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

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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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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.

“…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.

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.

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

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.