Saturday, October 13, 2007

Archbishop Tutu update

This is in reference to a previous post that can be read here. I followed up the response by Father Dease with this reply:

Dear Father Dease:

In my experience it is natural, and unfortunate, for wrongdoers to feel attacked when their wrongdoing is exposed. The current treatment of the Palestinian people by Israel so closely parallels that of formerly apartheid South Africa that few distinctions can be made. Who better to understand this deeply than Archbishop Tutu. And who, after having been the victims of indescribable persecution themselves, should know better than the Jewish people that this treatment is immoral and must ultimately be universally condemned. It also seems to me that Catholic social teaching falls clearly on the side of the marginalized, economically terrorized and displaced Palestinian people. On the whole, I find it difficult to disagree with the substance of Archbishop Tutu's comparisons though he may not score many style points. The problem, as I see it, is that Zionists claim anti-Semitism rather quickly and thereby control the debate by refusing to engage in one. Your actions now play perfectly into that hand. It is this issue, and the stand in support of Israel by the U.S. government, that arguably impacts world peace more than any other. Archbishop Tutu's informed opinion should be heard and debated by your Catholic campus community.

Sincerely,

[Proletarian Librarian]
I was both shocked and pleased to get the following in my email last night from Father Dease.
Dear [Proletarian Librarian],

I want to thank you for sharing your concerns about the University of St. Thomas’ initial decision not to invite Archbishop Desmond Tutu to speak and for your follow-up correspondence.

This has been a very difficult issue. In light of additional information, I have reconsidered my decision and will be inviting Archbishop Desmond Tutu to speak on our campus.

I hope that my letter to the St. Thomas community, attached below, will respond to your concerns.

Sincerely,

Reverend Dennis Dease
President


UST president says he made wrong decision, invites Tutu to campus

Dear members of the St. Thomas community,

One of the strengths of a university is the opportunity that it provides to speak freely and to be open to other points of view on a wide variety of issues. And, I might add, to change our minds.

Therefore, I feel both humbled and proud to extend an invitation to Archbishop Desmond Tutu to speak at the University of St. Thomas .

I have wrestled with what is the right thing to do in this situation, and I have concluded that I made the wrong decision earlier this year not to invite the archbishop. Although well-intentioned, I did not have all of the facts and points of view, but now I do.

PeaceJam International may well choose to keep the alternative arrangements that it has made for its April 2008 conference, but I want the organization and Archbishop Tutu to know that we would be honored to hold the conference at St. Thomas .

In any event, St. Thomas will extend an invitation to Archbishop Tutu to participate in a forum to foster constructive dialogue on the issues that have been raised. I hope he accepts my invitation. The Jewish Community Relations Council of Minnesota and the Dakotas has agreed to serve as a co-sponsor of the forum, and I expect other organizations also to join as co-sponsors.

Details about issues to be addressed will be determined later, but I would look forward to a candid discussion about how a civil and democratic society can pursue reasoned debate on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and other emotionally charged issues.

I also want to encourage a thoughtful examination of St. Thomas ’ policies regarding controversial speech and controversial speakers. In the past, we have been criticized externally and internally when we have invited controversial speakers to campus – as well as when we have not. Rather than just move from controversy to controversy, might there be a positive role that this university could play in fostering thoughtful conversation around difficult and highly charged issues? We also might explore how to more clearly express in our policies and practices our commitment to civility when discussing such issues.

I have asked Dr. Nancy Zingale, professor of political science and my former executive adviser, to oversee the planning for the forum. If you have suggestions regarding either the topic or other participants, please contact her at nhzingale@stthomas.edu.

I sincerely hope Archbishop Tutu will accept our invitation. I continue to have nothing but the utmost respect for his witness of faith, for his humanitarian accomplishments and especially for his leadership in helping to end apartheid in South Africa .

Sincerely,

Father Dennis Dease
President
I think that this is an excellent example of the power of the pen (or in this case the keyboard). I know that Father Dease received a large number of critical reactions to his decision, and I am glad that he was able to reevaluate his decision from a more open perspective. I think that the University of St. Thomas is well served by this flexible leadership.

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