Desmond Tutu rejects St. Thomas' invitation

  • Article by: JEFF SHELMAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: March 27, 2008 - 11:46 PM

The Nobel peace laureate will still be here in two weeks for PeaceJam -- but at Metropolitan State.

The on-again, off-again courtship of Nobel peace laureate Desmond Tutu by the University of St. Thomas is definitely off.

Officials at the St. Paul school said Thursday that Tutu will not be coming to the school during his visit to the Twin Cities in two weeks.

"[St. Thomas president] Father Dease was sincere in saying that he made a mistake by not extending the initial invitation and re-inviting him," St. Thomas spokesman Doug Hennes said. "It's unfortunate that he has chosen not to come, but that's certainly his prerogative.

"It would have been great to have him here, but he won't be."

Tutu will be in the Twin Cities for PeaceJam, a community peace-building event that brings teenagers and Nobel laureates together. The event had been previously held at St. Thomas. Dease, however, balked at Tutu's involvement because of comments Tutu had made regarding Israel's policy toward Palestinians. Dease said Jewish leaders he consulted considered Tutu's statements offensive toward Jews.

PeaceJam will now be held at Metropolitan State University.

Criticized on many fronts, including by some Jews, Dease did a very public about-face and invited Tutu. Dease later called the situation "humbling" and "embarrassing."

The dustup coincided with Cris Toffolo's dismissal as head of St. Thomas' peace and justice studies program. The school said Toffolo was not removed over the Tutu situation. She, however, said she was dismissed for insisting he be invited.

While Toffolo remains a St. Thomas political science professor, Tutu said he wouldn't come to the school unless she was reinstated to chair.

"The only way that could happen is if she went through a grievance procedure and she declined to file a grievance," Hennes said.

Toffolo said she considered filing a grievance, but opted against it.

"I didn't want to honor the [grievance] process because I think the process is flawed," said Toffolo, who has been a St. Thomas faculty member for 15 years.

"I appreciate Tutu's solidarity with me. What I think is really tragic is that we had a wonderful program, the PeaceJam program, and the work we did with young people. It was a wonderful recruiting tool for the university, and it's a tragedy that the whole program is no longer at the institution.

"Metro State has picked it up and seems to be running with it."

Jeff Shelman • 612-673-7478

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