ST. PAUL Minn.
Nobel peace laureate Desmond Tutu has notified the University of St. Thomas that he’ll accept an invitation to speak on campus next spring, but only if the university reinstates Cris Toffolo as director of the Justice and Peace Studies Program.
Toffolo said she was dismissed from the leadership position Aug. 1 in part for insisting that Tutu be invited to St. Thomas. The Rev. Dennis Dease, the university president, has said she was not removed because of any private or public disagreement with his decision not to invite Tutu to campus.
However, Toffolo on Monday provided the Star Tribune of Minneapolis with a copy of the termination letter she received on Aug. 1 from Thomas Rochon, executive vice president and chief academic officer at St. Thomas.
In the letter, Rochon accused Toffolo of making “deep distortions” of Dease’s position by writing Tutu, claiming that Dease had “denied (Tutu) the right to speak” when Dease had only declined to issue an invitation to Tutu to speak on campus. “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.”
Toffolo retains her position as an associate professor of political science at the university.
Dease later reversed his decision on Tutu, apologized for barring Tutu and inviting him to speak at a campus forum.
Tutu sent an e-mail to Dease dated Thursday saying that he would come only if Toffolo were reinstated and any negative remarks about the incident were removed from her academic file, said university spokesman Doug Hennes.
St. Thomas officials don’t plan to reinstate Toffolo immediately as director of the program but will consider it if she files a grievance, Hennes said.
“We need to follow the process that’s in the faculty handbook,” Hennes said.
Although the decision ultimately falls to Dease, Hennes said he expected Dease to write to Tutu saying there is a grievance process that must be followed.
The controversy began after a youth group asked to bring Tutu to St. Thomas next April as part of its Nobel Laureate conference.
Citing concerns about past “hurtful” comments Tutu made regarding Israel’s treatment of Palestinians and criticism of the “Jewish lobby” in the United States, St. Thomas officials decided not to invite Tutu. The group then moved the conference to Metropolitan State University.
Angry reaction from around the world surfaced after the St. Thomas decision was publicized. Even the Anti-Defamation League wrote to Dease saying Tutu was not anti-Semitic and should be allowed to speak on campus.
Theology professor David Landry said more than 100 faculty and staff members at St. Thomas have signed a petition organized by Progressive Alliance, a campus group, calling for Toffolo’s reinstatement.
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