Speech and Censorship on Campus

May 30, 2014

As an alumna of Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts, one of the last all-women institutions of higher education, I decided to put aside the other topics about which I’d like to write to comment on the “disinvitation” of Christine Lagarde as this year’s commencement speaker at Smith.  Madame Lagarde is the head of the International Monetary Fund (the “IMF”), a woman with a lengthy list of barrier-breaking accomplishments in both the public and private sectors.  Growing out of the Bretton Woods Conference convened in 1944 to determine how to help reconstruct the global economy after the devastation of World War II and formally established in 1945, the IMF has as its stated mission “stability in the international system.” Most of the members of the United Nations are members of the IMF.

The IMF has been criticized by many on the left for alleged mistreatment of poorer countries.  In the words of the petition circulated online against Madame Lagarde, it “has been a primary culprit in the failed developmental policies implanted in some of the world’s poorest countries” which “has led directly to the strengthening of imperialist and patriarchal systems that oppress and abuse women worldwide.”  Where have we heard these words before?  They are the rallying cry of left of center groups around the world and here at home.

Without intending to be an apologist for all aspects of the IMF’s operations, I note that what the IMF mostly does is lend money - supplied primarily by wealthier nations - to countries that are unable to meet their international payment obligations.  The funds are lent in return for implementation of policies by the borrower nation designed to enhance the likelihood of repayment, including balanced budgets, currency devaluation, privatization of state-owned enterprises, trade liberalization, and anti-corruption efforts, which the IMF attempts to tailor to the circumstances of the borrower country.  More than 400 students (constituting roughly 15% of the student body at Smith) and some faculty members (I haven’t seen a count of how many) signed the petition.  Because of the petition, Madame Lagarde withdrew as Smith College commencement speaker.

Smith has not been alone this commencement season in having prominent people withdraw or be forced out as commencement speakers by student and faculty protests.  Strikingly, three of them are women, including two - Condoleezza Rice (Rutgers University) and Ayaan Hirsi Ali (Brandeis University) - who have a right of center perspective and who happen to be black.  Former University of California at Berkeley (“UCB”) Chancellor Robert Birgeneau withdrew from speaking at Haverford College when he was accused of mishandling Occupy Wall Street protesters on the UCB campus.

Unfortunately, the actions of what appear to be a significant minority of students and faculty on these campuses deprive themselves and other members of the academic community from hearing diverse points of view, ones with which they may not agree but from which they might learn.  That some faculty members are complicit in these “disinvitations” is particularly disturbing.  Institutions of higher education should be about the open interchange of ideas, diversity of thought and opinion.  I shudder to think what the faculty members who sign on to these protests actually teach in their classroom: apparently rejection of points of view other than their own.

Over the last few days I’ve mused about whether the speakers who withdrew before they were told by the college administrators not to come did the right thing.  Shouldn’t they have stood up for their own right to speak and for the right of those students and faculty who were not part of the protests to hear them?  I wish they had, as messy as the reaction on campus might have been.  Their failure to appear only emboldens those with closed minds to continue to try to monopolize the forum of ideas.

Frieda Wallison is Chair of the Pitkin County Republicans.

Frieda Wallison
Credit Frieda Wallison

A graduate of Smith College and Harvard Law School, she practiced law for more than 30 years in New York City and Washington, D.C. as a partner in major law firms, before retiring for the good life in the Roaring Fork Valley. Beyond serving as Chair of the Pitkin County Republicans, Wallison is Republican Chair of the Third Congressional District in Colorado and a member of the Colorado Republican Party Executive Committee. She is also the President of the Snowmass/Capitol Creek Caucus and a member of Aspen Rotary.  In her spare time, Wallison is a real estate developer in the mid-valley.  She is married to Peter Wallison, the Arthur F. Burns Fellow in Financial Policy Studies at the American Enterprise Institute, and they are parents of three and grandparents of five.

You can contact her at fkwallison@me.com

Her personal Facebook page address is facebook.com/frieda.wallison

You can find out more about the Pitkin County Republicans: http://pitkinpolitics.org/