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Posted on Tue, Aug 20, 2013 : 5:39 p.m.

Faculty express concern over U-M's reputation after school rescinds Alice Walker's speaking invitation

By Kellie Woodhouse


Alice Walker was uninvited from speaking at a University of Michigan event and faculty are concerned about the school's reputation.

AP Photo

University of Michigan faculty governance unanimously passed a resolution expressing concern over how the school uninvited Alice Walker from speaking at its Center for the Education of Women's 50th anniversary celebration.

Walker, the Pulitzer Prize winning author who penned "The Color Purple," was originally asked to speak at the event, but the CEW later rescinded that invitation.

During a meeting Monday, the Faculty Senate Advisory Committee on University Affairs unanimously approved the following statement:

"SACUA expresses concern about the potential damage done to the reputation of the University of Michigan and its faculty by the appearance of insensitivity to principles of academic freedom stemming from the disinvitation of Alice Walker as speaker for the CEW."

Karen Staller, a U-M social work professor who chairs the committee, declined to elaborate on the resolution via email.

The exact reason for Walker's dis-invitation is unclear.

Walker said U-M told her agent that she was uninvited because a donor objected to the author's views on the Israel-Palestine conflict. However, the university provost and the center director said Walker's views had no bearing on her invitation. Instead, CEW director Gloria Thomas decided Walker was not the best speaker to convey the "celebratory nature" of the event.

After U-M received national attention for uninviting Walker, the school extended another speaking invitation to the author, this time for a different event. On Aug. 19 Walker posted the following on her blog:

"In times of war, Truth, it is said, is the first casualty. But that won’t remain a truism if we sincerely seek to know what the truth of a situation actually is. It has been interesting to see the various spins put on my book... as well as that surrounding the withdrawal of an invitation to speak at a school in Michigan. Imagine my surprise this morning when I opened my computer news to find I’ve been re-invited. Nobody alerted me to this. Right beside this news (to me) is a photo of myself in which I seem to be gloating over a triumph."

Walker did not elaborate on whether she would be willing to speak at U-M for a different event.

A representative of the CEW did not return requests for comment.

Kellie Woodhouse covers higher education for Reach her at or 734-623-4602 and follow her on twitter.



Tue, Aug 27, 2013 : 4:02 a.m.

Unfortunate decision in my opinion. If I were her, I wouldn't accept the second invitation.


Thu, Aug 22, 2013 : 12:44 p.m.

It was a mistake when UM sided with donors over dialogue. But admittedly catering to donors is also the reason that only six schools have a larger endowment than UM as well.

Seasoned Cit

Thu, Aug 22, 2013 : 3:46 a.m.

Is CEW considered an Academic Unit ? To Whom to they answer? Could be that since they don't have lots of General Fund support, donor support means more than in "academic " units. Would this have gotten as much attention if the Trotter House had invited Mr. Zimmerman to speak and then changed their mind ?

John Floyd

Thu, Aug 22, 2013 : 5:38 a.m.

If Mr. Zimmerman were uninvited at the behest of a donor, it should get the same attention as Ms. Walker's case.

Barbara Clarke

Wed, Aug 21, 2013 : 11:32 p.m.

One wonders what on earth the folks at CEW were thinking? Or were they?


Wed, Aug 21, 2013 : 11:22 p.m.

"In times of war, Truth, it is said, is the first casualty. But that won't remain a truism if we sincerely seek to know what the truth of a situation actually is. " - Alice Walker quoted above United States of America 2013 the "TRUTH" is a dirty word and you may be called a "Truther".. Maybe Bernardine Dohrn and her husband Bill Atres could do a return engagement/ fill in. Very interesting folks... Murdered innocent police officers with bombs, ghost wrote President Davis' fake book about his faked life... Sitting Fac. at Big Ten School.... Should boost UofM's rep... again.

Patrick Maurer

Wed, Aug 21, 2013 : 10:58 p.m.

It's reputation as a hot bed of liberal bias? I don't think anyone has t worry about it's liberal slant.

Arno B

Wed, Aug 21, 2013 : 6:49 p.m.

A speaker for the Center for the Education of Women? Wow! When might we be hearing about a speaker for the Center for the Education of Men??

