St. Thomas urged to reconsider its decision not to invite Tutu

  • Article by: RANDY FURST , Star Tribune
  • Updated: October 5, 2007 - 11:36 PM

The university defended its move, but some students, faculty members and Jewish groups have called it a mistake.

Desmond Tutu
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Nobel peace laureate Desmond Tutu

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The University of St. Thomas has come under fire from faculty members, students and others for opposing a campus visit by Nobel Peace Prize laureate Desmond Tutu.

St. Thomas has received requests to reconsider its decision and the situation will be discussed next week with the Rev. Dennis Dease, the university's president, said Doug Hennes, a university spokesman.

In a statement Friday, Dease defended his decision to oppose a plan by a local group to invite the South African cleric and activist in April. University officials earlier this week cited a speech that Tutu gave in 2002.

"I spoke with Jews for whom I have a great respect," Dease said. "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."

Dease has received more than 1,800 e-mails, encouraged by Jewish Voice for Peace, a group based in Oakland, Calif., urging him to reverse his stand and invite Tutu, and to reinstate Cris Toffolo as director of the school's peace and justice program, the group said.

Toffolo has said her support for Tutu's visit was cited as a reason for her removal, but Dease denied it on Friday.

Students put up fliers on campus supporting Tutu.

Thomas Connery, a St. Thomas communications professor and former dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, called the decision not to invite Tutu "a mistake."

St. Thomas theology Prof. David Landry called it "very regrettable," adding, "a lot of Jews have written they don't find Tutu's remarks terribly offensive, and I've read his speech and I don't think he equates the state of Israel with Hitler, and I don't think he referred to Zionism as racism."

Mordecai Specktor, publisher and editor of the American Jewish World, the weekly newspaper of the Jewish community in Minnesota, said, "The Jewish community can survive a speech by Archbishop Tutu. We've endured worse."

Specktor said that he appreciated Dease's sensitivity, but that Jews in the United States and Israelis are not all of the same mind on Israeli policies. "Just for criticizing Israeli policies doesn't mean he should be banned from speaking."

Randy Furst • 612-673-7382

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Desmond Tutu