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Alice Walker reinvited to speak at U of Michigan, which regrets her dis-invitation

Israel/Palestine
on 38 Comments

Yesterday we reported Alice Walker’s statement that the University of Michigan disinvited her from a speaking gig because of pressure from pro-Israel donors. This morning Gloria Thomas, director of the Center for the Education of Women at the University of Michigan, thanked me and others who had called her to express our concern and directed us to the following statement saying that Walker has been reinvited to speak. 

“Provost Reiterates University’s Commitment to Free Speech.”

Provost Martha Pollack addressed University faculty regarding CEW’s 50th Anniversary speaker invitation through the following letter: 

Dear faculty colleagues,

You may have read questions related to the Center for the Education of Women’s invitation to and subsequent dis-invitation of Alice Walker as a speaker for their 50th anniversary celebration.

I am writing to reiterate the university’s firm commitment to free speech and to the expression of diverse viewpoints. The University of Michigan has a long history of hosting speakers who bring a wide variety of perspectives, and events that focus on challenging topics. Challenging and difficult conversations are the core of our academic mission and spur both individual and community growth. Indeed, we strongly believe that the best response to challenging discourse is more discourse.

At the same time, we respect the right of individual academic units to make decisions about whom they invite to campus, consistent with university principles and values. The Center for the Education of Women has apologized for the way the interaction with Ms. Walker was handled and has made clear to me that their decision was not driven by the content of speech. Their decision to withdraw the invitation was based solely on the celebratory nature they hoped to achieve at their anniversary event.

Consistent with the university’s commitment to free speech, I am pleased to report that the CEW and the Department of Afroamerican and African Studies are joining together to extend an invitation to Ms. Walker to speak in a public forum on campus.

I invite you to contact me if you wish to discuss further.

Sincerely,

Martha E. Pollack
Provost and Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs

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38 Responses

  1. seanmcbride
    seanmcbride
    August 17, 2013, 10:35 am

    All of these efforts by the Israel lobby to censor their political opponents are going to backfire and severely damage the reputation of Israel and Zionism.

    Political movements that are confident of their legitimacy are not afraid of free speech and open debate — they welcome it.

    • Krauss
      Krauss
      August 18, 2013, 12:06 am

      Right, but how many are even aware of the pressure of pro-Israel donors?
      Even talking about it elicits a mad attack along the lines that you’re a self-hating Jew/anti-Semite. So most journalists just avoid the topic.
      Either don’t report about it or just plainly state that she had been disinvited due to “pressure” – unknown what or for whatever reason. This is how you keep a people in the dark.

    • Ellen
      Ellen
      August 18, 2013, 4:36 am

      To your point and as Walker so wisely and graciously expressed:

      “If you should read this, people of the invitation, know I send you my love, and my understanding, without reservation. I thought you were brave to invite me, and I cherish you for that. Whatever the truth is, that is what will always be. That is why Gandhi said Truth is God. It cannot be hidden forever, nor can it be kept from even the smallest child, indefinitely.”

      http://alicewalkersgarden.com/2013/08/why-women-need-their-own-money/

  2. ritzl
    ritzl
    August 17, 2013, 10:37 am

    “…in a public forum on campus.”

    Just not to the original public forum?

    Thanks for the followup. Not sure this consolation invite addresses either the issue or the significance of her dis-invitation to the original event though.

    • ritzl
      ritzl
      August 17, 2013, 11:00 am

      OK. Moderation point made and taken. Keep up the good work. Seriously. Cheers.

  3. annie
    annie
    August 17, 2013, 10:40 am

    Consistent with the university’s commitment to free speech, I am pleased to report that the CEW and the Department of Afroamerican and African Studies are joining together to extend an invitation to Ms. Walker to speak in a public forum on campus.

    iow, she’s still disinvited as the 50th Anniversary speaker, but she will be speaking on campus in another public forum, sometime. hmm.

    • Ellen
      Ellen
      August 17, 2013, 11:07 am

      “Their decision to withdraw the invitation was based solely on the celebratory nature they hoped to achieve at their anniversary event.”

      Am I reading this correctly? That they first invited her and then decided that oppps!, Walker does not hold a celebratory stature worthy of the event, so then withdrew their invitation? Does anyone really believe that? You must be joking! That Walker is not great enough for the U. Mich CEW and their anniversary?

