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What Are They Doing Now?: A Look at the Kalon Tripa Candidates’ Current Jobs (Part 3 of 3 - SANGAY)

posted Feb 17, 2011, 9:59 AM by The Tibetan Political Review   [ updated Feb 19, 2011, 5:43 AM ]

By the Editorial Board of The Tibetan Political Review 

For the past two days, we have presented the results of our investigation into the publicly-available information on Tenzin Namgyal Tethong’s and Tashi Wangdi’s current job responsibilities.  Today, we discuss Lobsang Sangay and conclude with a comparison across all three candidates. 

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.