Careful thought on Dalai Lama's Dunedin speech

By Debbie Porteous, Vaughan Elder

The University of Otago took a "very serious" look at the implications of hosting the Dalai Lama before opting to let him speak on campus during his visit to Dunedin next month.

The revelation from the university comes amid controversy over Dunedin Mayor Dave Cull's decision not meet the Dalai Lama.

University pro-vice-chancellor, international, Prof Sarah Todd said the possibility that allowing him to speak on campus could sour relations with its Chinese partners, or lead to a decline in the number of Chinese students, were among the issues the university considered.

"It has been given very serious consideration. I think it would be naive not to consider the implications," Prof Todd said.

The investigation into possible repercussions came after the university was approached earlier this year by the organisers of Dalai Lama's tour about having an event on campus. In the end, the value the university placed on "academic freedom" trumped any concerns about the possible implications, she said.

Asked if the visit could sour its relationship with Chinese organisations, she said: "We would hope that people would understand our support of the concept of academic freedom and that the university is not endorsing any particular view or any particular stance."

Tour organiser Neil Cameron, a trustee of the Dalai Lama Visit Trust New Zealand, said it was expected universities and other organisations would consider the ramifications of hosting the Dalai Lama and applauded Otago University for making the right decision.

"We think ... [the university made] a brave decision, a courageous decision, and we applaud them for it."

The Dalai Lama was also speaking at the University of Canterbury, but organisers decided not to go ahead with plans to have a speaking engagement at the University of Auckland, after getting a "cool response" to initial inquiries, he said.

A University of Auckland spokesperson said by email the university had not received an approach by the Dalai Lama to speak on its campus.

Meanwhile, comments about the Dalai Lama made by Mayor Cull have prompted several public demonstrations.

The first saw four members of Dunedin's Buddhist community protest yesterday with signs and a Tibetan flag in the Octagon.

Preparing a protest sign, Sonam Chokyi said she understood others were going to protest later in the week, but she and three of her colleagues from the Dhargyey Buddhist Centre felt it was urgent they expressed the small Dunedin Tibetan community's "genuine and deep upset" at a specific comment by Mr Cull in the Otago Daily Times this week.

Mr Cull, who has declined an invitation to introduce the Dalai Lama when he gives a talk in Dunedin next month, called the Dalai Lama "a representative of a minority religious faith".

The Dalai Lama's message was, however, much wider than just religious. It was social and environmental, too, and he had brought peace, happiness and joy to millions of people throughout the world, Sonam Chokyi said.

"We should therefore honour his visit to Dunedin."

Students for a Free Tibet and the Organisation for Global Nonviolent Action have also organised a public protest in the Octagon on Saturday against the same comment and others Mr Cull made regarding the Dalai Lama and his visit.

- Otago Daily Times

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