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What Are They Doing Now?: A Look at the Kalon Tripa Candidates’ Current Jobs (FULL VERSION)

posted Mar 8, 2011, 5:12 AM by The Tibetan Political Review   [ updated Mar 8, 2011, 5:26 AM ]
Editors' Note: This editorial was originally published in three parts on February 15-17, 2011.  It is re-published here in full for the convenience of our readers.


By the Editorial Board of The Tibetan Political Review 

When a candidate is being considered for a job, the prospective employer typically gives special weight to the candidate’s most recent job.  This is generally true whether the candidate has had one job or many.  Therefore, the editors of The Tibetan Political Review have investigated the publicly-available information on all three Katri candidates’ current job responsibilities.

It is our hope that the voters will find this information useful in evaluating what qualifications the candidates are likely to bring to the highest elected office of the Tibetan Government-in-Exile.  We will discuss each candidate below.

Tenzin Namgyal Tethong la

Tethong is Chair of the Tibetan Studies Initiative at Stanford University, and Distinguished Scholar at Stanford Medical School’s Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education.  He has also taught one or more courses at Stanford.  He also serves as President of the Dalai Lama Foundation, and Chairman and Executive Director of the Committee of 100 for Tibet.

However, job titles alone do not tell much.  We set out to learn what these jobs consist of, and what these institutions do under Tethong’s leadership or with his involvement:

Stanford University:

The Tibetan Studies Initiative, where Tethong works as Chairman, appears to be an interdisciplinary program designed to bring Tibet into the Stanford curriculum.  The Initiative has organized events and lectures including His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s visit to Stanford in October 2010, lecture series by Sogyal Rinpoche and monk/author Matthieu Riccard, and study-abroad programs in Tibet, India, Bhutan, and Mongolia.
His Holiness at Stanford University, October 2010
According to the website of Stanford Medical School’s Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education, that organization’s purpose is to create a “community of scholars and researchers” studying the interplay of psychology, neuroscience, empathy, compassion and altruism. The Center was founded by three Stanford medical professors, along with Geshe Thupten Jinpa and Tethong.  We were unable to determine the specific role played by any individual.

According to the Stanford website, Tethong has taught in the History and Continuing Studies departments.  The Stanford course catalogue currently lists one Continuing Studies course taught by Tethong, entitled “Tibet and the Dalai Lama: History, Politics, and the Future.”  The History Department lists no current courses taught by Tethong.

Dalai Lama Foundation:

The Dalai Lama Foundation (DLF), where Tethong works as President, states that its mission is to promote an “ethic of compassion.”  It appears to be focused primarily on education and, specifically, developing curricula and materials promoting peace and ethics.  For example it has developed a “Youth Moves” ethics program for teens, and a study guide for His Holiness’s book, Ethics for the New Milennium, in five langauages including Chinese.  The DLF is not specifically a grant-making organization, but it has also given funding related to: Tibetan political prisoners and women, contemporary Tibetan art, Sera Monastery, ethics in Russia, and tsunami relief.

As a registered not-for-profit organization, the DLF operates under American corporate governance and financial transparency regulations.  In the 2008 tax year (the last year available on the website), the foundation disclosed income of $151,892 and expenditures of $139,010.  The DLF website states that about 2/3 of its budget was spent on programs and 1/3 spent on administration plus fundraising (this includes salaries –$36,000 for Tethong and $12,000 for the Treasurer – and overhead, plus fundraising expenses). 

According to the independent rating website Charity Navigator, 9 out of 10 charities spend 35% or less of their budget on administrative expenses.  DLF’s finances are within this range.  The amount that DLF spends on administration plus fundraising is also at the exact midpoint (step number five, 30-40% range) in the category of community foundations.  As a comparison with larger organizations that both happen to have been co-founded by Tethong, the International Campaign for Tibet (ICT) pays its Executive Chairman $104,789 and spends about 25% of its $4.2 million budget on administration and fundraising.  The Tibet Fund pays its Executive Director $99,238 and spends 7% of its $5.8 million budget on administration and fundraising. 

