A Trinity College Dublin committee rejected the Dalai Lama’s nomination for an honorary degree – after former President Mary McAleese, Trinity College’s chancellor, expressed concerns about a “serious” backlash from the Chinese government.
he Sunday independent noted that the Trinity Committee, which makes recommendations on honorary degrees to the University Board of Directors, met on December 16, 2019 in the University’s Long Room Hub.
On the agenda was the proposed award of an honorary doctorate to the Tibetan spiritual leader.
The committee had previously agreed to nominate the Dalai Lama for the award – but decided to reassess this after raising concerns about the possible “impact” of an incident in 2008 when London Metropolitan University was forced to opt in China apologize for honoring the Dalai Lama.
Ms McAleese said there would be repercussions and that this is realpolitik,
The Dalai Lama, who has received dozens of honorary degrees from universities around the world, is the Buddhist spiritual leader in exiled Tibet, annexed by China in 1951.
Trinity’s Global Relations Office was asked to assess the issue and a paper was presented to the committee chaired by Ms McAleese detailing the close links between China and the Irish university.
Chinese universities offered the fourth highest number of non-EU collaborations with Trinity over the past 10 years, with 581 co-publications.
The newspaper detailed how Trinity set up an office in Beijing to help recruit Chinese students. It has social media accounts on WeChat and WeiBo.
This year (2019), Trinity College had 338 Chinese students enrolled, and the university had signed 20 strategic partnerships with Chinese institutions.
Ms McAleese questioned whether the 87-year-old Dalai Lama needed another honorary degree
Contemporaneous records from this newspaper show that Ms McAleese, who was President of Ireland from 1997 to 2011, said the Dalai Lama had visited Ireland on at least two occasions but had not been offered any honorary degrees.
She said honoring the Tibetan monk would undoubtedly cause “serious” problems and consequences for the Chinese ambassador, adding that the Chinese would interpret the award as seeking trouble as China viewed him as a religio-political leader.
Ms McAleese explained how, as President, she had to travel to Belfast for a religious ceremony to meet the Dalai Lama in order not to anger the Chinese.
Still, she said she received an irritating slap on the knuckles from Wen Jiabao, the Chinese premier, when he later visited Ireland.
Ms McAleese questioned whether the 87-year-old Dalai Lama needed another honorary doctorate given his age and the number of degrees he has already been awarded.
The committee also heard input from Linda Doyle, who has since become Trinity Provost, who said she has firmly resisted global pressure to cut research programs with Chinese telecoms company Huawei because she believes in academic freedom.
She believed the Dalai Lama should be honored for the same principle – but acknowledged that this was a dilemma.
Juergen Barkhoff, TCD’s vice president at the time, said the university had spent about 15 years building relationships in China, adding it would be foolish to ignore that it was part of the strategy to make up for deficits in government funding.
He said Trinity could risk it all for a symbolic gesture. He urged others to listen to Ms. McAleese.
Ms McAleese said there would not only be an impact on Trinity but also on the Irish Government. That is realpolitik, she added.
She pointed out that Pope Francis visited Ireland in 2018 and did not receive an honorary doctorate.
Some of the other committee members agreed that the example of not honoring Pope Francis was an important precedent.
The committee said the Pope, who was not honored, gave them some cover
Patrick Geoghegan, a history professor who was also a speechwriter for Leo Varadkar, said he didn’t think the briefing on TCD’s relations with China was appropriate for their discussion, as no other such briefings on the university’s interests had been included for consideration be candidates.
Other members said they believed the university would suffer reputational damage if the Dalai Lama were honored – and they did not feel comfortable doing so.
They said the example of not honoring the pope gives them some protection, as there is no precedent for honoring religious leaders.
The discussion ended with Ms McAleese proposing to remove the proposed honoring the Dalai Lama from the agenda.
This weekend, TCD said: “Like other universities, we carefully review proposals for honorary degrees and then select a small number of people each year.
“Like almost every other awards committee, we never confirm or deny who has been considered for such awards. If we did, no one would nominate potential recipients for honorary degrees — and it would not be in the public interest to do so.”
“What we can say is that the committee you mentioned does not nominate people for honorary degrees. Only the University Council can nominate someone.”
László Molnáfri, chairman of Students4Change, an association of Marxist and anarchist Trinity students, has been seeking a record of the college’s handling of the Dalai Lama’s nomination under the Freedom of Information Act for the past year – but his requests have been rejected.
“I think the way our university handled the nomination of the Dalai Lama was disgraceful,” said Mr. Molnárfi. “The university is corporatized and run like a company.
“Decisions like these should be made on the basis of merit, not whether they could cause financial harm to the university.”
https://www.independent.ie/irish-news/trinity-college-pulled-dalai-lama-honour-after-mary-mcaleese-raised-china-fears-41997509.html Trinity College stripped the honor of the Dalai Lama after Mary McAleese sparked China fears