Cendra Lynn

Wed, Aug 21, 2013 : 5:30 p.m.

Kiddie porn at the Children's Hospital, rapes and murders on Campus.... The UM doesn't take care of it's own turf. Why would it be even civil to an outsider?


Thu, Aug 22, 2013 : 1:18 a.m.

@dennis, a perusal of past commentary of the respondent finds an exclusively defensive and consistant "UM does no wrong" theme. Must have been a special course I missed at the U in '85.


Wed, Aug 21, 2013 : 8:09 p.m.

How often did happen at Penn State? How often does it have to happen? Is there a statistical threshold below which covering up pedophilia porn by a pediatrician while in a publicly owned hospital at a public university is considered to be acceptable? 1%? 0.5%? I read the original author's statement as an indictment against the executive administration of the UM and its Regents. I don't see read it to extend to every student, every employee. Perhaps you do but the facts of that incident nor of this kind of embarrassment don't question the judgment of a janitor, residential adviser, or lecturer. It calls into question the judgment of management and directorship. Quite simply, the UM has become obsessed with the superficial to the point it is engaging in buffoonery at best as in this case or dangerously bad judgment as in the case of the pedophile who was allowed to continue as a resident for months until the Penn State issue came to fore. I don't think there's a statistic for that.


Wed, Aug 21, 2013 : 7:03 p.m.

"Kiddie porn at the Children's Hospital, rapes and murders on Campus.... The UM doesn't take care of it's own turf. Why would it be even civil to an outsider?" For the statistically illiterate, the above is quite facile stuff. Ask yourself the question: 1) how often does this stuff happen in a population the size of Ann Arbor, or the size of UM; 2) how often does it happen in the general population; 3) what is the difference? Yes, the porn and other crimes were despicable acts, but using those crimes in a statistically uninformative way simply expresses the author's umbrage and says nothing about how the university operates or how the 10s of thousands of employees and students seek every day to add to humanity's well being. What about the kids who are overseas literally building bridges to help locals cross dangerous rivers (a recent student profile); what about the alums who are designing water delivery systems for impoverished villages (a story from the business school no less...maybe not all of the folks who go into business are self-involved)? The "reasoning" used by the original author is lazy, thoughtless, and fundamentally illogical. The author is painting the entire population with one brush and imputing to the institution an ethos not shared by the overwhelming majority of its constituents.

AA Neighbor

Wed, Aug 21, 2013 : 3:54 p.m.

Good to know there's still a "free" faculty at UM. I'm sure it's difficult to make their voices heard above the philistine din of million-dollar-plus gym teachers and casino-promoting regents.

Hugh Giariola

Wed, Aug 21, 2013 : 2:22 p.m.

She'll get over it, you should too.


Wed, Aug 21, 2013 : 2:03 p.m.

Alice Walker, is an outstanding author, but she is an anti-Semitic, also. Yes, I'm for free speech but not when it may create a hostile environment.


Wed, Aug 21, 2013 : 7:59 p.m.

It can't create a hostile environment as that term is used in law because no one is forced to attend. For there to be hostility the attendees have to bring their hostilities too. Listen, disagree, debate, challenge. But, don't suppress on the basis of some hypothetical hostile environment.

Cendra Lynn

Wed, Aug 21, 2013 : 5:28 p.m.

Hostility therefore must be agreement with one side of an issue. So if I think the Palestinians have been done wrong, that means I am anti-Semitic? So I'm only entitled to free speech when talking about other topics?? Sure. That makes sense....

Nick Danger

Wed, Aug 21, 2013 : 12:17 p.m.

Yhe U is first a political organization and secondly the an educational institution.Money talks and has more influence the the University cares to admit.Shame on you


Wed, Aug 21, 2013 : 12:16 p.m.

There have been several recent incidents that have harmed U-M. Unfotunately, many people view U-M as an extremist liberal institution, not a world-renowned public university.


Wed, Aug 21, 2013 : 1:06 p.m.

UofM IS an extremist liberal institution, for which it IS extremely proud and does not consider that harmful to it's reputation. I wish it was ONLY known as a great public university. Unfortunately, impossible wish.