Publicly-available tax disclosures by the DLF show that the $151,892 income for 2008 includes $111,119 from public contributions, $24,383 from federated campaigns (e.g. United Way), and $15,510 net gain from investments and sales.  Federal tax forms do not provide a space for a foundation to itemize individual donors, and we are unable to locate this information elsewhere.  Our review of other foundations found this to be common.  We have asked whether Tethong or the DLF Board of Directors (whoever has the authority) will authorize the identification of any significant DLF donors.

We were curious about the name of the organization, and the role if any played by His Holiness.  The DLF website includes a letter from His Holiness that indicates that His Holiness did not play a direct role in establishing the DLF.  However, the letter states that His Holiness considers the DLF an “effort that promises to put into action many of the ideas for peace that I support.”  For this reason, His Holiness stated that he is “happy to endorse and lend my name” to it.

According to the DLF website, other founding individuals besides Tethong include: Dr. Howard Cutler (co-author with His Holiness of The Art of Happiness), Adam Engle (Harvard-trained lawyer and founder of the Mind-Life Institute), Richard Gere, Professor Pema Gyalpo (Japan and Mongolia), Lodi Gyari, Professor Janet Gyatso (Harvard), Professor Jeffrey Hopkins (UVA), Geshe Thupten Jinpa, Professor Don Lopez (Michigan), Ngari Rinpoche, and Michael van Walt (Tibetan government legal advisor).

Committee of 100 for Tibet:

The Committee of 100 for Tibet, where Tethong is Chair and Executive Director, states that it asks “the peoples and nations of the world to recognize that Tibet is occupied by the People’s Republic of China and demand the cessation of practices that deprive the Tibetan people of their fundamental human rights and freedoms, including their right to self-determination.”

The Committee’s members include several Nobel laureates including Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Nobel winners in medicine and economics, political leaders including Vaclav Havel (former Czech President) and George Fernandes (former Indian defense minister), the former U.S. Attorney General, the Prince of Lichtenstein, the founder of Patagonia Inc., various professors, and the late widow of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

The Committee’s current activities appear to be focused on (1) the Tibetan self-determination initiative, (2) the Tibet Documentation Project, and (2) a traveling exhibit called “The Missing Peace: Artists Consider the Dalai Lama.”


Tashi Wangdi la

Wangdi’s position is much simpler to review than that of either Tethong or Sangay.  Until recently, Wangdi was Representative at the Bureau du Tibet, Brussels (otherwise known as the Office of Tibet, Brussels).  He resigned in December 2010 in order to run for Kalon Tripa.  The Brussels Office of Tibet is a particularly important one, given its role in relations with the European Union institutions including the European Parliament (which has always been supportive of Tibet) and the European Commission.
Wangdi addressing guests at the celebration of HH Dalai Lama's 75th birthday.
Brussles, July 2010.  Photo:
The guests at HH Dalai Lama's birthday celebration included several
important ambassadors, representatives of foreign missions,
European Parliament members, and other EU, national, and community officials.

Under the administrative authority of the Department of Information and International Relations (DIIR), the mission of the Office of Tibet in Brussels is to represent His Holiness and the Tibetan Government-in-Exile to the European Union, Western Europe, and North Africa.  The Office of Tibet is analogous to an embassy, making Wangdi’s position akin to that of an ambassador.

There is little public information on Wangdi’s tenure in Brussels, but it is possible to infer that he enjoyed the confidence of the Kashag and His Holiness’s Private Office.  Wangdi was chosen to head the Brussels office soon after it was upgraded to “Office of Tibet” status.  Previously, the Brussels mission was an “EU coordination office” under the jurisdiction of the Office of Tibet in Paris.  As of April 2008, the Brussels post was made an Office of Tibet, while the Paris post became a “branch” of the Brussels office.  In January 2009, Wangdi was transferred from New York to Brussles to take over at this newly-upgraded mission.

Based on the typical ambassadorial role, one can conclude that Wangdi’s key responsibility was that of a diplomat rather than a policy-maker.  His key task was to develop and maintain relations between Dharamsala and the EU.  Specifically, the Kashag sets European priorities, and Wangdi would then be tasked to lobby the EU in favor of these goals.  Wangdi also likely acted as a two-way conduit of information, informing the EU of Dharamsala’s policies and requests, as well as informing Dharamsala of the EU’s attitudes and positions and making recommendations.

