Father Dease, the president of the University of St. Thomas in Minneapolis, has reversed himself and invited Archbishop Desmond Tutu to speak at UST. Dease had been misled by a smear campaign against Tutu launched by the Zionist Organization of America, which was angered by the archbishop’s criticism of Israel for its mistreatment of the Palestinians. ZOA falsely charged that Tutu had compared Israel to Hitler and the Nazis, which was a bald-faced lie. Some Israeli newspapers were taken in by the propaganda and some Jewish community leaders in Minneapolis are continuing to spread the falsehood.
Father Dease’s letter is remarkable for its intellectual humility and ethical high-mindedness. You have a sense of a man of God trying to do the right thing, in a very complicated world, and his powers of moral reasoning are humbling.
‘Dear members of the St. Thomas community,
One of the strengths of a university is the opportunity that it provides to speak freely and to be open to other points of view on a wide variety of issues. And, I might add, to change our minds.
Therefore, I feel both humbled and proud to extend an invitation to Archbishop Desmond Tutu to speak at the University of St. Thomas.
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.
PeaceJam International may well choose to keep the alternative arrangements that it has made for its April 2008 conference, but I want the organization and Archbishop Tutu to know that we would be honored to hold the conference at St. Thomas.
In any event, St. Thomas will extend an invitation to Archbishop Tutu to participate in a forum to foster constructive dialogue on the issues that have been raised. I hope he accepts my invitation. The Jewish Community Relations Council of Minnesota and the Dakotas has agreed to serve as a co-sponsor of the forum, and I expect other organizations also to join as co-sponsors.
Details about issues to be addressed will be determined later, but I would look forward to a candid discussion about how a civil and democratic society can pursue reasoned debate on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and other emotionally charged issues.
I also want to encourage a thoughtful examination of St. Thomas’ policies regarding controversial speech and controversial speakers. In the past, we have been criticized externally and internally when we have invited controversial speakers to campus – as well as when we have not. Rather than just move from controversy to controversy, might there be a positive role that this university could play in fostering thoughtful conversation around difficult and highly charged issues? We also might explore how to more clearly express in our policies and practices our commitment to civility when discussing such issues.
I have asked Dr. Nancy Zingale, professor of political science and my former executive adviser, to oversee the planning for the forum. If you have suggestions regarding either the topic or other participants, please contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I sincerely hope Archbishop Tutu will accept our invitation. I continue to have nothing but the utmost respect for his witness of faith, for his humanitarian accomplishments and especially for his leadership in helping to end apartheid in South Africa.
Father Dennis Dease