      Alice Walker spoke at my university and met with young (aspiring) writers many years ago. I remember as if it was yesterday how she chatted with us late into the evening. How she took us all seriously. She was (is) a giant in the thinking and changes of modern higher education for women.

      No matter what one might think of her personal politics, The University of Michigan? Center for Education of Women should be thrilled to have Walker!

      But instead they have shamefully made themselves look like ignorant, thoughtless fools.

      As an aside: Last week I visited the Max Liebermann Haus. This is how the harassment of Liebermann and his family started: Liebermann was very prominent in the arts establishment. First the invites were withdrawn, then the invitations stopped coming and then accusations and then the denunciations…..

      But it started with pressure on others to exclude him. This is the pattern.

    • W.Jones
      W.Jones
      August 17, 2013, 12:29 pm

      Good point.

  4. Stephen Shenfield
    Stephen Shenfield
    August 17, 2013, 10:50 am

    There is nothing in this report to back up the statement in the headline that the university “regrets” the disinvitation.

    • W.Jones
      W.Jones
      August 17, 2013, 12:41 pm

      Yes, they regret the way the disinvitation happened, not that they regret disinviting her. This means that they regret that they were open and honest about the real reason they disinvited her: her comments about Israeli treatment of the subject population.

      They would prefer that it be a fluke and occur as much pro-Israeli blacklisting does – as an outwardly random, “practical” decision. Weren’t Weiss, Kovel, and Ellis rejected from their workplaces in the U.S., with the official reason being something other than their political criticisms of another State?

    • John Douglas
      John Douglas
      August 17, 2013, 5:50 pm

      As a former provost and chief academic officer I could easily envision something like this happening for two reasons. First, the academic leaders in higher education today are rarely excellent scholars with firm commitments to the values that should drive education. It’s more like the high school principal who has “moved up” from assistant varsity coach. Second is that universities in both public and private education need their boosters and donors and will do nothing to rattle them. Why else would the athletic department tail so often wag the academic dog?

  5. piotr
    piotr
    August 17, 2013, 10:53 am

    Because different departments, centers etc. may invite and disinvite as they please, I think that the action of the provost of UM was a very gracious and openminded way to handle the situation. Nice contrast with certain universities on the Atlantic coast of Florida.

    • Ellen
      Ellen
      August 17, 2013, 11:12 am

      Pollack may not be in a position to have individual departments or centers invite or dis-invite anyone. And she may have tried to distance herself and the University from the shameful actions of the CEW.

      But that this has unfolded as it did, is revealing of something quite ugly in Academia Land. Where have we seen this before?

    • W.Jones
      W.Jones
      August 17, 2013, 12:29 pm

      Isn’t it very rare for a university to invite someone and then disinvite someone?

      • Ellen
        Ellen
        August 17, 2013, 1:33 pm

        W. Jones, it is unimaginable. An invitation to something like that is an honor. So the honor was given, then taken away. Who and what organizations do that?

        Can you imagine inviting someone to your anniversary party and then after the invitation is received and accepted, withdrawing your invite? You’d only do that if you were a bit insane, callous or both.

      • piotr
        piotr
        August 17, 2013, 2:42 pm

        Dis-invitation is better than dis-education (teaching something to young people and then trying to remove it from their brains).

        http://mondoweiss.net/2013/08/for-calling-israeli-speaker-a-war-criminal-boca-raton-school-forces-3-students-to-take-reeducation-program-from-zionist-org.html

        Disinvitation signals some struggle behind the scene. A provost is normally not in charge of things like that, she merely has the last word how much money each department gets etc., i.e. she is the most powerful person in the university.

      • Stephen Shenfield
        Stephen Shenfield
        August 18, 2013, 7:57 am

        Who gives and then takes away? “The Lord gives and the Lord takes away” (Job 1:21).

  6. MHughes976
    MHughes976
    August 17, 2013, 11:21 am

    Well, maybe the Provost is doing her best but I don’t think it’s entirely satisfactory. The freedom to invite speakers without central control is indeed part of free speech but dis-invitation raises special issues and perhaps, since it has clear potential for bringing the institution into disrepute, should have approval from higher up. I agree with all that’s implied by annie’s Hmm and I think that it’s quite disturbing that there is, as Stephen says, no statement of regret. One of our colleagues asked what ‘research’ had led to the dis-invitation and it now seems that Walker would have spoiled ‘the celebratory nature’ of the occasion, as if research – scientific and objective – had revealed that she’s an awful old misery. They’ve wrecked the celebration anyway.

