LSE to restart game of risk

Scholars already seek donations 'in the margins', development director says. David Matthews writes

May 24, 2012

Credit: Reuters
Controversial: Saif Gaddafi personified the troubles that donors could cause

The director of development and alumni relations at the London School of Economics has said that the institution will "rebuild an appetite for risk" in accepting donations after a "cautious" period following criticism over its links to Mu'ammer Gaddafi's deposed regime.

Last November, Lord Woolf, the former Lord Chief Justice, delivered a damning verdict on the LSE's relationship with the Libyan dictatorship, which he said "grew like Topsy" with no overall oversight.

A storm of criticism over a £1.5 million donation to the LSE by the dictator blew up after his son, Saif Gaddafi, who had obtained a PhD from the institution, vowed in February 2011 to "fight to the last bullet" against Libyans protesting against his father's despotism.

Sir Howard Davies, the director of the LSE, resigned in March 2011 and Lord Woolf was commissioned to examine the Gaddafilinks.

At a conference titled Fundraising and Philanthropy in Higher Education, held in London on 17 May, Fiona Kirk said that she thought it was "inevitable that the appetite for risk at LSE immediately plummeted" after the Gaddafirow.

The university was "incredibly risk averse right now, very, very we push cases up to our grants and donations ethics committee", she said. "There is a high level of caution - that is right and proper," she added.

However, the LSE would "rebuild an appetite for risk to a sensible level", Ms Kirk continued. "I don't believe we had anything other than a sensible appetite for risk, but we have kind of fallen off a cliff."

In the month prior to the release of the Woolf report, Judith Rees, the LSE's interim director, instructed academics that they must consult the institution's Office of Development and Alumni Relations before requesting donations.

Ms Kirk said that LSE academics had "taken this edict very seriously", but she was sure that some had been "playing in the margins" when requesting gifts.

She said that although most of this activity would involve attracting donations from "good people", a tiny fraction might not be acceptable, "which is the margin you want to look out for".

Ms Kirk's comments came before it emerged that a professor at LSE had criticised the institution over a £400,000 donation from the Chinese government to help fund the LSE's Confucius Institute.

In line with Lord Woolf's recommendations, the LSE has produced an overarching ethical code that will go to the university's governing body for approval in early June.

According to a report in The Sunday Times on 20 May, Christopher Hughes, professor of international relations, attacked the gift in a submission to the group drafting the ethics code.

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