Photo exhibit at the European Parliament, organized by the Bureau du Tibet, Brussels.  July 2010
Members of the European Parliament listening to Wangdi's address
during the inauguration of the photo exhibit.

Lobsang Sangay la

According to the Harvard website, Sangay currently holds the position of Research Fellow.  An August 2010 letter from a Harvard administrative staff member -– released by the Sangay campaign –- states that Sangay has been a Research Associate since his graduation in 2004.  Based on the letter and website listing, it appears that Sangay was promoted to Research Fellow sometime in late 2010. 

Job Description:

We were unclear about the difference between Research Associate and Research Fellow, so we looked up these positions in Harvard’s regulations.  We learned that the difference is one of independence.  A Research Associate conducts research “directed by” a professor, whereas a Research Fellow is given a “modicum [i.e. small amount] of independence in conducting research, under the auspices of Departments or Centers.”  Neither position includes teaching responsibilities.

Given this rather technical difference, it is entirely possible to get confused.  That may be why there has been misunderstanding as to Sangay’s actual job. For example the NDPT has inaccurately described Sangay as a “Professor” on some campaign stops in India.  Even Sangay himself has apparently been confused: he described himself inaccurately as a “Senior Fellow” in a 2009 Phayul article and on his current campaign website.  However, “Senior Fellow” is a higher position, and there is only one listed at Sangay’s department: Guo Luoji.

After understanding Sangay’s job description, we also felt we possibly understood the reason that Sangay published only three academic articles in the six years since his graduation (we previously reviewed these articles here).  Because Sangay has been “directed by” a professor until very recently, it is possible that some of Sangay’s time was spent conducting research for a professor to use in the professor’s own writings. This conclusion is based on our understanding of the role of a Research Associate.

Under the direction of Professor William Alford and others, Sangay’s work has gone beyond that of a mere researcher.  His most marked accomplishment at Harvard has been to help organize a series of conferences on Sino-Tibetan dialogue.  (All three of the TPR editors have attended these conferences).   Based on our direct observation, Professor Alford would give the welcome speech, and the visiting Chinese academics would rush to have their photograph taken with this famous legal scholar.  Sangay’s likely tasks included: to arrange the facilities, identify and invite the speakers, compile the speakers’ papers, act as a neutral host, and ensure that the conference runs smoothly.

Length of Position and Nature of Leave:

Sangay stated on January 8 in Minnesota that Harvard agreed to give him a five-year leave (lo nga gongpa) to serve as Kalon Tripa.  He then stated that Professor Roberto Unger of Harvard Law School was granted a five-year leave to serve as a minister in the Brazilian government.  Sangay also spelled Professor Unger's last name for the audience.

Later in his answer, Sangay seemed to contradict himself when he said that he was not necessarily guaranteed a job when he returns to Harvard, but that he can re-apply for his position because "there will be work to do."  Similarly, the Harvard Crimson newspaper reported on February 16 that Sangay “will have to resign his position at the Law School” if he is elected.  We were unclear how it is possible to have a leave similar to that of Professor Unger (a tenured professor), while also having to reapply later.  To us this situation does not sound like a leave but rather a full resignation.  This led us to look into the exact nature of Sangay's position: is it permanent or temporary?  

Sangay in Minnesota on Harvard Position

According to the Harvard regulations, a Research Fellow position is a one-year appointment.  The position may be renewed at Harvard's discretion for a “maximum of five years.”  Therefore, it appears that Sangay is working at Harvard on a one-year term.  If he was appointed Research Fellow in 2010, then his position would ordinarily be annually renewable through 2015 as long as Harvard agreed each year.  Rather than having a spot held for him, Sangay's "lo nga gongpa" apparently means simply that he can reapply for a position at Harvard in five years.

From these facts, it became clear that Sangay's example of Professor Unger is wholly inapplicable and possibly inadvertently misleading.  
Unger holds a permanent tenured professorship rather than a temporary, annual appointment.  Unger returned to reclaim his original teaching position.  Moreover, Unger returned somewhat unwillingly to Harvard after the university refused to extend his leave beyond two years, not after five years as Sangay stated.  

