Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Archbishop Tutu refuses to come to UST unless professor's demotion is reversed.

Peace doesn't rhyme with Dease, at the University of St Thomas.

Nobel peace laureate Desmond Tutu says he will not accept an invitation to speak at the University of St. Thomas unless a demoted professor is reinstated as director of the university's peace and justice studies program.

"I will make an acceptance on my part dependent on your reinstatement and the clearing of your file," the Anglican archbishop wrote to Cris Toffolo, who was dismissed from her position on Aug. 1 following a dispute over whether Tutu should be invited to speak at the St. Paul campus.

The Rev. Dennis Dease, the university president, reversed himself two weeks ago, apologizing for barring Tutu, and issued an invitation to Tutu to speak at a campus forum.

Doug Hennes, a university spokesman, said Tutu informed Dease on Monday of his position.

"Archbishop Tutu sent an e-mail to father [Dease] thanking him for his letter in which he said he made the wrong decision and he praised him for being willing to take that position," said Hennes. "And he also said he would be happy to visit the campus, but on the condition that Prof. Toffolo be reinstated and any negative remarks about the incident be removed from her academic file."

Dease to write to Tutu

Hennes said Dease will write Tutu "and explain the matter from Father Dease's perspective" in hopes Tutu will still be willing to speak at St. Thomas next spring.

A local group, Youththrive, originally planned to have Tutu speak at St. Thomas for PeaceJam, a program that brings together Nobel peace laureates with teenagers for discussions. After Dease rejected Tutu's appearance, the group moved the program to Metropolitan State University in Minneapolis, where Tutu will speak in April.

Dease faced a firestorm of criticism earlier this month after it was first reported by City Pages, then by other media, that last April he rejected inviting Tutu.

St. Thomas officials cited remarks Tutu had made critical of Israeli policy toward Palestinians, which Jewish leaders consulted by Dease said were offensive to Jews.

It also became known that Toffolo had been removed as head of the justice and peace program, although she retains her position as an associate professor of political science.

Toffolo said she was dismissed in part for insisting that Tutu be invited to St. Thomas. But Dease said in an Oct. 5 statement that "she was not removed because of any private or public disagreement with my decision not to invite Archbishop Tutu to St. Thomas."

Rally to be held today

A rally by faculty and staff at St. Thomas in support of Toffolo is scheduled for 11:45 a.m. today at Summit Avenue and Finn Street S., adjacent to the campus.

David Landry, a theology professor, said more than 100 faculty and staff members have signed a petition organized by Progressive Alliance, a campus group, calling for Toffolo's reinstatement.

On Monday, Toffolo provided the Star Tribune with a copy of a letter she received on Aug. 1 from Thomas Rochon, executive vice president and chief academic officer at St. Thomas, terminating her as director of the justice and peace studies program.

In the letter, he charged that Toffolo had made "deep distortions" of Dease's position by writing Tutu, claiming that Dease had "denied [Tutu] the right to speak" when in fact Dease had only declined to issue an invitation to Tutu to speak on campus, which Rochon said was "very different."You further stated that Father Dease has claimed that Archbishop Tutu engages in hate speech," Rochon wrote.

"I find this to be a highly unethical set of actions that compromises my ability to continue to trust you with administrative responsibility."

He also accused her of sending copies of the letter to Tutu, with a "cc list" that included former President Jimmy Carter, and not giving Dease a copy. And he said she had signed the letter as director of the Justice and Peace Studies program, using the program's letterhead. He called it "an abuse of your administrative position."

Asked in an interview if the university might reconsider its dismissal in light of Tutu's statement, Rochon said, "she was removed for actions incompatible with holding an academic administrative appointment. The only thing that would make me reconsider that would be other information that she did not take those actions." He also indicated that his letter of dismissal was "only part of the picture," but would not "comment on selective documents." StarTribune

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