I always say, Follow the money, and Alice Walker agrees. She says she was disinvited from giving a speech at the University of Michigan’s Center for the Education of Women on its 50th anniversary because of the center’s funding concerns over her views on Israel.
In a posting on her blog, titled “In Case You’ve Ever Wondered How It’s Done: Censorship by Purse String,” Walker quoted an email from an “agent,” evidently an intermediary between herself and the university, informing her that the women’s center rescinded the invitation out of donor concerns:
I’m saddened to write this because I’m a proponent of free speech and have been brought up to allow everyone to have their say. But I also realize that there are other considerations that institutions are faced with. 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. They are not willing to fund this program and the university/Women’s center do not have the resources to finance this on their own. They are deeply regretful but I wanted to let you know immediately either way. I hope you can appreciate the fact that I’m uncomfortable even having to send this email in the first place. Hopefully we can work together again down the road. Thanks for understanding. I wish things had turned out differently.
The Daily News and the Anti-Defamation League had smeared Walker as an anti-Semite because her last book, The Cushion in the Road, contained extensive criticisms of Israel.
Gloria Thomas, the director of the women’s center at Michigan, promptly posted an explanation denying that money had anything to do with it. “Questions Regarding Our Speaker Invitation to Alice Walker”:
I want to apologize for how we handled our invitation to author Alice Walker to speak at the Center for the Education of Women.
Upon further research, I decided to withdraw our invitation because I did not think Ms. Walker would be the optimum choice for the celebratory nature of our 50th anniversary event.
Donors had no bearing on this decision. Our 50th anniversary funding is completely assured. All donations, for this and other events, are accepted with no provisos or prohibitions regarding free speech.
As we move forward, I do hope that we will be able to co-sponsor a lecture by Ms. Walker, where the forum would be focused on a more substantial discussion of human rights issues.
Walker wrote at her site in a forgiving and feminist manner about donor issues:
I so appreciate the tone of the agent’s letter, alerting my assistant and me to this situation. It isn’t hard to imagine how he feels, having been so enthusiastic about getting me to come to help the women celebrate a major milestone in their many struggles for education and equality. But there is a bright side: Such behavior, as evidenced by the donors, teaches us our weakness, which should eventually (and soon) show us our strength: women must be in control of our own finances. Not just in the family, but in the schools, work force, and everywhere else. Until we control this part of our lives, our very choices, in any and every area, can be denied us….
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. It cannot be hidden forever, nor can it be kept from even the smallest child, indefinitely.