If Sangay wins the Kalon Tripa election, in the future he may have to be more careful with his public statements.  A leader on the international stage cannot afford to appear misinformed or, even worse, misleading.  Whether or not that is the case in fact, appearances are critical in international politics.

Funding Source:

The August 2010 letter from Harvard contains a curious statement that raises a question about the funding source for Sangay’s position at Harvard.  The letter includes a reference to “visiting scholars” which only seems relevant if Sangay’s position is considered a visiting scholar (possibly in addition to the classification as Research Associate/Fellow).  This appears to be the case, since Sangay is listed on the Harvard webpage for the Visiting Scholar Program.

The reason this apparent fact is important is that, according to the Harvard website, visiting scholars are generally not paid by Harvard.  Rather, they “are generally self-funded or funded extramurally [from outside of the university].”  In fact, the visiting scholar pays Harvard $600 per month ($7,200 per year) as an “administrative fee."

Consistent with this information, Harvard’s regulations state that Research Associates/Fellows are paid “through” (not “by”) Harvard.  That means that an outside funding source can give a sum of money, which flows through Harvard’s payroll to fund the visiting scholar (after the university deducts its $7,200 fee).  The outside money would cover not just the scholar’s salary or stipend, but also related expenses such as the scholar’s travel for official purposes.  The university additionally requires the visiting scholar to show outside financial resources for living expenses, consisting of at least $25,000 per year plus $6,000 per year for each accompanying family member.

According to one job agency, the average salary for a research associate at Harvard is $53,000 but as low as $28,000.  Adding up (i) a modest 25th percentile salary of $40,500, (ii) Harvard’s “administrative fee” for a year, (iii) demonstrated financial resources for a family of three, and (iv) modest expenses and travel of $15,000, a visiting scholar at Harvard would need to arrange a minimum of $93,700 per year in outside funding.

We have written to Sangay to ask whether his position at Harvard is funded externally, and if so whether he will disclose the source of such outside funding for the past six years.  We have not received a reply.  (Sangay has not previously answered any of our other emailed questions, so we are compelled not to continue awaiting a reply.)  Since Sangay has stated that "Harvard" pays for some of his campaign travel, it is particularly important to resolve this question for the sake of campaign finance transparency.


All three men are working in their own way on the issue of Tibet, which they clearly care about.  Whoever wins the election, the voters should remember that the candidates at least have this much in common.  However, they differ in at least two ways:

1. Leadership:  Tethong and Wangdi both serve as leaders or managers of their respective organizations.  In such roles, they have likely delegated, created and implemented budgets, ensured that orders and tasks are clear, overseen and evaluated performance, allocated bureaucratic resources, dealt with conflicting personalities, etc.  Tethong has the additional role of setting policy for an organization.  

Sangay, by contrast, has been directed by a professor for six years.  He does not appear to have had direct leadership or managerial responsibilities, but perhaps he did in the course of helping to organize Sino-Tibetan conferences.

2. Perspective:  Wangdi’s job, like his entire career, has been inside the Tibetan government-in-exile.  The people he interacts with most often are Tibetan government officials and bureaucrats, although tempered by the fact that he also interacts with European officials.  Of the three candidates, Wangdi’s perspective is therefore the most “Dharamsala-centric.”

Both Sangay and Tethong, by contrast, have more global perspectives.  They both work at world-class universities that are crossroads of innovative thinkers and politicians.  Additionally, Tethong has managed organizations under Western governance and transparency rules, while Sangay has been trained in Western research methods.  Moreover, Sangay’s work with Sino-Tibetan conferences has given him the chance to interact with academics from China.  Tethong’s current work has led him to interact with individuals of various other backgrounds, including political leaders, Nobel winners, actors, royalty, businesspeople, and civil rights leaders.

The above opinions are those of the TPR editorial board.  We have set out the facts as we have best been able to determine them, and drawn the conclusions that we believe are the most reasonable.  We invite other perspectives.  We also invite the candidates to supplement this information with any other facts that we may have missed.