The University of Michigan has extended a new speaking invitation to Alice Walker, the noted author of The Color Purple and many other works.
The university's Center for the Education of Women had invited Walker to speak at its 50th anniversary celebration, but then rescinded the offer. Walker charged that she was disinvited because her outspoken criticism of Israel (Walker backs the boycott of Israel, for example) offended some donors. The university has denied that, but acknowledged that the invitation was withdrawn.
Late Friday, Martha E. Pollack, provost at Michigan, sent out an e-mail to faculty members and said that Walker would be invited to make an appearance on the campus.
Her e-mail said: "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."
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. 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."
Walker could not be reached for comment on whether she will go to Ann Arbor.