  7. Les
    Les
    August 17, 2013, 11:41 am

    Notice the difference in the invites. The first, which was withdrawn, assumes that women as a group don’t want to hear about Israel’s apartheid. The second assumes, blacks, including women, are a lost cause in the eyes of Israel’s apartheid supporters.

  8. marc b.
    marc b.
    August 17, 2013, 12:10 pm

    I hope that she politely declines any invitation to speak at UMichigan. all her later appearance would do is validate that university’s ‘commitment’ to yada yada. f*cking hypocrites.

  9. W.Jones
    W.Jones
    August 17, 2013, 12:30 pm

    Their decision to withdraw the invitation was based solely on the celebratory nature they hoped to achieve at their anniversary event.

    This makes no sense! Alice Walker, whose famous book on Women I read in High School English class, would not be celebratory for a Women’s Center?

  10. W.Jones
    W.Jones
    August 17, 2013, 12:34 pm

    So this letter from Ms. Walker’s Agent was a 10 word typo???????????????????????

    This afternoon I was contacted by the University of Michigan instructing me to withdraw their invitation due to the removal of funding from the donors, because of their interpretation of Ms. Walker’s comments regarding Israel.

  11. Rusty Pipes
    Rusty Pipes
    August 17, 2013, 2:17 pm

    Anyone who had issued an issue to Walker in the first place would know that the author of “The Color Purple” and “Possessing the Secret of Joy” has a history of confronting controversial topics. But apparently, her words against violence, oppression and mutilation of Black women would be no impediment to speaking at a celebration. Her history of speaking out for civil rights in America and against Apartheid in South Africa would not be too much of a downer for a celebration. If human liberation is not part of the women’s center’s mission, you’ve got to wonder what they’re celebrating having done for the past 50 years.

    • Rusty Pipes
      Rusty Pipes
      August 17, 2013, 3:34 pm

      Make that: “issued an invitation.”

      • MHughes976
        MHughes976
        August 17, 2013, 3:42 pm

        They did indeed ‘issue her an issue’ and I hope she makes good use of it.

  12. joer
    joer
    August 17, 2013, 2:54 pm

    I think in one way this episode can be considered a victory for the Palestinian cause-it not only shines some public light on their plight-it also exposes the bullying and intimidating tactics used against anyone who speaks up. The disrespect shown to one of the most respected African American women authors will not be soon forgotten. She earned this respect through producing an incredible body of work and it cannot be erased because she refuses to close her eyes to the suffering of her fellow human beings.

  13. August 17, 2013, 3:31 pm

    oh really? in what century?

  14. RoHa
    RoHa
    August 17, 2013, 10:45 pm

    “If human liberation is not part of the women’s center’s mission, you’ve got to wonder what they’re celebrating having done for the past 50 years.”

    Human liberation is fine, but Palestinians don’t count as human, do they?

  15. Kathleen
    Kathleen
    August 18, 2013, 1:54 am

    great news

  16. iResistDe4iAm
    iResistDe4iAm
    August 18, 2013, 10:57 am

    Withdrawing an invitation to Alice Walker from an event celebrating the education/achievement of women, would be like withdrawing an invitation to Nelson Mandela from an event celebrating the liberation of indigenous peoples.

    Gloria Thomas and the academic units of the University of Michigan have learnt a valuable lesson …in future, they’ll remember to check with the donors BEFORE they issue invitations to any speakers.

    92nd Street Y learnt the same valuable lesson in April…
    http://www.rogerwaters.com/news040713.php

    • Pamela Olson
      Pamela Olson
      August 19, 2013, 7:17 am

      “Gloria Thomas and the academic units of the University of Michigan have learnt a valuable lesson …in future, they’ll remember to check with the donors BEFORE they issue invitations to any speakers.”

      And if they ever disinvite someone again because of this touchy issue, they won’t be stupid enough to tell them the real reason why.

  17. eGuard
    eGuard
    August 18, 2013, 11:01 am

    Basic question: 50 years of what will the Center for the Education of Women be celebrating?

