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Tutu speaks at Metro State

By Nathaniel Minor

The Aquin, April 2008; cover story

Archbishop Desmond Tutu mentioned publicly the controversy that preceded his trip to the Twin Cities for the PeaceJam conference April 11 to 12 at Metropolitan State University.

PeaceJam was originally scheduled at St. Thomas, but the event was moved to Metropolitan State after a visit by Tutu was declined by the St. Thomas administration.

Tutu steered clear of the topic at his opening speech April 11 at the Minneapolis Convention Center, but St. Thomas professor Cris Toffolo said Tutu told her he “should’ve said something last night at the Convention Center.” Tutu did not mention the controversy until closing his speech at Metropolitan State April 13.

“There were those who tried to say ‘Tutu shouldn‘t come to [St. Thomas] to speak.’ I was 10,000 miles away and I thought to myself ah, no! Because there were many here who said ‘no, come and speak!’” Tutu said. “People came and stood and had demonstrations to say ‘let Tutu speak’. [Metro State] said ‘whatever; he can come and speak here!’ Professor Cris Toffolo and others, said ‘we stand for him.’ So let us stand for them!”

Tutu immediately received a standing ovation.

Toffolo was demoted from her position as director of the justice and peace studies department after she disputed the decision by the Rev. Dennis Dease, university president, to decline the opportunity for Tutu to speak on campus. Toffolo sent Tutu her apologies and shared her disagreement with the administration’s decision, but lost her position as chair of the justice and peace studies department during the controversy.

Toffolo maintains it was her dispute with the administration that led to her demotion.Tutu offered to speak at St. Thomas, but only if Toffolo was reinstated. Toffolo said it didn’t surprise her that Tutu put off referencing St. Thomas publicly, saying it wasn’t in his character. That doesn’t mean he wasn't curious.

“He did ask if Fr. Dease was in the audience,” Toffolo said.

Fr. Dease was in the crowd, and said Tutu delivered a wonderful speech.

“I though Archbishop Tutu delivered a stirring message, punctuated with some delightful humor,” Fr. Dease said. “I was happy to see...St. Thomas students there as well.”

Senior Ben Nebo was in the crowd, but said it was a wasted opportunity for St. Thomas.

“Our loss was Metro State’s gain,” Nebo said. “They got positive feedback and positive media coverage, while we got negative media coverage from our dumb, bone-headed decision of not allowing Archbishop Tutu to come speak at St. Thomas due to political decisions and ridiculous sucking up to big donors.”

St. Thomas Justice and Peace Studies professor Marv Davidov was also upset by the changed location.

“I felt very sad that St. Thomas, by its policy, did not have Bishop Tutu speaking [on our campus] because they would not reinstate Cris Toffolo, our chair, and they do nothing but lie about why she was removed. It is thoroughly disgraceful,” Davidov said.

Tutu was originally scheduled to appear at St. Thomas as the main attraction of this year’s PeaceJam Youth conference, a program designed to bring Nobel Prize Laureates and youth together. After Tutu was uninvited to speak at St. Thomas, Metro-State took over hosting the conference and Tutu.

As Tutu closed the weekend conference, he blessed the crowd of eager youths by quoting an ancient Jewish tradition.

“God created the world deliberately imperfect, because God wanted to enlist the cooperation of people like you to make the world perfect. God couldn‘t have chosen better people than yourselves; so go for it, go for it!” Tutu said.

When the St. Thomas administration denied Tutu last fall, it cited criticism of Tutu from the Zionist Organization of America, a pro-Israeli organization. The organization condemned Tutu for a statement comparing the state of Israel’s treatment of Palestinians to Hitler’s persecution of the Jews in World War II.

Tutu spoke Friday of humankind’s need for interdependence and God’s plan of salvation for all. “You can not be human in isolation,” Tutu said.

His message was simple, yet powerful, Davidov said.

Tutu’s infamous sense of humor was on full display throughout the weekend. He claimed that one of the criteria for winning the Nobel Peace Prize was “sexy legs”, as he pulled up the leg of his pants. Tutu was greeted by standing ovations for every one of his three public speeches.

“Obviously the man is revered,” said Davidov.

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