Tutu’s viewpoint welcome: Keep political ties away from academic perspectives

Editorial Board

Published: Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Updated: Wednesday, April 8, 2009

UNC and Michigan State squared off against each other in Monday night”s thrilling NCAA National Championship game.

Now, both schools are under fire for selecting Archbishop Desmond Tutu to speak at their commencement ceremonies.

The Anti-Defamation League sent a letter to UNC Chancellor Holden Thorp calling Tutu a “poor choice.” The letter urged the University to rescind Tutu”s invitation unless he repudiates his support for an academic and cultural boycott of Israel, which the letter claims is “based on ideas that are anti-Semitic.”

UNC has yet to respond to the letter, but plans to shortly.

We trust the University will do the right thing – politely rebuff the organization”s request and reiterate the class of 2009″s fortune at having a legendary advocate for democracy and human rights, not to mention a Nobel laureate, speak at their graduation.

This case represents the unfortunate incursion of politics into the academic realm.

Earlier this year, the selection of former Attorney General Michael Mukasey as law school commencement speaker provoked considerable outrage due to his role in the Bush Administration.

Such affiliations should not be a decisive factor when selecting a commencement speaker.

Sure, Tutu”s support of an academic boycott of Israel is yet another lamentable example of politics taking undue precedence over academics.

In fact, UNC was one of 200 U.S. colleges and universities to issue statements against academic boycotts.

But denying Tutu the right to speak on such grounds would be an academic boycott in its own right – politically motivated censorship at its worst.

Equating Tutu”s criticism of Israeli policy to anti-Semitism is an outrageous accusation.

Does harshly criticizing President Barack Obama”s policies make someone anti-American or a racist? Of course not.

Tutu was selected in September by a campus committee of UNC students and faculty. Chancellor Thorp said then he “couldn”t imagine a finer, more qualified person to inspire our graduates and their families.”

The UNC community has made their choice. The criticism from this organization is an unnecessary distraction.

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