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"Canada can, within a positive friendly atmosphere, ask the Chinese government to resolve the Tibetan situation."

When school starts prioritizing business in the name of cultural sensitivity over freedom of speech

April 9, 2018

News.com.au, April 5, 2018- A move by the University of WA student guild to acknowledge a visit from the Dalai Lama could offend some students has been criticised by leading academics, who see it as an attempt to put cultural sensitivities ahead of free speech.

Three years after it hosted the Tibetan spiritual leader on campus, the guild last week backed a motion recognising the “negative impact” his presence could have on Chinese students.

UWA’s Pelican magazine reported the motion urged UWA to liaise with the guild to ensure guests do not “unnecessarily offend or upset groups within the student community” and to consider the “cultural sensitivities of all groups”.

The motion said the guild “recognises the negative impact that hosting the Dalai Lama at the university may have on the UWA Chinese student community, however, reaffirms freedom of political and religious thought and expression on campus”.

The Dalai Lama’s opposition to China’s occupation of Tibet has long been a source of diplomatic tension between Beijing and other nations.

It is understood the Dalai Lama is not planning another visit to UWA, but a guild councillor proposed the motion after one of his representatives gave a lecture on campus.

Institute of Public Affairs research fellow Matthew Lesh said the guild had to do more to prioritise freedom of speech. “The wishy-washy approach to try to keep everyone happy is not a way to actually function as an organisation,” he said.

“You really have to wonder what other ideas would be forbidden if we start prioritising cultural sensitivity above debate and start censoring speakers who some people might find offensive.

“Should we stop having speakers about gay rights on campus because that might offend some international students who come from cultures where homosexuality is illegal.”

Charles Sturt University public ethics professor Clive Hamilton said: “Having the Dalai Lama speak on campuses has now become a test of the conviction of university leaders to academic freedom.”

Guild president Megan Lee said it firmly believed in freedom of speech but recognised sensitivities in the diverse range of communities at UWA.

“We believe that every student has a right to be heard and be able to discuss their difference of ideas,” she said.

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