Careful thought on Dalai Lama speech

The University of Otago took a ''very serious'' look at the implications of hosting the Dalai Lama before deciding 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.

Otago University has had an enthusiastic response to a competition asking staff and students to submit questions for the Dalai Lama's session at the St David lecture theatre on June 11.

Prof Todd said there had been more than 2000 responses to the competition - which finished last month - and all the tickets had been snapped up.

A wide range of questions had been submitted, including: ''What is your secret to you looking so happy all the time?''

- vaughan.elder@odt.co.nz

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