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"We Tibetans are looking for a legitimate and meaningful autonomy, an arrangement that would enable Tibetans to live within the framework of the People’s Republic of China."

Dalai Lama's hand at Emory

September 26, 2007

Atlanta Journal Constitution,  USA

It sounds like the start of a joke: The Dalai Lama walks into a room,
and you get to ask him one question.

But for my friend Chris, an Emory University senior, it's no laughing
matter. Next month, the Dalai Lama will really walk into a room, and
Chris will really get to ask him one — and only one — question.

Chris is the editor of Emory's student newspaper, and with several other
seniors he was chosen to welcome the university's new star professor to
campus. The silken-robed spiritual leader of Tibet, Tenzin Gyatso, His
Holiness the Dalai Lama XIV, is coming to Emory to accept the title of
"Presidential Distinguished Professor." It's his first position at an
American university.

Now, if you're like me, you're probably wondering two things. First,
what on Earth would I ask someone so otherworldly as the Dalai Lama? A
weighty spiritual query might demonstrate erudition. But a witty
question about Bill Murray's brutal mispronunciation of his title in
"Caddyshack" could make a cocktail party story for the ages.

I'll leave it to Chris to resolve that problem.

The question I want to answer — a question I hear all the time — is
this: Will the Dalai Lama really teach at Emory?

As far as I'm concerned, there's only one honest answer: Yes, and no.

As a member of the faculty, the Dalai Lama will lecture on campus during
trips to America. He will support the school's research in Tibet. And
yes, he will occasionally take questions from students like my friend
Chris. In these ways, he will be an Emory professor.

But — sorry, freshmen — don't look for Gyatso behind the lectern of your
Philosophy 101 class. You won't find him at the pasta bar in the
cafeteria. And don't expect office hours. In these ways, he will not be
an Emory professor.

In other words, it's a compromise. Which makes sense. We're talking
about hiring the leader of a major world religion to the faculty of a
university. Of course he can't commit 100-percent to Emory.

The problem is that in some people's minds it's misleading to call the
Dalai Lama a "professor." His appointment signifies an endorsement of
Emory, but he won't fulfill the requirements of any normal faculty
member. He's not even getting paid. So, as one of my friends eloquently
wondered when administrators unveiled their smiling poster-child in
February, "Will this guy actually do anything at Emory?"

My answer is that I hope so — and I think so.

If not, the Dalai Lama will break a remarkable precedent set 25 years
ago by Emory's other most famous professor. Since 1982, Jimmy Carter has
delivered a town-hall lecture at Emory every single year. He has taught
courses in all nine divisions of the school. He employs Emory students
at the Carter Center. And at least once a month, he still sits down for
breakfast with the university president to discuss Emory's future.

When I took a class on the Arab-Israeli conflict, guess who led our
lecture on the Camp David Accords?

Carter has no formal obligation to perform these tasks. He just likes
Emory and understands the expectations that come with the title
"professor." You won't see the former president at Everybody's Pizza in
Emory Village or painting his chest at a varsity soccer game, but you
can't argue that he isn't a fully engaged member of the university.

So that's what I ask humbly of the Dalai Lama. Embrace your appointment
at Emory with open arms. On every brochure, newsletter and
advertisement, Emory students can already see your face. Let them also
see it in person. As time permits, appear on campus to speak, pray,
lead, learn and teach.

Oh, and one more thing: If my friend Chris asks you about Bill Murray's
line in "Caddyshack," take it with a grain of salt. He's just looking
for a party story.

• Robbie Brown graduated in May from Emory University, where he was the
editor in chief of the student newspaper The Emory Wheel.

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