Wednesday, October 10, 2007

University of St. Thomas excludes Archbishop Tutu

Recently the University of St. Thomas decided to cancel a scheduled speaking engagement by Archbishop Desmond Tutu due to his outspoken criticism of Israel with regards to the treatment of Palestinians in the occupied territories. I have been in correspondence with the President of the University of St. Thomas. My letter was as follows:

Dear Father Dease:

I am writing to express outrage over the decision to cancel Bishop Tutu's previously scheduled speaking engagement at your University. In canceling, you do a disservice to your students, your campus community, and the future of the Israeli / Palestinian debate. The facts on the ground in Israel are clear. Tutu's comparison of Israel 's illegal occupation to South African apartheid is entirely legitimate, and your decision to silence his opinion on your campus is not only short-sighted, but it is unAmerican.
I have received a reply to my email.
Dear [Proletarian Librarian],

I want to thank you for sharing your concerns about the University of St. Thomas ' decision not to invite Archbishop Desmond Tutu to speak on our campus.

This has been a very difficult issue and I know that many people do not agree with the decision.

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

We will be considering the matter further.


Reverend Dennis Dease
University of St. Thomas

Bulletin update

Dear members of the St. Thomas community,

I am writing to you today to explain the University of St. Thomas ' decision not to co-sponsor an April 2008 PeaceJam conference for high school students.

Last spring, a representative of our Justice and Peace Studies program advised my office of an opportunity to invite Archbishop Desmond Tutu to speak at St. Thomas during the PeaceJam conference. I discussed the matter with my staff and decided not to take advantage of this opportunity.

Later, I learned that Youthrive, an Upper Midwest affiliate of Denver-based PeaceJam International, had invited Tutu to speak at St. Thomas without my knowledge or that of other senior administrators.

(Metropolitan State University has agreed to host the conference, which will be held April 11-13, with Archbishop Tutu as the featured speaker.)

St. Thomas receives hundreds of proposals to sponsor speakers and events, and we often decline for a variety of reasons. Why was this the case for the Archbishop Tutu opportunity?

We became aware of concerns about some of Archbishop Tutu's widely publicized statements that have been hurtful to members of the Jewish community. I spoke with Jews for whom I have great respect. What stung these individuals was not that Archbishop Tutu criticized Israel but how he did so, and the moral equivalencies that they felt he drew between Israel’s policies and those of Nazi Germany, and between Zionism and racism.

I was under no pressure from any pro-Israeli groups or individuals, nor did I receive any requests from them, to refrain from inviting Archbishop Tutu to speak.

I am not in a position to evaluate what to a Jew feels anti-Semitic and what does not. I can, however, take seriously the judgments of those whom I trust by not putting St. Thomas in a position that would add to that hurt.

Questions also have been raised about why Dr. Thomas Rochon, executive vice president and chief academic officer, removed Dr. Cris Toffolo as director of our interdisciplinary Justice and Peace Studies program. This is a personnel matter. I will say only that she was not removed because of any private or public disagreement with my decision not to invite Archbishop Tutu to St. Thomas . She continues to teach in the program and remains a tenured associate professor of political science.

I also wish to address concerns about threats to academic freedom at St. Thomas . I strongly defend the principle and practice of academic freedom at the university. This incident did not involve our curriculum or St. Thomas classroom activities. Instead, it involved the use of our facilities and name in connection with an external group.

I want to thank members of the St. Thomas community for sharing their concerns with me. This has been a difficult issue, and I know many people do not agree with the decision. As always, I welcome your comments.


Father Dennis Dease
Turns out the University of St. Thomas allowed notorious right-wing hack Ann Coulter to speak. Ann Coulter once said of Muslims, "We should invade their countries, kill their leaders and convert them to Christianity." Hat tip to Juan Cole on that one. Somehow I don't think that Archbishop Tutu at his very worst could match the irrational ignorance of Ann Coulter.

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