Wed, Aug 21, 2013 : 11:25 a.m.

This is how political correctness works. What is politically palatable or correct is a subjective definition and driven by factors that have little or nothing to do with critical assessment. Whether it is Alice Walker or Ann Coulter, censorship prevents ideas from being expressed, challenged, debated and assessed. It has been said that sunlight is the best disinfectant of all when it comes to speech. In this instance, despite protestations, it seems Ms. Walker was "disinvited" because some donor noses got bent out of shape. That says that expression and thought at the U-M can be bought by endowments and donations. That's frightening indeed. There aren't enough benefactors in the world to decide what should be heard, taught or discussed at a university--especially a public one. The Regents need to take their heads out of their collective behinds and start reassessing their administrators, deans, directors and executives. All of them are highly paid and accrue large annual raises yet we've seen embarrassment after embarrassment. Nothing could be more shameful than the UMHS pedophile incident but this certainly doesn't do anything for the U-M. Frankly, if I'm a donor I'd cease (in fact, I was a small annual donor and I did cease and that should scare the UM even more).


Wed, Aug 21, 2013 : 7:56 p.m.

Maybe not, but I seem to count 3-4 times each year when I get another call asking me for more money. It's when the small donors stop donating that a college or university really does need to worry.

AA Neighbor

Wed, Aug 21, 2013 : 3:56 p.m.

Sorry to disillusion you, but the opinions of small annual donors don't count.


Wed, Aug 21, 2013 : 11:01 a.m.

In times of Political Correctness, it is said, the first casualties are: Reputation, Truth, and Factual Reasoning. Perhaps the alleged donor who allegedly advocated for cancellation of Ms. Walker's invitation simply realized that she was not the appropriate speaker for this particular event. Like anyone realizing you don't invite Stephen King to speak at an event honoring authors of children's books. Perhaps that wasn't the case but we'll now never know because of the faux "furor" over U of M's alleged mistake. It's more fun to make up the definition of "correctness" and then gloat over the error that may never have existed. Freedom of speech is not the freedom for anyone to indulge their own political prejudices, either. Ms. Walker is a human being and therefore she can mistakenly express her views on other countries. As for Ms. Walker's fabled novel: it's a work of fiction written 31 years ago and its setting is 50 years before that. As a morality play: it's clear that most people agree with the idea that no racial group should be forced by the larger society into poverty and ignorance. But this fictional work also creates other problems with its frankness, as illustrated by this: "The novel has been the frequent target of censors and appears on the American Library Association list of the 100 Most Frequently Challenged Books of 2000-2009 at number seventeen because of the sometimes explicit content, particularly in terms of violence." And finally: "Walker did not elaborate on whether she would be willing to speak at U-M for a different event." The ball is now in Ms. Walker's court - let her decision speak for itself and lets get back to some semblance of sanity. The on-going fascination with scandals is the really disgusting part of this whole affair.

John Floyd

Thu, Aug 22, 2013 : 5:31 a.m.

Again, Ms. Walker is not really the issue, nor is the U's authority to invite whom ever it wants to, or not invite whoever it wants to. The issue is that some donor said "Jump", and the University replied, "How high?" This is not how public universities should work.


Wed, Aug 21, 2013 : 12:13 p.m.

Stephen King speaking at an event honoring authors of children's books would be awesome.


Wed, Aug 21, 2013 : 11 a.m.

It is clear from all the buzz and spin, Alice Walker is a celebrity, appropriate for a "celebrity event." The original "reason" for the dis-invitation was donor objection, about Israel and Palestine. This effort to censor critical views on Israel, and critical viewers, has been the policy of Zionist organizations and supporters for many years, brought to new height with the advance of the civil society "Boycott, Sanctions and Divestment" campaign. The University said it wasn't so. So, what is really so? Will Ann Arbor.Com, or the American Civil Liberties Union, or some individual who feels abused by this action, PLEASE use the Freedom of Information Act, FOIA, to request copies of all e-mail, notes, phone logs and other communications relating to this invitation, dis-invitation and internal communications among University units? Has Ann Arbor dot Com done this? Will it? Who will? Let the truth be known. The Zionist apparatus should not be wrongly imputed to be involved, if it was not. And if the documents and notes show, as the representative of Alice Walker alleges, that donor influence was involved, the public should know, and the University properly castigated.


