I am an undergraduate student at the University of St. Thomas. I read with interest both the recent press coverage and your response in the UST Bulletin regarding your decision not to allow UST facilities to be used to host Desmond Tutu. Let me begin by saying I’m more than a little disappointed. With all due respect, I believe your decision was wrong, and lacked both courage and moral fiber.
I appreciate your concern about not wanting to insult the Jewish Community. Perhaps a better decision would have been to invite them to speak in conjunction with, or following, Mr. Tutu’s speech. As you know, Desmond Tutu is widely regarded as one of the great peacemakers of our time, and is, in fact, a Nobel Peace Laureate. As with anyone with a massive public platform and who engages in prophetic speech intended to challenge the decisions of the powerful in the world, sometimes his comments will not be appreciated by those to whom they are directed.
For example. Pope Benedict was in the news a year ago for making comments that some thought insulting to Muslims. Based on the reasons you’ve given for your decision to not invite Tutu, I can only assume that if someone invited the Pope to speak at St. Thomas, your decision not to allow it would have been the same, for fear of insulting the Muslim community. You may well protest, “but the Pope’s comments were taken out of context! He didn’t intend to insult anyone!” What about Mr. Tutu’s comments? Is it possible they were misconstrued? Is it possible that his point was that some of the decisions of Israel have been unfair to the Palestinian people?
Similarly, I hope we won’t have any of the Republican Presidential candidates speak on campus – they might insult the Democrats, after all. The same would need to apply to the Democratic candidates of course, as we wouldn’t want them to insult any of our conservative brethren. We also need to eliminate presentations by those pesky peace activists, as they might insult our friends in the military. To be fair, the reverse must also apply.
As you can see, your decision is a very slippery slope, and one that is not worthy of someone of your position. Since I am undoubtedly not aware of everything that went into the decision, I am challenging you to air the issues surrounding the decision in a public debate with members of your Peace and Justice Studies faculty, since as I understand it, they disagree with your decision. In the spirit of learning, free and academic speech, I think it would be of value to all of us at UST, and the broader Twin Cities Community, to better understand these issues. After all, what is more important to academic growth than a free and open debate amongst informed people who disagree?
As noted in the subject heading, this is an open letter. To assist with facilitating the conversation I propose, I’ve copied members of the faculty and administration who were mentioned in the press, as well as PeaceJam and Youththrive representation. While I have never met or spoken with any of them, or been affiliated with either of the organizations in question, I am hopeful that they, too, would be interested in an open debate over the issues.
Thank you for your time and consideration. I look forward to your public response to my proposal.