St. Thomas reverses its decision to disallow Tutu

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University of St. Thomas president the Rev. Dennis Dease said the decision to bar Archbishop Desmond Tutu to speak at its campus was wrong, and that he will take measures to invite him. [Editor’s note: Read Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s controversial speech here.]

“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,” Dease wrote in a letter to faculty, staff and students.

St. Thomas under fire
by Abdi Aynte
On Monday, 18 faculty members of St. Thomas’s law school sent a letter to the president of the university, the Rev. Dennis Dease, urging him to reverse his decision.

“That an otherwise distinguished speaker should be rejected because he has made statements on disputed political issues that hurt or offend some people is a principle of breathtaking scope,” wrote the group. “Under this rationale, it appears, the University would refuse to invite former President Jimmy Carter or Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher to speak on any matter of human rights or public affairs.”

Carter recently drew the ire of pro-Israel groups when he wrote a new book “Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid.” …

Dease’s office has received thousands of e-mails from individuals and national peace groups, many of them Jewish. They urged him to reconsider his position on Tutu.

Separately, Jewish faculty members at Metropolitan State University, where Tutu’s speech has been relocated, have launched their own letter of support for Tutu.

“We, the undersigned Jewish members of the faculty of Metropolitan State wish to express our respect for Bishop Tutu and look forward to his visit to our University,” they wrote.

The university came under fire and received some unwanted publicity for its decision.

Until two days ago, Dease insisted that Tutu’s remarks in a 2002 speech in Boston were “hurtful” to Jews, and that based on the concerns of people he values in the community, he will not invite him.

No one knows whether PeaceJam International, the Colorado-based youth group that invited Tutu in the first place would switch the location of the spring conference from Metropolitan State University to St. Thomas. Dease left that to PeaceJam.

But he said he’s inviting Tutu for another forum on the Mideast conflict, in which the Jewish Community Relations Council, the organization that voiced concerns about Tutu in the first place, agreed to co-sponsor.

Ivan Suvanjieff, the president of PeaceJam, said he would leave the decision to relocate the April 2008 conference back to St. Thomas for his organization’s branch in Minnesota, but he welcomed Dease’s decision.

“This is a tremendous victory for all of us who believe in the inalienable rights of individuals to express themselves,” he said. “I take my hat off to…Father Dease who has the moral courage to admit that he made a mistake.”

What Dease didn’t address in his letter is whether Dr. Cris Toffolo, an associate professor who was demoted from her post as the director of the Justice and Peace program will be reinstated. Some faculty and students are circulating a petition on her behalf.