Pennsylvania's Haverford College latest to lose commencement speaker

PHILADELPHIA Tue May 13, 2014 6:40pm EDT

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PHILADELPHIA (Reuters) - A former chancellor of the University of California, Berkeley, has backed out of a commencement speech at Haverford College over student opposition to actions he took in response to the Occupy movement on the California campus.

The decision by Robert Birgeneau, who oversaw UC Berkeley in November 2011 when police used force to break up a protest at the school, is the third time in 10 days that a speaker has pulled out of commencement at a high-profile school due to student protests.

Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice withdrew on May 3 as speaker at Rutgers University in New Jersey following campus protests. On Monday, Christine Lagarde, the managing director of the International Monetary Fund, said she would not speak at Smith College, in Northampton, Massachusetts.

At Haverford, located just outside Philadelphia, a group of about 50 students and faculty members had sent a letter of protest to school officials over the plan for Birgeneau to speak at commencement. Last week they held a community forum where some students and faculty argued against the invitation, according to the college's student newspaper.

In a letter announcing Birgeneau's decision, Haverford College President Daniel Weiss described him as "a longtime advocate for LGBT rights, faculty diversity, and access and affordability for the middle class."

He said that Birgeneau "expressed disappointment at not being able to increase awareness of what he believes to be the defining social justice issue of this generation of graduates: the plight of 11 million undocumented American immigrants."

Haverford College is an elite liberal arts college established by Quakers. The school says commitments to pacifism and non-violence remain among its core values.

At the protests at UC Berkeley in November 2011, police used batons and arrested 39 people during an attempt to break up an encampment established by "Occupy Cal."

Birgeneau later expressed regret for the actions of police and apologized for injuries, according to statements released after the arrests.

(Editing by Barbara Goldberg and Leslie Adler)

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