Thursday, October 04, 2007

Tutu much for St. Thomas University

The fear of offending "Jews" has led, unbelievably, to the banning of Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Desmond Tutu from the campus of St. Thomas University, Minnesota, where he had been scheduled to speak. The Chair of the university's Justice and Peace Studies Program, Chris Toffolo, protested this decision, and found out what academic freedom means at that institution: she is now the ex-Chair of the Justice and Peace Studies Program.

I placed the word "Jews" in scare-quotes, above, for two reasons. First, it appears that Archbishop Tutu had made the serious error of criticizing Israel in an earlier speech. He was unaware, it seems, that this is not advisable if you want to speak in the future on any subject whatsoever at a growing number of American universities. Here is what Doug Hennes, vice president for university and government relations at St. Thomas, and the one who issued the banning order, had to say:

He [Tutu] has been critical of Israel and Israeli policy regarding the Palestinians, so we talked with people in the Jewish community and they said they believed it would be hurtful to the Jewish community, because of things he's said.

This really speaks for itself, but the apt conflation of Jews and the State of Israel is not unfamilar to those of us who follow US and Middle East politics.

Secondly, not all Jews, by any means, are in favour of this banning order by the university administrators. Marv Davidov, for one, an adjunct professor at St. Thomas who experienced real anti-Semitism as a child, was incensed: "I think the Israeli lobby in our country has been attempting to silence criticisms of Israel in the academic world. That does a disservice to the state of Israel and all Jews," he said.

In case people haven't been noticing, academic freedom is on the endangered species list on US campuses these days. Just a few weeks ago, we had the termination of Erwin Chemerinski at the University of California before he had even taken up residence, apparently simply for being too liberal. That was reversed only after massive protests. (Indeed, it was such an egregious case of political interference that even principled conservatives joined in the chorus of condemnation.) Earlier, we witnessed the denial of tenure of Norman Finklestein, against the recommendation of his university's own tenure committee, but evidently on the advice of torture advocate Alan Dershowitz. And we have seen what happens to academics brave enough to speak up for their purged colleagues.

Other casualties: Professor
Douglas Giles, fired from Roosevelt University in Chicago in November 2005. Professor Juan Cole, of the University of Michigan, denied a Middle East Studies position at Yale. Professor Joseph Massad, harassed and persecuted at Columbia University. Archaeologist Nadia Abu El-Haj, whose tenure bid at Barnard University is under sustained attack as I write this. And there are many others--all having committed the cardinal sin of being critical of Israel.

Archnishop Tutu, of course, is all-too-familiar with banning. No doubt he'll smile ruefully and go back to his campaign on behalf of the Tibetans.

Not a peep so far in protest about the Tutu matter from the starboard side of the blogosphere, whose inhabitants are usually noisy and lightning-swift in denouncing imagined left-wing assaults on freedom on university campuses. (Some have joyfully supported the university's decision, in fact.)
I've written to David Horowitz, the redoubtable editor of, to ask how he is planning to defend academic freedom in this case. Ditto that great defender of tolerance and diversity, Daniel Pipes, founder of the McCarthyite snitch service known as Campus Watch. Will any in this crowd jump into action to defend freedom of thought and expression on campus?

[Warning: Unsafe to hold breath for extended periods. Just inhale normally and enjoy the crickets.]

H/t Stageleft.

UPDATE: (October 11) St. Thomas reverses course: Tutu re-invited.

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