said Lagarde represents a “corrupt system” that has “led directly to the strengthening of imperialist and patriarchal systems that oppress and abuse women worldwide.”

Lagarde, the first woman to hold the top position at the IMF, said she did not want her presence to distract from a joyous occasion.

In response, more than 100 Smith faculty members released a statement Thursday saying they were disappointed that Lagarde would not speak and endorsed Smith College President Kathleen McCartney’s letter to the Smith community, which noted that “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.”

McCartney told WBUR she’s worried there’s a narrowing of what is considered an acceptable voice on college campuses.

“We’re probably at a tipping point,” McCartney said, “and I think colleges and universities will be forced to have conversations about what is the role of a commencement speaker? Who has voice to speak on campus and in what forums?”

Smith is not alone in dealing with controversy around its speaker choice.

Condoleezza Rice withdrew from speaking at Rutgers University following protests by some faculty and students. And Brandeis University withdrew its offer of an honorary degree to Ayaan Hirsi Ali, who the New York Times described as a “campaigner for women’s rights and a fierce critic of Islam.”

Listen to WBUR reporter Deborah Becker’s complete interview with Smith College President Kathleen McCartney at the top of this page.

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