Wed, Aug 21, 2013 : 5:12 p.m.

@robertalanhaber: Do you find this note from Walker's blog enough to show you that the "zionist apparatus" got her disinvited? (from the brokering agent) "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."


Wed, Aug 21, 2013 : 3:37 p.m.

Drop this insanity!! Get over it. She was invited to speak at a more appropriate time and event. Your insistence on continuing this conversation only adds to the disgusting divisions you continually try to create.


Wed, Aug 21, 2013 : 12:12 p.m.

So the ACLU should be involved because Alice Walker was snubbed? It was a bad decision, handled badly, and I hope UM learns from the mistakes. File your own FOIA. Don't you know and the ACLU are part of the "Zionist apparatus"? Go forward and protect us proud leader.


Wed, Aug 21, 2013 : 9:16 a.m.

Who cares what the UofM faculty thinks. There are much more important issues in our country and the world that need attention. Go figure!


Wed, Aug 21, 2013 : 3:34 a.m.

Strictly speaking from an academic point of view, this Pulitzer Prize winning author had exposed her personal views which are unsound and shows a lack of depth in her educational experience. The statement that she has shared in this story is a good example of using words and terms without attaching a specific meaning. She is putting a spin on her own story without telling the truth. Her agent had shared some information with her about some concern that was expressed about her views on Israeli-Palestine conflict and she could have used this opportunity to clarify her position. If she thinks she has academic freedom to degrade human beings because of their religious belief, I would assure her that I have no sympathy or appreciation for what she stands for.

John Floyd

Thu, Aug 22, 2013 : 5:26 a.m.

It might have been reasonable for C EW to not invite Ms. Walker in the first place, if CEW staff truly believed that her writing "degrade[s] human beings". It seems odd (at least!) that CEW was unaware of Ms. Walker's writing before issuing the invitation, and then suddenly discovered them on their own, after the invitation was sent. The suggestion that rather, withdrawing her invitation was in response to the complaint of one or more large donors, seems more plausible on its face; the suggestion that CEW caved to a donor who does not like what one or another speaker has to say, is unsettling.


Wed, Aug 21, 2013 : 2:47 p.m.

I thank Jake C for sharing the thoughts expressed by Ms. Walker. Russell stated that a proposition is a picture of the facts that it asserts and must have in a sense the same structure. He stressed the importance of similarity of structure as a criterion in inferring causal relationships. Russell analyzed that language must be used to state its minimum requirements; and avoid the use of descriptive phrases which may postulate the existence of objects. When I conduct a language analysis of the sentences that she shared, it is clear that she is not communicating the truth and she has no concern for knowing the reality. If she has declared a state of war, I must clearly know the entity that she is fighting. If she has really used meditation, it would cause stillness in her mind, suppress the disturbing thoughts that she is experiencing and uplift her from the war that she has initiated.

Albert Howard

Wed, Aug 21, 2013 : 8:37 a.m.

@ BhavanaJagat I agree

Jake C

Wed, Aug 21, 2013 : 6:04 a.m.

"The statement that she has shared in this story is a good example of using words and terms without attaching a specific meaning" Just because you don't understand the meaning attached to her words, doesn't mean no meaning was attached. Maybe you should read several of the latest posts on Walker's blogs, which do a better job of expounding on her beliefs than these brief news snippets: "In times of war, Truth, it is said, is the first casualty. But that won't remain a truism if we sincerely seek to know what the truth of a situation actually is. It has been interesting to see the various spins put on my book, which is essentially about the value of meditation [..] as well as that surrounding the withdrawal of an invitation to speak at a school in Michigan. Imagine my surprise this morning when I opened my computer news to find I've been re-invited. Nobody alerted me to this. Right beside this news (to me) is a photo of myself in which I seem to be gloating over a triumph.So many twists, turns, and falsehoods. What to do? Meditation seems the best answer, along with yoga stretching. Also good food and plenty of rest. It is also calming to recall the title of the companion book of poems that was published along with the now controversial and largely misjudged book of essays. We are awakening to how the world works, how we are seen as objects to be manipulated by people who care little about the good of the whole if it interferes with their own personal desire for domination. We are coming into a greater awareness of the astonishing beauty and preciousness of our planet, and that it has only us humans to protect it. And that this means making every effort to protect it's endangered peoples. All of them. If we rouse ourselves to our highest vibration of love, of caring for each other, the joy that I feel is inherent to, and characteristic of, our planet, will become more and more accessible to us. "


Wed, Aug 21, 2013 : 2:33 a.m.

