It's the one question in my brief, unremarkable career as a pseudo-journalist that I've ached to ask, and the tempest over question screening at this afternoon's University of Washington convocation honoring His Holiness the Dalai Lama provides just the opening.
"So, post hoc ergo propter hoc?" I ask.
"Correct," said Norm Arkans, the university's director of media relations.
That's right, it's the fallacy of post hoc ergo propter hoc, or the appearance of a causal relationship between the UW's decision to nix non-compassion-related student questions with outside pressures to de-politicize the convocation from the university's Chinese Students and Scholars Association and the Chinese Consulate in San Francisco.
It's a fallacy that's generated a predictable beef and cries of censorship.
The issue was thrown into relief thanks to an April 9 P-I blog by education reporter Amy Rolph. The Chinese Students and Scholars Association posted a letter on its Web site inferring that President Mark Emmert capitulated to demands that the convocation remain politics (read: all-things-Tibet-related) free.
"That's their interpretation," Arkans said.
Arkans verified that the decision to keep student questions aligned with the compassion theme was made well before pro-PRC pressure groups put on the squeeze.
Still, the temptation is to ding UW honchos for appearing to ape United Nations apparatchiks.
On this one, however, the UW deserves a pass. Conferring an honorary degree of Doctor of Humane Letters to Tibet's spiritual poobah and president-in-exile is a salient political statement in itself. The Dalai Lama is only the fifth UW honorary-degree recipient in the modern era (he was preceded by Desmond Tutu, Madeline Albright, the late August Wilson, and Bill Ruckelshaus).
His Holiness will have forty minutes "to speak about whatever he wants," Arkans said.
Most likely, the Dalai Lama will embrace the elephant in Hec Edmundson Pavilion and underline the struggle for political freedom in Tibet. His willingness to broach the subject on Sunday was a positive sign.
Moreover, the university's on-message dictum shouldn't preclude questions along the lines of, "How do we advance compassion in Everett, WA, and by extension add teeth to the movement to ensure human rights and self-determintaion in Tibet?" (a stretch, but why the heck not)?
Thankfully, half of today's fifteen student questioners will come from colleges other than the UW. They'll have very little to lose. In addition, as Arkans observed, "They'll be in front of a microphone." Nobody is going to stop clever (and perhaps necessary) improvising, especially if the Dalai Lama decides to sidestep politics altogether.
Not that anyone is trying to foster political discussion or suggest non-compassionate questions, mind you.