Tutu flip-flop roils St. Thomas

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Two weeks ago, when University of St. Thomas leaders reversed their decision to block Nobel laureate Desmond Tutu to speak at its campus and extended him a hasty invitation, they hoped to put the snafu behind them.

Not quite.

Tutu has declined the invitation, unless the Catholic university reinstates Dr. Cris Toffolo as the head of the Justice and Peace Studies program. She was removed from her position after she challenged the university’s decision not to invite Tutu because of criticism against Israel. She remains a member of the faculty.

On Tuesday, some 100 faculty and staff members staged a rally on campus in her support. They held huge signs that read “reinstate Toffolo.”

“Who should stand up for the opportunity for…Tutu to speak at UST if not the director of the Justice and Peace Studies? It appears now that listening to…Toffolo’s advice would have saved the university tremendous embarrassment and prevented terrible damage to the institution’s reputation,” said the faculty and staff in a statement.

Tutu, who was scheduled to speak at a spring forum, sent a letter to Toffolo, stating that, though he welcomes the university’s invitation, he wouldn’t accept it pending her reinstatement.

“I will make an acceptance on my part dependent on your reinstatement and the clearing of your file,” he wrote to Toffolo.

Doug Hennes, vice president for university and government relations at St. Thomas, said Toffolo is welcome to file a grievance on her case. If she does so, a committee will examine her case and make recommendations to the president of the university.

Back on campus, dozens of students joined in the pro-Toffolo rally. Robert Wilkerson, a 20-year-old business major said the whole episode “is embarrassing” for the St. Thomas community.

“It’s ridiculous that the university would demote Toffolo for her position,” he said.