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Tuesday, October 9, 2007

St. Thomas and Desmond Tutu

The decision by the University of St. Thomas not to invite Archbishop Desmond Tutu to speak at the university has drawn respectful opposition from faculty at the law school. The school reportedly felt that Tutu's appearance would be hurtful to some Jewish members of the community due to some controversial remarks he has made relating to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Professor Thomas Berg, the co-Director of the Murphy Institute for Catholic Thought, Law,and Public Policy, and 17 other faculty members sent a letter to UST's president, Fr. Dennis Dease, asking the university to reconsider its decision.

"To reject a distinguished speaker based on worries that his words may cause hurt or offense to some is entirely at odds with the search for truth that should characterize a Catholic university. Speech taking positions on controversial subjects will often be offensive or hurtful to some people. Nevertheless, a Catholic university should be willing to open itself to such speech – and criticisms of that speech – in order to learn the truth," the letter says.

The law school has also requested permission to invite Archbishop Tutu on its own if the university doesn't change its mind. Professor Hank Shea wrote to Fr. Dease that the faculty had voted -- with no dissent -- to request Dean Thomas Mengler to invite the archbishop to speak in the atrium.

"Please open your heart to the pain that your decision has caused and will continue to cause parts of our UST community, particularly those who are minorities. I know this pain was unintentional but it is real and deep. We must begin to heal it," Shea's letter says.

1 comment:

Mark Cohen, editor said...

I think that St. Thomas should be commended for trying to be so inclusive and sensitive to the needs of the entire community. I'm sure it was a difficult decision that was arrived at only after a lot of serious soul searching.

Nonetheless, I do not agree with the end result. While Archbishop Tutu may express controversial views with which I do not agree, that does not mean that I do not want to hear them. I also think that there are other, less restrictive measures that St. Thomas could take, such as sponsoring another speaker or a public forum if the archbishop's views generate controversy. I think this is one of those many instances where the answer can be found in more speech rather than less.