Naropa University Continues to Show Its True Colors: The Prairie Dog Issue

As you are surely aware,  Naropa University, a “Buddhist-inspired” University, has applied for a lethal control permit for the prairie dogs on their Nalanda campus in Boulder, Colorado.

Naropa University Prairie Dog

Naropa’s actions have generated a significant amount of public interest, as evident by the fact that a petition with more than 135,000 signatures was hand delivered to Naropa University administrators on September 25, 2015. This petition beseeched Naropa University to be true to the Buddhist values of peace and compassion by rescinding their lethal control permit application. After all, as protestors point out, Buddhism is a philosophy of compassion and it demands that we respect all sentient beings. And, surely, its philosophy of nonviolence does not permit us to kill sentient animals when they “get in our way” of making a shiny penny.

Rather than take seriously the concerns of protestors, Naropa University has responded by dismissing the petition with over 135,000 signatures because, as they put it, “most of those who signed the petition weren’t from Boulder.” In addition, Naropa Univesity went so far as to play the victim, while shifting the blame to the very animal protection group, WildLands Defense, that drew the public’s attention to the situation in the first place.

Below, I consider the major problems with Naropa University spokesman’s recent “response,” as reported by the Daily Camera in September of 2015.  In reading the statements made by spokesman Bill Rigler, it is clear that instead of attempting to provide any sort of justification for their actions that violate the very principles of Buddhism, which they claim to be “inspired” by, Naropa’s primary concern is to both dismiss their opposition for arbitrary reasons, while shifting the blame to the very people who work relentlessly to make the world a more compassionate place.

Shifting the Blame

Oddly enough, Rigler claims that Naropa University filed for a lethal control permit because, according to him, the university wants to help the prairie dogs, not kill them! Funny how that works: save the prairie dogs by requesting a permit to slaughter them!

But, perhaps there is something to this. Apparently, once a lethal control permit application is filed with Boulder county, there is an “open comment period” where individuals or groups in the community can recommend relocation sites for the prairie dogs. Yet, when the “open comment period” closed on August 28th, Naropa University claims that there were no suggestions for possible relocation sites. Rigler remarks that “we were legitimately hoping that this would spur the community to help us identity some slots and I would say that we are deeply disappointed that despite making all these great efforts, not one option came forward.” He also made sure to call out WildLands Defense for supposedly failing to identify a relocation site.

It seems pretty clear what is going on here: Naropa University wants to shift the focus from the very real possibility that they might soon slaughter the prairie dogs on their campus to the community at large. Specifically, Naropa University attempts to put the blame on the very group that has devoted countless hours to the Prairie Dog cause: WildLands Defense. Here, the implication seems to be this: since the community at large, including WildLands Defense, couldn’t identify a relocation site, the blood is on their hands if Naropa chooses to act on the lethal permit (assuming the permit is granted).

It’s also worth noting that Naropa University seems to suggest a false dichotomy; the message they are sending is that either (1) the community had better find a relocation site for the prairie dogs, or (2) Naropa University will be left with no choice but to exercise the lethal permit, supposing it is granted. Yet, there is a third option, which apparently is off the table for Naropa University: leave the prairie dogs alone and let them live in peace in their own homes!

But what’s more troubling is this: WildLands Defense did submit a comment and they have identified potential relocation sites for the prairie dogs (Southeast Buffer and Mountain Rabbit Complex sites). Furthermore, someone from Wildlands Defense informed me that “weeks prior, Boulder County staff testified about the imminence of that availability to the Boulder County Board of County Commissioners on an agenda item related to the Colorado Horse Rescue controversy. WildLands Defense made Naropa aware of this on multiple occasions (via their rep Jon Dyer).” For Naropa University to insinuate that no one in the community bothered to offer feedback about relocating the prairie dogs is, at the very least, disingenuous.

Discrediting the Petition for an Arbitrary Reason

According to the Daily Camera, “Rigler said he searched the petition for local names and had trouble finding signatures from Boulder or Colorado.” In this same article, Rigler complains that Naropa University is “being attacked for it by groups who aren’t even from Boulder.”

Yet, the obvious questions to ask are these: does it matter if most of the signatures are from outside of Colorado? Is killing the prairie dogs morally permissible if Colorado residents don’t object, but impermissible if Colorado residents were to protest? Does local opinion determine the wrongness of killing prairie dogs? I think not and I sure hope the spokesman of a “Buddhist-inspired” university would agree.

Playing the Victim

In this same article in the Daily Camera, Rigler is quoted as saying this: “As far as we are aware there is no organization, company or land owner that has done more or has invested more time or more resources in trying to find a relocation site,” he said. “We’ve absolutely gone way above and beyond what others have done and yet still we’re being attacked for it by groups who aren’t even from Boulder.”

Rigler’s claim is that Naropa university is “being unfairly targeted.” What he seems to be implying is that Naropa University, and not the prairie dogs, are the real victims. Since Naropa spent more time and resources in trying to find a relocation site for the prairie dogs than others, Naropa University seems to think they can do no wrong by moving in the direction of prairie dog slaughter. And, if we dare to criticize them, well, shame on us. The least we can do is let them keep open the option of slaughtering the innocent, given all of their previous relocation efforts! It’s also worth noting the Naropa seems to be demanding praise for performing minimally decent actions. If you are going to kick prairie dogs out of their homes, at the very least, you should find a new home for them.

So, no, Naropa University, you are not some moral “hero” that we shouldn’t dare to criticize.

One might wonder: wouldn’t a “Buddhist-inspired” university stop to consider that maybe, just maybe, they made the wrong decision when they decided to violate the basic principles of Buddhism by applying for a permit to slaughter the innocent prairie dogs? And maybe, just maybe, the 135,000+ people who signed the petition might have something worthwhile to say on behalf of the innocent prairie dogs?

**NOTE: This article is written by a BOULDER resident.**