For Dalai Lama, third choice is charmed

UAlbany plans to welcome Tibetan Buddhist leader after two other schools decline chance to play host

Albany Times-Union/March 13, 2009

Alabany - The University at Albany is finalizing plans to bring the Dalai Lama to campus next month, a move that comes after two other local schools passed on the rare chance to host one of the world's most famous spiritual leaders.

Both Skidmore College and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute declined to make their facilities available for events that would have featured the Dalai Lama, according to Seagram heiress Clare Bronfman, a trustee of the Ethical Humanitarian Foundation.

The Dalai Lama's arrival, billed as the Nobel Peace Prize winner's first Albany visit, is the inaugural event of the World Ethical Foundations Consortium (WEFC), an initiative of Bronfman's foundation. The WEFC was developed by Keith Raniere, founder of the Colonie-based company Nxivm, which conducts training seminars under the name Executive Success Programs.

Bronfman believes Skidmore and RPI rebuffed organizers' attempts to bring the Dalai Lama to their campuses because of negative publicity about Nxivm. Some have characterized the group as cult-like. Nxivm has rejected the description.

"For them to turn us down because of things that are not true is very difficult," said Bronfman, 29, of Clifton Park. "I've had many doors shut in my face."

When told of Bronfman's statements, Skidmore spokesman Dan Forbush responded, "We gave her no reason to believe that."

"The opportunity to offer something like this to students is very unique," Parker said. "I certainly think it's fair to say that they're the first priority."

UAlbany has discussed the visit with the University at Buffalo, which hosted the Dalai Lama in 2006. An elaborate Web site set up for that visit described it as "an unprecedented event for the university and the local community." There was even a two-volume commemorative book set.

In a news release announcing the Dalai Lama's visit, the WEFC is described as a consortium "designed to create an active, committed group of visionaries who with a coordinated, ongoing plan bring compassion and ethics into the primary social arenas of our civilization."

"At the WEFC's heart," the release says, "is a unique scientific process, developed by Mr. Raniere and imparted by Nxivm, which is designed to facilitate bringing compassionate ethics to the forefront of humanity."

A representative of the Dalai Lama went through Nxivm's training, Bronfman said.

"Due to scheduling difficulties, the time frame they suggested just wasn't going to work out here," Forbush said. "They were talking about early February at that point. That was near the very beginning of the spring semester for us."

During initial talks with RPI, Raniere's alma mater, the school suggested its new Experimental Media & Performing Arts Center could be a forum for the event, Bronfman said. But Laban Coblentz, chief of staff to RPI President Shirley Ann Jackson, later told Bronfman that the school could not host the Dalai Lama because of the bad publicity about Nxivm, Bronfman said.

RPI spokesman Jason Gorss said the Troy school "was one of a number of local institutions approached with an invitation to host the Dalai Lama."

"While we have the highest respect for the Dalai Lama and his teachings," Gorss said in a written statement, "we chose not to accept the invitation based on a variety of considerations. The decision was made according to the standard process of internal review that we apply to all event invitations."

Tickets go on sale Saturday for the Dalai Lama's April 19 appearance at Times Union Center.

The Dalai Lama, the spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhism, won the 1989 Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts to resolve Tibet's conflicts with the Chinese government.

The plan is to have the Dalai Lama at UAlbany April 20-22, although the details are not finalized. He would appear at SEFCU Arena, said UAlbany spokesman Michael Parker. There likely will be a symposium and an opportunity for students to meet him. UAlbany expects strong interest from students and the university community, Parker said. He could not say whether any of the events would be open to the public.

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