Woolf returns damning verdict on LSE’s Libya links

The London School of Economics was guilty of multiple failures of governance and management in its links with the deposed Gaddafi regime, an inquiry has concluded.

November 30, 2011

However, it seems likely that Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, the son of the late Libyan dictator Mu’ammer Gaddafi, will not be stripped of his PhD following plagiarism allegations.

The highly critical investigation by Lord Woolf, the former Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales, was ordered in March after attention fell on multiple links between the school and the dictatorship following the killing of hundreds of Libyan protestors.

The report, released by the LSE today, concludes that failures of governance, management and communication meant members of the LSE’s council were not fully informed of fears a £1.5 million donation from the Gaddafi regime might be funded by bribes from Western companies in return for Libyan contracts.

Among its other findings are that Sir Howard Davies, the former director of the school who resigned over the scandal, was ultimately responsible for this failure to fully inform the council, and that no one at the LSE kept track of the school’s many connections with the Gaddafi regime, which “grew like Topsy”.

Lord Woolf adds that “I believe the donation would not have been accepted if the matter had been properly presented to the council at either meeting at which it was considered”.

The report goes on to record that Saif Gaddafi was asked for a gift six weeks after his doctorate had been confirmed, but before its formal award at his degree ceremony.

“Professor [David] Held [who has been described as Dr Gaddafi's informal academic adviser at the LSE] had emailed Saif requesting that he establish a business connection with AB [a figure the report keeps anonymous] in July 2008, before Said’s PhD had been awarded," the report says.

"The timing of the event was particularly unfortunate because Saif was awaiting the outcome of his resubmitted PhD."

However, the report’s findings are not all negative: Lord Woolf concludes that the acceptance of a £2.2 million contract to train Libya’s elite civil servants, for example, was “clearly of merit” and a service the school should be performing.

On Saif al-Islam Gaddafi’s time as a PhD candidate, the report says that his academic credentials “were not good enough...to have had a clear case for admission on academic merit alone”.

Instead an “idealism factor” was taken into account by the philosophy department, which thought it would be a good thing to expose the dictoator's son to more liberal influences.

It adds that Dr Gaddafi “wasn’t a particularly good philosopher” and had “hated” philosophy courses when he took them as part of his MPhil.

The inquiry also finds that he was getting more help with his doctorate than the LSE was aware of.

This included an arrangement under which he would dictate his thesis to advisors who would then write it up.

However, despite concerns, the report concludes that it was not wrong for him to use US lobbying firm Monitor Group to conduct over 100 interviews as part of his doctoral research, as it is not unknown for students to commission outside research.

The Woolf report also says that “both during and after [Dr Gaddafi’s] career as an LSE student, [he] treated Sir Howard as ‘a kind of advisor, who could perhaps help with suggestions or connections for projects of economic modernisation in which he was engaged’ [Sir Howard told the Woolf inquiry]”.

Judith Rees, interim director of the LSE, writes in an opinion to be published in tomorrow’s issue of Times Higher Education that “on the way in which we handled the [£1.5 million] donation from the GICDF [Gaddafi International Charity and Development Foundation], Lord Woolf is damning”.

She says the report marked a “sad day” for the school but added that the episode “will raise questions for the higher education sector as a whole”.

The LSE has accepted all 15 of Lord Woolf’s recommendations and a sub-committee of its council will now look into how it will implement a code of ethics.

david.matthews@tsleducation.com

The Woolf recommendations:

1. The LSE should have an embedded code dealing with ethics and reputational risk which applies across the institution. The LSE should set up a committee to effectively deal with issues relating to the code.

2. The LSE should consider how to achieve greater uniformity of practice for the admission of PhD students and to what extent it is appropriate in the case of PhD admissions to take into account a student’s potential ability to benefit society.

3. There should be an academic body, staffed by academics from across the institution, charged with oversight of the admission of postgraduate students.

4. Departments and academics should be regularly reminded of the importance of good lines of communication. That should be supported as necessary by procedures or written guidance. Particularly, they might be required where multiple departments are involved in the work of a single student, for example, when a postgraduate degree involves multiple departments.

5. LSE should lay down guidance on what assistance is and is not appropriate for a postgraduate student to receive.

6. There should be a clear policy setting out in what circumstances, and in what manner, the question of a student’s possible contravention of that guidance will be investigated.

7. Academics should be made actively aware of the school’s regulations and should be reminded of their utility as tools for regulation of a student’s academic progress in cases of concern.

8. The LSE should adopt an up-to-date policy on donations. That policy should be contained as part of or in a separate document contained within the school’s code on ethical and reputational risk.

9. The donations policy should include a procedure for the scrutiny of proposed donations with clear lines of responsibility. Any individual who has responsibilities in relation to gifts should have those identified in writing.

10. The donations policy should identify whether, and in what circumstances, it is appropriate for an individual, centre or department to request a donation on their own initiative. The donations policy should require that the Office of Development and Alumni Relations must be informed of any potential donation.

11. The school should set out written guidance on the appropriate relationship between the LSE and a donor.

12. The recommendations of the Sutton Report on the governance of research centres should be implemented.

13. The code should be regarded as being applicable to all individuals performing activities which could reasonably be perceived as on behalf of LSE.

14. The committee dealing with ethics and reputational risk must have sufficient awareness of the activities of all bodies operating under the name of the school, to ensure that it has a holistic view of potential and cumulative risks to the school.

15. The LSE should consider the width of the principle that no gift will be accepted from a current student and should determine whether it extends to other benefits, including commercial contracts.

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