The actions of UM to disinvite then invite Alice Walker without her knowledge is worthy of a late night comedy skit. This is just another example why UM academic reputation is dependent upon money, money, money and the rich donors who provide much of that money for shrines that showcase their influence despite the destruction to the college town that so-call loved and "arte blanche" on who can speak at the university they built.


Wed, Aug 21, 2013 : 1:39 a.m.

I'm glad the faculty senate advisory committee spoke up about this situation and made clear that they were concerned about the reputation of U of M due to this nationwide coverage. Gloria Thomas has some explaining to do. And I hope Ms. Walker declines this re-invite to a totally different event. I'm sure she has other engagements to consider.


Wed, Aug 21, 2013 : 1:37 a.m.

Money talks, free speech walks. Shame on the U!

Beverly Benmoussa

Wed, Aug 21, 2013 : 12:11 p.m.

yep, shameful.

Michigan Man

Wed, Aug 21, 2013 : 1:16 a.m.

Who really cares what the faculty thinks about this matter? Certainly not Michigan Man!


Wed, Aug 21, 2013 : 1:06 a.m.

I think the cancelled invitation perfectly announced U of M's disposition and priorities to all. A publicity stunt expressing concern that there is an instance of public visibility into the organizations priorities is cute, but the visibility is not the primary problem to address. (The summary of the resolution indicates the faculty concern is over HOW the "uninvitation" was expressed, not that "uninvitation" occurred).

Dog Guy

Wed, Aug 21, 2013 : 12:48 a.m.

Alice Walker should hold out for 2014 Spring Commencement Speaker. SACUA, SACUA very much.


Wed, Aug 21, 2013 : 12:47 a.m.

As a matter of fact, many people in academia do care...a lot. This unfortunate incident garnered national attention and is a major embarrassment in the higher education world.


Wed, Aug 21, 2013 : 12:44 a.m.

SACUA is correct to worry. UM's reputation is already damaged from this debacle, and caving into the whims of donors just makes it worse. The faculty are going to need to do damage control, but they are not a high powered PR firm who will no doubt be hired to "correct" this image issue......your tax dollars at work.


Wed, Aug 21, 2013 : 12:32 a.m.

Who cares? Yet another attempt by to create news instead of reporting on the real thing.


Thu, Aug 22, 2013 : 5:24 a.m.

Kellie, Thank you for this NEWS. U of M would have kept this information quiet and behind "closed doors" I'm sure.

Kellie Woodhouse

Wed, Aug 21, 2013 : 6:44 p.m.

It seems like I've been reading a lot of "why is this news" comments lately. News is a pretty fluid thing. Does it affect the community, even a small number of people? Would someone benefit from knowing? I fell like the answer for this article on both of these questions is yes. If you want to discuss more what is and isn't news, feel free to email me. I always appreciate receiving readers perspectives on this.


Wed, Aug 21, 2013 : 11:14 a.m.

Apparently SACUA cares.


Wed, Aug 21, 2013 : 12:23 a.m.

SACUA also asked for a say on the selection committee for a new president. How did that turn out? The Regents and the administration don't care what the faculty think. Shared governance is a thing of the past at UM.


Tue, Aug 20, 2013 : 11:22 p.m.

Who cares, get over it, to bad, move on.

Albert Howard

Tue, Aug 20, 2013 : 9:51 p.m.

For sure, University of Michigan will be remembered for taking this first invitation opportunity away from a Pulitzer Prize author and poet. The damage has been done.


Tue, Aug 20, 2013 : 9:46 p.m.

They should be concerned about their reputation from many things over the past two years. This is just one of them.