    • annie
      annie
      August 18, 2013, 11:37 am

      not sure what they’re celebrating, but today they are educating women not to cross israel/zionism.

  18. saramus
    saramus
    August 18, 2013, 12:48 pm

    Sooo let me try to get this straight..
    Alice Walker’s agent gets the story from a source at U Mich: donors withdrawing funds because of “their interpretation” of her comments on Israel. U Mich can’t cover cost.
    Alice posts this on her blog and writes a gracious reply. Gloria Thomas posts an “apology” on the CEW site–Ms W is “not the optimum choice for the celebratory nature” of the event. $$ not an issue. Free speech not an issue.
    This is utterly unconvincing not to mention insulting beyond belief. Who, given her background and brilliant accomplishments, could be a more perfect, a more inspiring choice, given the alleged aims and values of the CEW? Not “celebratory” enough? Is Ms Walker perhaps incapable of being festive, a real downer to be around? I think not. Perhaps the praise of her late beloved teacher and friend Howard Zinn may be of help: beyond Spelman, Sarah Lawrence, literary career, he said, she has “never wavered a second from her powerful commitment to racial, economic, and world justice.” Aha. The world would include not only Montgomery but also Gaza. Oops. But this is was hardly a secret. Ms. Thomas may enlighten us some day. In the meantime, Martha Pollack, in the traditional Provost’s role of prevaricator-in-chief , backs and blames Ms Thomas, insists on the university’s commitment to freedom of speech, and in a further statement says she’s “pleased to report” that CEW and the Department of Afroamerican and African Studies plan to invite Ms Walker to speak in a public forum. Now it’s all over the web that Alice Walker has been “reinvited.” But this is not true. She has not been reinvited to participate in the the CEW anniversary celebration. An invitation to such a forum would certainly be appropriate in and of itself, but in the context of this shameful affair she has been not only insulted but ghettoized. A woman of color who denounces settler colonialism, illegal occupation, and crimes against humanity wherever they occur and whoever the perpetrators are, she is being “placed carefully”–as a good friend whose moral compass never wavers puts it,”in the African-American box before being allowed to open her mouth on campus.”

    • piotr
      piotr
      August 19, 2013, 8:45 pm

      I would re-iterate that it seems that Provost Pollack was a good guy here. Of course her role is that of an official who wields power but does not speak much. Her background is not in humanities so she was most probably far removed from the original invitation and dis-invitation.

      I also suspect that direct donor pressure was not an issue at CEW but that there was some scuffle between progressives and Zionists inside the Center.

      On the morose side, Zionists are vengeful lot and have their long proscription lists, watching balefully all possible academic functions, appointments and even exhibition is small museums.

      On the positive side, following their whims contradicts positive “brand name” that an institution like University of Michigan strives to maintain.

      On tactical side, I wonder what really happen. I suspect that good women in charge of the celebration at CEW did the usual thing, made a short list of candidates for speakers and contacted them in order. Then one of numerous Zionists watchers of the academia got the wind of the invitation and “explained” a committee member how dangerous and sinister Ms. Walker is. And among “Oh my goodness!” and “Who knew?”, the organizing committee decided to dis-invite.

      So there is a huge need to educate people on the issues and unfortunately, the side with more money and manpower has an advantage. But the truth and common sense also confer an advantage. A luta continua.

  19. Pamela Olson
    Pamela Olson
    August 19, 2013, 7:21 am

    “Consistent with the university’s commitment to free speech, I am pleased to report that the CEW and the Department of Afroamerican and African Studies are joining together to extend an invitation to Ms. Walker to speak in a public forum on campus.”

    This seems like a potential muddle-mouthed nothing to me. A minor backtrack to contain a potential furor, with no real change in policy or attitude. For all we know, she’ll be invited to speak at a department coffee break. Time will tell.

  20. MHughes976
    MHughes976
    August 19, 2013, 9:11 am

    I do hope she refuses all these insulting consolation prizes if they are ever offered.

  21. gingershot
    gingershot
    August 19, 2013, 9:13 pm

    MJ Rosenberg is crediting Phil Weiss with getting Alice Walker reinvited!

    ‘Phil Weiss Gets Alice Walker Re-Invited To University of Michigan

    Phil Weiss has is not not just the most significant reporter on what the lobby is doing, he also makes things happen. Bravo.’

    http://mjayrosenberg.com/

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