Woolf Report shows extent to which LSE have compromised their academic integrity

The way in which the LSE had acted with regard to Libya and the Gaddafis in the last ten years is nothing short of scandalous

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Saif Gaddafi on a return visit to the LSE
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Rupert Sutton
On 2 December 2011 11:32

British universities have a well-earned reputation as being some of the foremost educational establishments in the world, but Lord Woolf’s inquiry into the London School of Economics’ relationship with Libya must make uncomfortable reading for that institution’s hierarchy.

A damning indictment that highlights “a chapter of errors”, it reveals the full extent to which the school compromised its academic and ethical standards when dealing with the regime, chasing influence and money as the Gaddafis ostensibly ‘came in from the cold’.

The historical excellence of the LSE is something which they are justifiably proud of, yet there must now be a cloud over that reputation following some of the revelations concerning Saif Gadaffi’s application and entry.

Prior to completing his masters degree, Saif applied to study a PhD in 2001 and was rejected by the Development Studies Institute (DESTIN) as “his application was too poor and no one was interested in supervising him”.

Undeterred he applied to the Philosophy department and chose to take an MSc as he was told that his tutor could “choose to grant ... permission to ease into some of the more formal courses in philosophy more gradually”. This apparent special treatment continued into his PhD studies, when despite Saif being rejected once again, Professor McClennen pushed for his entry, even attempting “to find an academic to ‘look after’ Saif” or “a programme of taught courses for Saif for the year”.

DESTIN’s Professor Baker refused, pointing out with some foresight that this would be “immensely damaging to the reputation of the school”.

Despite Professor McClennen’s efforts, the main concern of the academics that refused to act as his supervisor during this period seemed to be the simple fact that Saif was not up to doing a PhD.

When Saif was eventually accepted by the Philosophy department even they stated that although Saif’s results were “not good enough for him to have a clear case on academic merit alone...we felt a great deal of good might be done for Libya (and indeed more widely) if Saif Al-Qadhafi was given a prolonged exposure to liberal ideas and influences”.

This politicisation of the admissions process had also been attempted by the Foreign Office in 2002 to get Saif a place at Oxford as they “would appreciate help in this case since Libya was opening up to the West again”.

While the justification often given is that ‘Saif was a reformer’, what followed demonstrates that the LSE may well have had their eye on other benefits beside those that would be enjoyed by Libyans when the liberal Saif succeeded his father.

Following Saif’s admission onto an MSc course in 2002 there “sprouted further ties between the school and Libya”. These included the appointment of the LSE Director Sir Howard Davies as the Prime Minister’s Economic Envoy to Libya, as well as to the board of the Libyan Investment Authority. TK Lord Woolf’s thoughts on this.

More disturbing is the way in which following an “initial request for training...said to come from one of Saif’s lieutenants” LSE Enterprise was “awarded a £2.2 million contract to train Libyan civil servants by the Libyan Economic Development Board”.

It may be argued that when it came to making a decision on Saif’s PhD progress and on claims that he had not been writing his own work, the school was paralysed into inaction.

In fact the report states that Sir Howard was seen as a suitable candidate to replace the previous economic envoy because he had a similar profile of expertise. Sir Howard, in a statement to the report said: “Saif Gaddafi’s presence at the School added to the attraction, as that gave the LSE a somewhat higher profile in Libya than it would otherwise have had”

The rumours that Gaddafi was not completing his own essays had been raised during his time spent working on his MSc. Mary Kaldor who taught Saif told Lord Woolf that “she had real doubts that Saif’s MSc thesis (which she had read at the time of his second PhD application) had been produced without assistance”.

In addition to this Yahia Said, who subsequently refused to teach Saif, has said that he was approached by purported Libyan embassy officials who “stated freely that they were preparing the papers Saif was required to provide for his MSc”.

By the time he came to write his PhD these suspicions had grown, to the point that Professor went to the exam hall to confirm that it was Saif sitting his exam.

This was compounded by an incident in which he handed in an essay that was not on an assigned topic and then admitted on “being gently questioned after the seminar that he had had some help (from professional philosophers in Libya)”.  Despite these issues however, Saif was promoted from an MPhil student and eventually awarded a PhD without any formal investigation ever taking place.  

The manner in which the LSE had allowed Saif to enter despite his less than stellar academic credentials and then pass despite his apparently flagrant disregard for the plagiarism laws beggars belief.

Even following the events in Libya earlier this year the LSE was still in denial, the Head of the Philosophy department saying “with people like Saif, there is bound to [be] smoke, considering that they have so many political enemies”. This inability to appreciate the damage that was being done to their reputation cannot be highlighted better than by the decision of the school to accept a large donation from a foundation of which Saif was the chairman on the very day he graduated.

The lack of due diligence, and the haste with which the money was taken meant that the source of the money was never fully explored. As a result of accepting this money the LSE is now linked to one company that had “previously been found guilty of paying bribes to win contracts and had been on trial for fraud”.

In his report Woolf states that “I am not satisfied (and it could not have been demonstrated to council) that the money which was the source of the donation to the LSE from Saif’s Foundation was not the result of payments to influence Saif to look upon private companies with favour”.

He also argues that the links between LSE academics and Saif left the school open to embarrassment if they refused the money, as did Sir Howard’s lucrative links with the regime.

Ultimately, the way in which the LSE had acted with regard to Libya and the Gaddafis in the last ten years is nothing short of scandalous. The way in which they bent the rules to allow Saif to study, looked the other way when he was accused of cheating and then accepted large sums of money with no understanding of where they came from is a clear failure of both ethical and managerial practice.

When these things are taken into account the accusation that it was Saif Gaddafi’s influence which awarded him his degree, rather than the University of London, look stronger every day.

Rupert Sutton is a Researcher for the campus watchdog, Student Rights. You can follow Student_Rights on Twitter

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