Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein has canceled a speech he planned to give at Barnard on Oct. 12, though officials said he plans to reschedule.
Barnard’s events website cited travel issues, with a message explaining that Blankfein “must be in Washington D.C. that evening and will be unable to deliver his lecture as planned.” But his absence also allows him to avoid protests that had been planned to coincide with his speech.
In response to Blankfein’s invite, Columbia students had organized “School the Squid” week—referring to writer Matt Taibbi calling Goldman Sachs “a great vampire squid”—including a series of discussions and film screenings focused on corporate greed and abuse of power.
Yoni Golijov, CC ’12 and an organizer of “School the Squid” week, said the Columbia University Activists would have protested if Blankfein spoke on campus.
“CU Activists were planning a teach-in outside the Barnard gates to explain why he is not a responsible citizen nor a role model,” Golijov said in an email, adding that some faculty and at least one other another group had been planning independent protests.
Now, CU Activists will be holding a celebratory gathering outside the Barnard gates on Wednesday.
Blankfein is one of the highest-paid executives on Wall Street, and critics have used him as a figure of corporate greed and irresponsible practices in the financial sector. Others have praised him for keeping the investment banking and securities firm intact, and even profitable, through the economic crisis.
In June, Barnard President Debora Spar was elected to Goldman Sachs’ board of directors.
Blankfein’s speech, scheduled as part of the Athena Center for Leadership Studies Power Talks series, would have come at an awkward time. Thousands of young people—including some Barnard students—have been participating in Occupy Wall Street demonstrations over the last four weeks to protest the financial sector’s role in the economic crisis.
“While debt and unemployment rise across America, Barnard College expects us to celebrate Blankfein as a model of ‘leadership’ and ‘excellence’?” read an email advertising the protest.
Kathryn Kolbert, director of the Athena Center, said that Blankfein was invited among leaders from all segments of society. She said he had not yet given the center another date, but was planning to return.
“We are booked this fall, and for the most part, these things take a while to reschedule,” she said.