After rescinding invitation, University of Michigan offers Alice Walker new speaking engagement
After rescinding Alice Walker's original speaking invitation, the University of Michigan has once again invited the Pulitzer Prize winning author of The Color Purple to give a talk in Ann Arbor — but this time at a new event.
Her talk, however, will not be at the CEW's 2014 50th anniversary celebration. Walker has already been uninvited for that event.
Walker had agreed to speak at the CEW's celebration before the center rescinded the invitation. It's relatively unusual in academia for a college to invite a renowned author to speak and then subsequently disinvite him or her, and the perceived snub caught a fair amount of media attention.
On her blog, Walker said her agent was told the rescinded invitation was due to Walker's outspoken criticism of Israel.
However, CEW director Gloria D.Thomas denied that donors had any bearing on the decision. Instead, she said, Thomas decided that Walker was not the right choice as keynote speaker for the "celebratory nature" of the center's anniversary.
In a memo sent to faculty on Friday, U-M Provost Martha Pollack reiterated "the university's firm commitment to free speech," saying the university "has a long history of hosting speakers who bring a wide variety of perspectives, and events that focus on challenging topics."
She added: "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."