International Monetary Fund managing director Christine Lagarde withdrew as Smith College's commencement speaker, the school said Monday, following a petition by students angry about her upcoming appearance.
The college in Northampton, Mass., announced the withdrawal after hundreds of students signed the petition. Administrators said Lagarde didn't want to be a distraction.
“In the last few days, it has become evident that a number of students and faculty members would not welcome me as a commencement speaker," Lagarde wrote in a letter to Smith President Kathleen McCartney. "I respect their views, and I 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.”
In the petition, students at the women's college said they took issue with her role at the IMF.
"The IMF has been a primary culprit in the failed developmental policies implanted in some of the world’s poorest countries," the petition said. "This has led directly to the strengthening of imperialist and patriarchal systems that oppress and abuse women worldwide."
Lagarde is the first woman to serve as the head of the IMF, and many were shocked by the news.
In a statement, McCartney said she stands by the school's decision to invite Lagarde. "Those who objected will be satisfied that their activism has had a desired effect. But at what cost to Smith College? This is a question I hope we will ponder as a community in the months ahead," she wrote.
Ruth J. Simmons, Smith’s ninth president and the 18th president of Brown University, will give the commencement speech instead of Lagarde.