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Universities rescind commencement invitations to U.N. ambassador over conflict in Gaza

Universities rescind commencement invitations to U.N. ambassador over conflict in Gaza

Xavier University of Louisiana became the second school to rescind a commencement invitation to United Nations Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield because of the student outcry over the conflict in the Gaza Strip. The move came days after the University of Vermont also canceled Thomas-Greenfield’s commencement address. 

Administrators at both universities cited pressure from students and the community over the Biden administration’s support for Israel in its war with Hamas.  

“The vast majority of students want to be able to enjoy a commencement ceremony free of disruptions,” wrote Xavier President Dr. Reynold Verret in a letter. He called the university’s decision to disinvite Thomas-Greenfield “regrettable” and said that it had decided to do so  “together with Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield’s team.”

United Nations Security Council Meets To Discuss War In Middle East
File: Linda Thomas-Greenfield, United States Ambassador to the United Nations speaks during the Security Council meeting at United Nations Headquarters on March 11, 2024 in New York City. 

John Lamparski / Getty Images

Xavier announced Thomas-Greenfield as commencement speaker on May 5. But three days later, after more than 1,700 people signed a petition calling on the university to pull the invitation, the New Orleans-based university reversed course. 

The student-led petition asked the university to “end the politicization of our Commencement ceremony” and cited Thomas-Greenfield’s record at the U.N. She has previously voted against measures calling for a ceasefire in Gaza. 

Nate Evans, a spokesperson for Thomas-Greenfield, told CBS News, “Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield looks forward to continuing to engage with young people on campuses and other fora across the country to inspire the next generation of diplomats, as she has recently done in Pennsylvania, Texas, and New York.”

The ambassador recently toured a high school in Philadelphia, where she held a school-wide assembly and met privately with a group of Palestinian students. 

Last week, Thomas-Greenfield was disinvited to speak at the University of Vermont’s commencement ceremony. 

In a letter to the university community, University of Vermont President Suresh Garimella acknowledged demonstrations on campus. “I hear your frustration with foreign policy decisions,” he wrote, adding that the decision to cancel the ambassador’s appearance was made “with regret.”

CBS News has learned the university formally invited Thomas-Greenfield to speak at its commencement last summer, several months before Hamas’ Oct. 7, 2023, attack on Israel. The invitation from Xavier came early this year, long before campus protests broke out nationwide.

A source familiar with the ambassador’s thinking told CBS News that Thomas-Greenfield is not deterred by the demonstrations at either school and was prepared to deliver her remarks.  The source said she is also mindful of the threat of protesters disrupting commencement ceremonies which could take away from honoring graduates and their achievements. 

Thomas-Greenfield has served in a variety of diplomatic roles over a nearly 40-year career in government. She was named U.N. ambassador at the start of the Biden administration. 

On Thursday, speaking to Dallas station WFAA, she offered a message to protesters on college campuses across the country. “I want the students to know that they are being heard. At the same time, we have to be clear that they can’t use violence as a means of getting their message across,” Thomas-Greenfield said. She was not asked about the commencement ceremonies specifically.

President Biden is scheduled to address graduates at Morehouse College on May 19. So far, student protests there have not altered commencement plans at the historically Black college in Atlanta.

Camilla Schick and Jane Chick contributed reporting.

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