Though official word is hard to come by, the Chinese government's recent removal of the University of Calgary from its list of approved schools was likely caused by the Dalai Lama's visit and reception of an honorary degree.
Danna Hou, council in charge of news, press and cultural affairs for the Chinese consulate in Calgary, indicated that previous newspaper reports on the issue had accurately identified the cause -- the university's interactions with the Dalai Lama.
The sanction, however, will not affect the legitimacy of U of C degrees in China, said Hou. She further explained the institution's removal from the list of recommended schools would primarily restrict the manner in which Chinese students' will be able to apply to the U of C. Previously, Chinese students could apply to the U of C through the Chinese Service Centre for Scholarly Exchange, which she explained essentially acts as a liaison between Chinese students and foreign universities. Chinese students will remain able to apply directly to the U of C.
U of C vice-president external relations Colleen Turner emphasized the university is still trying to determine the precise implications of the Chinese government's decision.
"Our understanding of what that means is largely around the lines of funding for students who would choose to come and study at a North American university, that, if you're not on the accredited list, that would have an effect on the eligibility for you to receive funding as a Chinese national to come here," said Turner.
Turner added the university has strong ties with China, which it is seeking to preserve.
"There are two universities within China in particular that we've got relationships with," she said. "And then there are a lot of individual research partnerships [. . .] some industry is involved."
The university also receives a significant number of international students from China -- 515 from mainland China and roughly 60 from Hong Kong, including some enrolled in executive business programs -- and has between 800 and 1,000 alumni living in the nation.
Maureen Hiebert, assistant professor in the Law and Society program, noted that China's reaction to the Dalai Lama's visit is no surprise.
"The Chinese government has been critical of the Canadian government for interacting with the Dalai Lama and just last week when it was announced that president Obama will be meeting with the Dalai Lama, the Chinese government said that there could be very serious consequences, with language to that effect," said Hiebert.
Hiebert explained there were likely two main causes for the Chinese government's decision. The first being a simple sovereignty issue: China views Tibet as part of its territory and the Dalai Lama as a secessionist leader trying to take control of part of the country away from China.
"They're trying to maintain their territorial integrity by trying to deligitamize and also reduce the effectiveness of his Holiness as somebody who works internationally to uphold the rights of Tibet's people."
The second issue centres on an issue uncommon to typical western values: the concept of saving face.
Hiebert noted that face was an important political consideration in many eastern countries, including China. Historical events in that country -- in the late 19th century, significant areas of South China were under the influence of western powers -- led to a heavy burden of historical embarrassment that influences contemporary political interactions, such as with the U of C.
"This is, in their view, a huge insult and it really is something that causes them to lose face, and so by making these kinds of indirect threats, but maybe not necessarily tying it to the visit itself -- this is their way of trying to gain back face," said Hiebert.
The U of C awarded an honorary degree despite the likely reaction of the Chinese government and without intending to dishonour it.
"I would underline that we knew at the time that he's a controversial figure. We see that, though, as [. . .] an integral role of the university, to invite in different figures from all across the spectrum because this is supposed to be a place of debate and dialogue and discussion," said Turner. "It doesn't mean that we're taking a particular side or passing judgement, it means we see our role as being one to stimulate debate."
Turner noted that the university brings in a number of controversial figures, from many different political points, and maintained the university's responsibility as an inquiring institution to do precisely that.
"Should we shy away from something because it might be controversial? That to me would go against some of the foundations and some of the fundamentals of a university and what makes a university."